Most read in 2016

As is tradition on most blogs, the most popular stories / articles / posts of the year are summarized. I am somewhat late in reporting, nonetheless, the most read posts on this site of 2016 were:

  1. PhD Reality Check
  2. Conducting Research in Ethiopia, Read This.
  3. Systematic Change (Healthcare)
  4. Essential Development Studies Books (Review)
  5. Effective Aid (Agriculture)

Popularity was largely a result of other people's influence. Most commonly a Twitter mention resulted in a noticeable spike in traffic. Subscribers will have noticed I stopped posting graduate funding opportunities – for the moment there appears to be limited interest in this type of information, and will focus more on the review of books and longer posts on specific topics (which are what readers have been most interested in). Open to feedback and input on that decision. 

What I've been reading

​It has been a month since my last post on a book. Took a detour away from development studies reading over the break, even if a minor one. Some of my recent reads have included:

  1. Human Rights in Cross-cultural Context (1995) edited by An-Naim. An early collection of essays that challenge the universality of human rights. A couple of chapters are quite good (Chapters 1, 6, 13, Conclusion). As is typical, the earliest arguments tend not to be the strongest (they start the thinking), but always good to recognize where ideas were developed.
  2. On the Muslim Question (2013) by Norton. A book not about "them" and "their problems" but how discrimination, hatred and torture are challenges to "us" and of "our" values. Challenges assumptions throughout, excellent reading for upper undergraduate and graduate students. Highly recommended.
  3. The Ethics Rupture (2016) edited by van den Hoonaard and Hamilton. While interesting, I found the majority of the criticisms and arguments unconvincing.
  4. Arabian Sands (1959) by Thesiger. Excellent read, brilliant writer. Transports readers to a different time and place. Author is somewhat a product of his time, as we all are, but generally a person who expressed a great respect for others. 
  5. ​Who Rules the World? (2016) by Chomsky. If you have read his earlier works, this one does not add much new to the repertoire. If you are new to Chomsky, other titles (like Hegemony or Survival) are recommended.

How Change Happens

Governments, activists, NGOs, politicians and development programs all want change. It is why donor dollars are raised and people protest in the streets. But, how much do we actually know, or reflect upon, how change actually happens – and to what extent is that embedded within how development works? "How Change Happens" (2016) by Duncan Green, blogging celebrity of From Poverty to Power, seeks to answer these questions. The book is available open access, as is the author's last book, From Poverty to Power (2012). It is "for activists who want to change the world" (p. 2), but the author does not offer a manual for change. "Indeed one of its conclusions is that reliance on checklist toolkits is on the things that is holding us back. Instead it offers a combination of analysis, questions, and case studies, with the aim of helping readers look afresh at both the obstacles and the enthralling processes of change going on all around them, and to gain some new energy and ideas about how to contribute" (p. 5).

Avid followers of Duncan's blog will encounter some familiar terrain. I have not focused on the norms and institutions that make up significant parts of the book, rather upon a selection of specific points that I think contribute in unique ways to the conversation about how change happens, starting with a reminder for those skeptical of any change at all: "People seeking change are often impatient, intent on addressing the problems of the world. In the words of one of the greatest activists of them all, they are consumed by 'the fierce urgency of now.' From the perspective of 'now', institutions appear to be permanent and unchanging; in fact, they often depend upon that appearance for their credibility. But 'now' is merely a moment on the continuum of history, and history shows us that the status quo is far less fixed than is appears" (p. 75).

Green offers a sufficient amount of detail to challenge notions of simplicity found in the toolkits and checkbox lists, without burdening readers with drawn out contextual information. For example: "In fragile states, where power resides mostly in outside the state, activists may be better off working at a local level, with municipal officials and non-state bodies like traditional leaders and faith groups. In developmental states, engaging directly with efficient bureaucracies, using research and argument rather than street protest, often makes for a better (and safer) influencing strategy than challenging politicians… In more patrimonial systems, the best influencing strategy may be to network directly with those in power" (p. 91). The book is full of similar short notes that provide food for thought and illuminate points with examples that may not have been considered.

