The WWF and the industry-What role for environmental organisations in the age of multinationals and biofuels?

On Wednesday the German public broadcaster ARD showed the  documentary 'The pact with the Panda-What the WWF is not telling us' on the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) and its close links to international companies, especially in the areas of biofuels (soy beans and palm oil). The documentary focused on Indonesia and Argentina, but there was also a critical case study from India about tiger conservation efforts and eco-tourism. The documentary is in German, of course, and there are no subtitles. There have been heated discussions on both the German and Swiss WWF websites - again, in German. More than 600 comments are quite unusual for the German Internet-sphere and it really shows that the documentary hit a nerve. This has the potential of a German/European version of the 'Three Cups for Tea' story. I can't really provide a detailed summary here, but there are a couple of interesting points with reference to the WWF, but more importantly the rather depressin

Who is 'the development industry'?

The short answer: Most of the time 'we' are the development industry - not just 'them' (those with Landcruisers and daily allowances)... Mina, a volunteer with Engineers Without Borders in Ghana shared some interesting reflections on how he perceives ' the industry ' in the country. And he posted a few pictures to prove it: Fancy cars, fancy offices, fancy daily allowances – an often shared impression of how people (including local NGOs with cars, offices and allowances) perceive one of the key ills of development: It has become an 'industry', a market-place for transnational professional, knowledge and their 'wares' from dubious consultancy reports to endless workshops. But I also think that this analysis is short-sighted and ignores some of the essential global dynamics behind said industry. I usually don't turn my posts into heavily academic contemplations, but please allow me two short quotes to illustrate my point theoretically. Fir

Academic socialisation, publishing and Tyler Cowen

Tyler Cowen shared some basic rules for academic publishing in a video two weeks ago. I was a bit disappointed, because it appears that he took a very conservative stance on the subject, not mentioning the 'political economy' of publishing that is often part of the process. He seems to follow a purely scientific model where a high-class paper will be reviewed by high-class reviewers leading to high-class feedback and in the end to a high-class publication on your CV. This is not going to be a rant suggesting that there are secret networks of power and mafia-like structures when is comes to getting into the publishing circles, but my experience so far is that in addition to good, high-quality research you need the right amount of luck, take advantage of unexpected opportunities and be prepared to learn that publishing does not take place in an unbiased, purely scientific bubble where only 'the best' research is going to be published. Cowen's talk reminded me a bit o

Is development a city, a corporation or something completely different?

The headline may sound a bit strange, but after Ran Prieur’s reflections on a longer conversation and essay by Geoffrey West it turns out to be a legitimate question after all. I came across Ran’s summary first before reading Geoffrey’s essay: West is a physicist who tried to find universal laws for biology, and he discovered that a bunch of things scale exponentially with size, and the exponent is less than one, which means as an organism gets bigger, certain things get smaller in ways that you can mathematically predict. [...] Then he started looking at human social systems, and he discovered that cities scale with an exponent greater than one, which means a city of a million people will have more production and innovation than ten cities of a hundred thousand. Also it will have more crime and disease, and people will walk faster! [...] Then West looks at corporations, and finds that they operate like individual organisms, not like cities. So a billion dollar company will have low

Celebrating the work of Robert Chambers

The IDS Alumni Association celebrated the work of Robert Chambers last week with a special event and the launch of the book ' Revolutionising Development: Reflecting Forwards '. I did not attend and just want to take this opportunity to share and collect some impressions and follow-up comments from the event.  First, it is always fantastic to see Robert 'in action' and this flickr album is a fantastic proof that Robert and well and active! I hope that they will add more reflections such as Kamal Singh's who shares his insights at the end in this 9-minute video . Kamal is the CEO of Khanya-acidd, the African Institute for Community-Driven Development . IDS director Lawrence Haddad shares some reflections in his latest blog post : I have only worked in the same place as him for 7 years. He is inspirational, visionary, full of energy and directs his ego into his work and not into his own position. In a room full of gurus at IDS today, he was the guru's guru

New paper I like: The ethnography of corruption. Research themes in political anthropology

Today just a short post to share Davide Torsello's interesting paper on 'The ethnography of corruption: research themes in political anthropology' with you. I came accross a link to the paper on the very readable website/blog of the Anti-Corruption Research Network .The premise for his review is the lack of anthropological contributions to the corruption debate: One striking feature of the booming literature on corruption in the social sciences is the comparatively weak role played by anthropology. A recent World Bank review notices that anthropological studies dealing with corruption cover about 2% of the relevant scientific literature. The reasons for this “silence” can be investigated trough a multidimensional attention to the methodological, empirical and theoretical positions of the discipline. This is an academic paper (euphemism for being a bit dry to read at some points ;), but the range of resources to capture the multi-dimensionality of the topic and the anthr

Some reflections from an academic job interview non-dialogue

I was surprised when I was invited to an academic job interview to a university in the North of the UK. Although the department appeared to be focussing on International Relations and Security Studies they were looking for a lecturer on conflict and development. A good friend of mine was also invited so I knew from the beginning that I was not the only potentially fig-leaf anthropologist or qualitative researcher; we were five candidates in total from a range of well-known UK development studies departments. However, there was no preliminary phone interview and in the end the experience turned out to be quite frustrating, though shedding at least a few insights into recruitment practices at highly ranked British universities. The 20-minute presentation of my research in front of a group of about 15 staff members went well, but there were literally two short questions afterwards because of time constraints (friends in the US told me about 30 minute presentations and a thesis viva-like g