Politicking and creating political parties are not often priorities on the list of activists. Yet, Green argues that some successful "social movements organize as parties because as movements they tend to rise and fall in sudden bursts of protest and can rarely muster the long-term engagement with the state required to achieve lasting change. What's more, civil society organizations find it hard to make any legitimate claim to represent the will of the people because no-one has elected them" (p. 116). At the same time, not all movements and organizations should become political parties. "Civil society can help the state become more effective, and states can in turn promote citizen activism by addressing" different kinds of power (p. 190). Thus, civil society itself has an important function outside of politics. The author has weaved diverse examples throughout to demonstrate different pathways to how change can occur, rather than promote a specific action (although a particular approach – the power and systems approach is promoted as a means to help determine what pathway(s) ought to be taken). Indeed "the range of possible advocacy tactics is limited only by the imagination of the advocates"(p. 217).

At the outset, Green writes that he "was moved to write this book by a combination of excitement, fascination, and frustration" (p. 1). The self-reflective style of writing is engaging, particularly when Green grapples with the intersection between excitement, fascination, and frustration. For example: "Based on research in Pakistan, Masooda Bano argues that aid often erodes the cooperation that underpins CSOs. When foreign money flows in, the unpaid activists that form the core of such organizations can lose trust in their leaders, whom they now suspect of pocketing aid dollars. In Bosnia, my conversations with CSOs suggest that even their supporters view them as little more than 'briefcase CSOs', only interested in winning funding. I find such conversations painful, as they force me to acknowledge that the aid dollars Oxfam has spent so many years advocating for can in some circumstances do more harm than good" (p. 192).

I found the commentary on the role of leadership an important addition. As Green notes "aid technocrats avoid discussions of leadership, because it rapidly gets political and clouds the seductive purity of 'evidence-based policy making'" (p. 199). Activists too "tend downplay the role of leaders and leadership in driving change. Development studies as a discipline has little to say about the Big Man in the presidential palace, and even less about leadership from below" (p. 198). Green writes: "Part of the art of outstanding political leaders such as Gandhi or Mandela lies in their ability to go beyond merely reflecting public norms and instead influence them for the better. Even the endless reception of simple messages, which may be one of the most off-putting aspects of politicians' daily lives, helps challenge old norms and cement new ones. Of course, politicians can also reinforce norms that should change, for example, by whipping up hatred against ethnic or religious minorities or desperate migrants" (p. 53-54). There are some emerging program supporting emerging leaders, but these remain few and far between, and often ones that support established leaders rather than strengthen the skills, network, capacity and opportunities of emerging ones.

Duncan Green is hopeful that the simplified narratives of complex realities, remedied by simple solutions, are (slowly) changing. Different approaches to storytelling show that the good/bad narrative is not the only means to tell an effective story (although certainly it has been used to tell compelling ones, even if they are not entirely factual). "Such narratives squeeze out the more nuanced views of local people and the deeper, underlying causes of conflict, and end up promoting superficial victories rather than real change" (p. 223). I am somewhat less optimistic that the messier stories of complex systems and power will have the same broad appeal as the simple ones – but such stories need not always have broad appeal and strategic approaches might be tailored as we navigate from simplicity to complexity. 

New Publication: Vulnerability and Adaptive Capacity in Ethiopia

Cochrane, L. and Gecho, Y. (2016) The Dynamics of Vulnerability and Adaptive Capacity in Southern Ethiopia (p. 139-148). In Responses to Disasters and Climate Change: Understanding Vulnerability and Fostering Resilience, edited by M. Companion and M. Chaiken. CRC Press: Boca Raton.

Abstract

  • ​Agriculture accounts for more than 40% of the Ethiopian economy, 85% of all employment, and is driven primarily by rural smallholders. Those living in rural areas face a range of short-term, seasonal, annual, and long-term vulnerabilities. This chapter analyzes the range of dynamic, and sometimes unpredictable, challenges in Wolaita Zone, southern Ethiopia. We explore how individuals proactively manage vulnerabilities and seek means to enhance their adaptive capacity. These findings demonstrate that smallholders are engaging in change, highlighting the important role of their agency in understanding vulnerability and resilience.

New Publication: Debt & Rural Development (Ethiopia)

Cochrane, L. and Thornton, A. (2017) A Socio-Cultural Analysis of Smallholder Borrowing and Debt in Southern Ethiopia. Journal of Rural Studies 49: 69-77.

Abstract

  • This paper combines qualitative and quantitative research methods in an exploratory study of borrowing and debt in rural southern Ethiopia in order to understand the complexities of the rural finance system and frequency of borrowing and debt in rural, smallholder settings. By comparing geospatial location in relation to access to infrastructure, markets and services within a single agroecological setting, we explore the ways in which these factors influence the frequency of borrowing, sources, amounts and interest rates involved, as well as the duration and extent of borrowing and debt. We find great variation amongst the communities studied, highlighting the importance of the localized nature of borrowing and debt and identify barriers and opportunities that will support the (re)adjusting of policies and programs that would enable smallholder households to overcome cycles of borrowing and debt, and build assets.
The full article is gated. But available here. Abstract and further publication details available via the link above. If you would like a copy of the article, send me an email.

Visiting Fellowships 2017/18 Shanghai University

The Center for the History of Global Development, Shanghai University, invites applications for fellowships for visiting scholars working on projects related to the history of policies, concepts, practices or debates related to socio-economic development on local, national, regional or global levels. The Center for the History of Global Development is a new research focus established at the College of Liberal Arts at Shanghai University. Through conferences, workshops, publications and discussion panels, the Center seeks to contribute to interdisciplinary scholarly debates on the repercussions of "development" as a phenomenon which has shaped much of recent global history while remaining conceptually vague or contradictory.

"Development," in its most basic form, is understood as the idea that socio-economic conditions would and should improve and that specific policies should be employed to bring about such improvements. Beyond this core, development has been a highly contested concept, whose constructed character has repeatedly been emphasized. Critics point to international structures created in the name of development which have often reflected power inequalities and have served the interests of those that put them in place while doing little to improve living conditions of those at whom they were allegedly addressed. Other scholars identify perceived successes of development, measured in social indicators such as life expectancy, infant mortality, gender equality or literacy, which contradict a simplistic notion of continued failure. Different evaluations of the outcome of development tie into different interpretations of what exactly the concept does – or should – mean. Over time, Western modernization theories have been complemented by alternative concepts such as the basic needs approach, Amartya Sen's view of "development as freedom" or Herman Daly's insistence on "development" as a strictly qualitative notion, to be distinguished from economic growth. In addition, the idea of "sustainable development", and, more recently, Southern concepts such as "Buen Vivir" or "Ubuntu," have also gained traction, each with its own package of contested meanings.

Despite this lack of precision, "development" continues to be widely used, including in categories such as "developed" or "least developed" countries, and for many people, particularly in low-income countries, "development" remains a powerful and seemingly self-evident goal. Apparently, the idea of some form of socio-economic improvement as a goal of public or private actions has resonated with societies in many parts of the world, though not necessarily with identical meanings. Meanwhile, definitions of what constituted "successes" or "failures" are similarly far from clear, and perspectives vary along with changing attitudes in public and in academia as well as with evolving evidence regarding the long-term repercussions of various forms of development.

The Center of the History of Global Development welcome applications from researchers who are taking innovative and interdisciplinary approaches to any aspects of this topic, ideally looking at ways in which the histories of different times and different places intersected. As pivotal sectors in which developmental practices have become effective, projects addressing economic, health and/or environmental aspects and their interactions are particularly welcome.

Fellows can benefit from an international academic environment and from a stimulating setting in one of the most rapidly "developing" cities of the world.

Fellows are expected to share their questions and the results of their work through lectures, both about their specific research project and about topics in their field of expertise (approximately one lecture per month). They are also expected to generally participate in the academic life of the College of Liberal Arts at Shanghai University and to cite Shanghai University in all publications to which their fellowship stay has contributed. Fellowships are open to post-doctoral and senior scholars. Preference is given to projects at an advanced state, whose outcome and publication potential is already becoming clear.

Fellowship applications can be for periods of three or six months, taken between 1 March 2017 and 28 February 2018.

The fellowship includes:

Free accommodation, subsidized meals
A monthly stipend of 7,000 RMB for post-docs and 12,000 for senior scholars.
Office space and secretariat assistance
Applications should include:

A project proposal of no more than 3,000 – 4,000 words, explaining the research question, relevance, work program, and expected outcome of the project
A cv
A list of proposed lectures
The deadline is 1 December 2016. For further information, contact Prof. Iris Borowy at borowyiris@i.shu.edu.cn or Prof. Yong-an Zhang at zhangyongan@shu.edu.cn.

Contact Info:
Prof. Iris Borowy
College of Liberal Arts, Shanghai University
99 Shangda Road, Shanghai 200444
China
Contact Email:
borowyiris@i.shu.edu.cn

Adventures in Aidland

Before picking up David Mosse's "Adventures in Aidland: The Anthropology of Professionals in International Development" (2011), I had read one chapter and had high expectations that it would be an interesting read. I felt the book was torn between two topics that made it less cohesive, and some chapters felt revised to suit a new topic but didn't do either justice in the process. As Mosse notes, many of these chapters originated from a conference panel on "Cosmopolitanism and Development" in 2006, which remained a key theme throughout. At the same time, the book claims to present works wherein "anthropologists write about expertise in the realm of international development" (p. vii). Nonetheless, I do suggest Chapters 3, 7 and 8 for development studies students (and teaching), and Chapter 10 for those interesting in a satirical Alice in Wonderland vision of Aidland (the origin of the book's title).

Chapter 3 is a contribution by Tania Murray Li on "Rendering Society Technical" and in some ways offers a shorter version of her longer works (e.g. The Will to Improve and Land's End) on the topic, making it somewhat more accessible for students. For example, she writes: "Central to government is the practice I call 'rendering technical', a shorthand for what is actually a set of practices concerned with representing 'the domain to be governed as an intelligible field with specifiable limits and particular characteristics'" (p. 57). Further: "Government through community requires that community be rendered technical. It must be 'investigated, mapped, classified, documented, interpreted' (1999: 175)". For those unfamiliar with Li's work, this chapter presents clear examples in a relatively short chapter.

The second recommended portion, Chapter 7, comes from another familiar name on this site: Rosalind Eyben (author of The Making of a Better World and co-editor of The Politics of Evidence). The chapter provides unique insight into donor agency staff experiences – as I mentioned previously Eyben herself made many of the choices being criticized (as also, generally, described by Robert Chambers in 1983). For a world few have lived in, and many wonder about, it is an excellent read. Eyben works to make a minor shift in the donor community within Bolivia to gain more firsthand experience as participant observers.

I also recommend Chapter 8, written by Rajak and Stirrat. It does encounter this two objective problem, resulting in a somewhat lost focus. Nonetheless, it offers some concise and clear summaries of international development and the odd disconnection between international and domestic activity. They describe the field trips development actors make as carefully orchestrated rituals, that development professionals "are of course aware of" and who also play this same ritualistic game for others. On development actors, he explains that even "in their interactions with the 'host community', development professionals tend to be restricted or restrict themselves to certain categories of 'locals'… In general there is relatively little social interaction between development professionals and the host population at the level of friendship" (p. 167-168).

On the cosmopolitan values part, an interesting comment: "Whilst there are some individuals who display an interest in attempts at developing a Buddhist framework for development or who try to develop an Islamic economics, these are few and far between. Furthermore, the flow of funding ensures a certain orthodoxy in the development world, and stepping too far outside the boundaries is to put this funding at risk. The ideas and practices of the development industry can be viewed as parochial in the extreme, involving a rejection of alternatives and an attempt to 'naturalize' and 'universalize' one particular strand of looking at the world" (p. 166).


Funded PhDs: Energy Ethics

The Department of Social Anthropology at the University of St Andrews (UK) is advertising 2 PhD scholarships (4 years, full time, 100% UK/EU fee waiver with maintenance stipend of approx. £14,296/year (equivalent to a RCUK stipend) and conference/research expenses) to participate in an ERC-funded research project on the ethics of oil. The start date is September 2017. Deadline for application: 16 January 2017

This project entitled "The Ethics of Oil: Finance Moralities and Environmental Politics in the Global Oil Economy (ENERGYETHICS)" offers an exciting opportunity for 2 outstanding graduates to join a major anthropological research project funded by the European Research Council - as part of the conventional track for a PhD in Social Anthropology at University of St Andrews. The project is a comparative study of how people in positions of influence within the global oil economy make financial and ethical valuations of oil. Ethnographic fieldwork will be carried out with oil companies in the US and Norway, energy analysts in the UK and the US, and fossil fuel divestment movements in Germany and the UK. Taking our starting point in people's own perceptions of and direct involvement in the oil economy, we aim to understand the relationship between oil, money and climate change. We will ask: What is the value of oil? How do such valuations, understood as both financial and ethical, intersect and inform the making of the global energy economy in oil? To what extent can oil be an important industrial resource, a profit-yielding investment opportunity and an undesired pollutant that brings about irreversible climate impacts?

We are seeking prospective candidates with an existing interest in fields such as economic life, morality and ethics, energy and climate change, corporations and organisations. Applicants are encouraged to contribute their own provisional research ideas in the form of a proposal as part of their application. Projects will have ethnographic fieldwork at their core, but may also draw on other methodologies, including archival and visual media work.

Successful candidate 1 will explore convergences of oil production with national welfare agendas and climate change concerns in Norway. The research will involve 15 months of fieldwork and the candidate must be able to/willing to learn Norwegian. Successful candidate 2 will examine how divestment projects in Germany and the UK intersect with oil industry vulnerability and visions for the future. The research will involve 15 months of fieldwork and the candidate must be able to/willing to learn German.

Prospective candidates are encouraged to contact the Principal Investigator Dr Mette M. High.

Post-doc: Population Data

Population Data BC is seeking a Postdoctoral Fellow or Research Associate for a two-year term, with possibility for extension, to take significant leadership in a timely applied research project that will engage with the public to reform governance of access to research resources. Developments in data, technology, researcher desires, and public expectations have outpaced the outdated data access arrangements currently in use, and this program of research aims to address this issue while enhancing the legitimacy of policies for accessing new and complex linked data through consultation with a deliberatively engaged public. Objectives of this project include understanding how a deliberatively engaged public assesses and advises regarding criteria for the use of data and biospecimens, and the design and proposal of a model of sustained public involvement in data access governance in collaboration with data stewards.

Operating primarily within the School of Population and Public Health in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of British Columbia, Population Data BC is a multi-university, data and education resource facilitating secure research access to individual-level, de-identified longitudinal data on British Columbia's 4.6 million residents, linking data across various sectors such as health, education, early childhood development, workplace and the environment

Key objectives of Population Data BC are to:

  1. Make more data sets available for research
  2. Facilitate cross-linkages among the data sets in a privacy sensitive manner
  3. Provide strategic leadership to ensure streamlined researcher access to these data
  4. Provide educational and other opportunities to ensure full and best use of those data

The primary activities of the Postdoctoral Fellow or Research Associate include:

  • Provide overall project leadership for a public engagement research project as outlined in a funded CIHR grant
  • Work with the investigative team and project stakeholders on framing questions and other planning aspects of public engagement
  • Lead event planning and production of materials for public engagement
  • Analyse transcripts and other information gathered during the public engagement event
  • Prepare academic material and knowledge translation material based on these analyses
  • Assess ability of PopData to embed public engagement in its ongoing work

More details.​

Pathologies of Power

Paul Farmer's (2005) "Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor" is a "physician-anthropologist's effort to reveal the ways in which the most basic right – the right to survive – is trampled in an age of great affluence" (p. 6). However, Farmer covers much more than the right to survive, this book "is about the struggle for social and economic rights, the neglected stepchildren of the human rights movement. Because social and economic rights include the right to health care, housing, clean water, and education, they are sometimes called the "the rights of the poor."' (p. xxiv). It is highly recommended for academics and practitioners, and I also highly recommend Farmer's book Infections and Inequalities.

For those new to development studies, academics who assume development practitioners are non-reflexive positivists, and for practitioners looking to be more critical of the processes within international development, Farmer's books are essential reads. In the opening pages he sets the tone: "It was not the silence that rankled. It seemed to us that the exercise was demeaning – the participants, having survived genocide and displacement, were now being treated like children. They were being asked to respond to an agenda imported from capital cities, from do-gooder organizations like ours, from U.S. universities with the "right" answers to their every question. No harm done, perhaps, and the topic was important – but how helpful was this exercise, with its aim of changing the mentality of the locals, who were, after all, the victims of the previous decades of violence? A change in mentality was needed, certainly, but it was needed in the hearts and minds of those with power – and they were not here" (p. 3-4).

It is not just the 'others' with power; as a physician, Farmer writes that many "physicians are uncomfortable acknowledging these harsh facts of life and death. To do so, one must admit that the majority of premature deaths are, as the Haitians would say, "stupid deaths." They are completely preventable with the tools already available to the fortunate few" (p. 144). Yet, it is not simply more "development" that is required: "Developmentalism not only erases the historical creation of poverty but also implies that development is necessarily a linear process: progress will inevitably occur if the right steps are followed. Yet any critical assessment of the impact of such approaches must acknowledge their failure to help the poor" (p. 155)

Weaved throughout the book, Farmer expresses his concern with a changing set of norms and values: from rights, respect and dignity to costs and value for money. He writes: "many of the concepts currently in vogue in public health – from "cost-effectiveness" to "sustainability" and "replicability" - are likely to be perverted unless social justice remains central to public health and medicine. A human rights approach to health economics and health policy helps to bring into relief the ill effects of the efficacy-equity trade-off" (p. 18). This view is not just challenged as an opinion, but as an affront to the practice of health care: "the flabby moral relativism of our times would have us believe that we may now choose from a broad menu of approaches to delivering effective health care services to the poor. This is simply not true. Whether you are sitting in a clinic in rural Haiti, and this witness to stupid deaths from infection, or sitting in an emergency room in a U.S. city, and this the provider of first resort for forty million uninsured, you must acknowledge that the commodification of medicine invariably punishes the vulnerable" (p. 152). This book was published in 2005, and parts published earlier, and Farmer foresaw a challenge that has grown (while also shifting names from cost-effectiveness to value for money, to assessments of quality-adjusted life years, and as metrics in results and impact reporting): "As international health experts come under the sway of the bankers and their curiously bounded utilitarianism, we can expect more and more of our services to be declared "cost-ineffective" and more of our patients to be erased. In declaring health and health care to be a human right, we join forces with those who have long labored to protect the rights and dignity of the poor" (p. 159).

For those who work with marginalized and vulnerable people, who voices are excluded, it is challenging to convey experiences to others. In Farmer's earlier book Infections and Inequalities he used vignettes of people's lives as an attempt. In this end, however, "the experience of suffering, it's often noted, is not effectively conveyed by statistics or graphs. In fact, the suffering of the world's poor intrudes only rarely into the consciousness of the affluent, even when our affluence may be shown to have direct relation to their suffering. This is true even when spectacular human rights violations are at issue, and it is even more true when the topic at hand is the everyday violation of social and economic rights" (p. 31). It is both a depressing conclusion – the reality of a lack of concern – and a call to action. The systems that create and entrench poverty, as well as those that ignore suffering when plan to see, will continue lest things change, and change necessitates informed, critical engagement.

Logan Cochrane

logan.cochrane@gmail.com

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