My development blogging & communication review 2017

In my first annual reflection on my development blogging engagement in 2011 I stated quite plainly:
Development blogging has become part of narrative writing for those who work in, study or care about international aid.
A year later, in 2012, Radi-Aid, One Laptop Per Child and musings about development being stuck ‘indoors’ appeared in my post; aid satire, techno-solutionism and challenges around conferences and meetings are still very much on today’s critical agenda as well.
In 2013 I was quite enthusiastic about starting my communication for development position in Sweden as social media were anchored in my academic research and outreach.
Issues of 2014, including poor NGO communication (Tony Blair winning a humanitarian award), voluntourism (Nick Kristof traveling abroad) and how new forms of philanthrocapitalism are influencing #globaldev almost seem like timeless classics now…
In 2015 I was excited about new forms of humanitarian journalism (IRIN!), the fact that aid worker well-being showed up on the global agenda and I also celebrated 150 weekly link reviews!
My 2016 post included references to Louise Linton, social media ‘back-writing’ and the challenges of #allmalepanel-again, topics that have somehow
‘stuck’ with the aid community.
So how does 2017 fit into these old, new and re-emerging debates and topics?

Are Twitter threads the new blog posts?
Dina Pomeranz’ and Alice Evans’ engagement on Twitter are great examples of how this platform, despite the general critique about the medium, remains a premier avenue for communicating development debates, research, journalism and more.
Twitter is responding to this trend with enhanced thread functions and a strong network will be the basis for spotting emerging trends, new research and cool things to read, watch and listen to. But I am missing a little bit the impact of the reflective space that blogs have been providing throughout the years.
Maybe the re-designed MSF-CRASH site, the Bliss blog of the International Institute of Social Studies
or Missing in the Mission can provide fresh reflections in the coming years?

Journalism and development – it remains complicated
It is great to see that IRIN, NPR’s Goats & Soda and bigger brands such as DevEx, the Guardian’s development network or Washington Post’s Monkey Cage are doing well.
This Week in Africa offers a great newsletter and the recently launched Bright Magazine also features great stories.
But the end of Humanosphere is a reminder of how difficult it is to find a sustainable model for this kind of reporting-maybe there is not really one and it will remain a niche that relies on external support.
On the other hand, the brand behind one of the most successful news sites on the Internet continues to attack development with exaggerated and fake news that cynical audiences consume.
If nothing else, these are reminders that ‘development’ debates are a reflection of (media) culture, politics and digital dynamics just as pretty much any other social issue these days.

Aid work as good, professional and localized work

I mentioned aid worker well-being before and local aid workers seem to be the next hot topic-in a good way.
Jonathan Ong’s research on Filipino aid workers is a good example of how the topic has gained traction and how it can be approached both traditionally through research, but also through innovative forms of communicating development.
The #AidToo response from the aid industry was another example of how the sector responds to broader debates that affect health and well-being of professionals.

Decolonizing development (studies)

The initial debates around decolonizing academia and academic curricula in (South) Africa reached (Northern) development studies. The event organized by Olivia Rutazibwa and Andrea Cornwall brought together a great group of colleagues and questions of who should teach what kind of development studies will not disappear quickly. These questions touch upon powerful questions ranging from lucrative Anglo-Saxon MA education, to new forms of (digital) colonialism, the future of higher education in the global South, migration, …

Curation and the 500-page academic journal issue
I wrote about curation in connection with the decolonizing development event.
Even though Storify announced its end for 2018, curating debates is an important topic and one I have been dedicating quite a bit of blogging space to this year, including for hurricane coverage and the Third World Quarterly affair (which is maybe not coincidentally also about ‘colonialism’). Providing overviews, or annotated lists and saving content for future research or teaching has become more important.

Between January and December 2017 the journal World Development, among the most renowned in development research, published 4550 pages of articles. This is one journal in one year. The August 2017 issue comprised 598 pages alone. HAU, an open-access journal on ethnographic theory recently published a new issue with 575 pages. These are just two journals, not book monographs, edited volumes or any other type of written contribution. The most common response is that one is not supposed to read or skim all of this content and rather focus on one’s own niche and let search engines (or maybe Twitter) do the work for you of selecting relevant content. Perhaps. But the ‘write-only’ culture in academia has become a real issue that goes beyond open access models, length of chapters or writing a piece for ‘popular’ media.

Last but not least

Blockchain emerged as the latest buzzword of techno-solutionism.

Data privacy, protection and management emerged as hot topics in the ICT4D and humanitarian community.

How will the growing spread and recognition of African/ ‘Southern’ (science) fiction change development communication in the future?

Happy holidays!

Here’s an overview of what happened at Aidnography this year:


The poor state of development journalism: Daily Mail, BBC & 'Ethiopian Spice Girls'
We have come full-circle. Despite the fact that no petition was signed, no Internet ‘shitstorm’ emerged and no real public outrage took place, Daily Mail front page journalism and the willing Conservative executioners of cutting the foreign aid budget work hand in hand.
This is a powerful reminder that post-factual journalism is not just a ‘thing’, but has real consequences for public spending-usually affecting those who do not have access to the powerful lobbying arsenal of the establishment.
‘Stealing from earthquake victims’-a tale of laptops, overheads and journalism from Nepal
As more and more young, well-qualified Nepali professionals enter the development sector they should be able to work in an environment of constructive debates-not one of mistrust and jealously. The development sector is an important aspect of Nepal’s economy and it deserves local professionals who can build a career in the industry, rather than looking for well-paid employment elsewhere-including outside the country.
As more digital communication and data challenges emerge, journalists, activists and traditional aid actors, including the government, need to have constructive dialogues, build capacity and treat overheads as an investment in more accountable organizations and motivated, well-paid professionals-ideally the next generation of local experts.
The BBC-Myth of a Public Service (book review)
For media, communication and journalism students and researchers it provides ample food for thought how the past of public broadcasting relates to our messy contemporary times.
And for the (communication for) development audience it offers valuable insights into institutional transformation under the neoliberal condition and the chances and limitations of communicating social change.
Now more than ever: Academic conferences need to embrace the digital age!
Conferences need to offer wide-ranging digital access
The jokes about missing or expensive Wi-Fi are only one aspect. Meetings rooms need to be accessible so virtual participants can Skype-, Google Hangout- etc. in. Let participants run their own facebook live streams and give them the opportunity to explore other platforms and technologies outside platform capitalism.
Who Killed Hammarskjöld? (book review)
I can highly recommend the book-particularly as additional reading on course reading lists on African decolonization, history of the UN or how ‘global governance’ has (not) been working ‘on the ground’.
The fact that Susan Williams’ account is such a readable historical discovery that probably teaches readers more about ‘African history’ than most academic textbooks, underlines the unique position that Hurst and its team have in publishing great books about development history.
From impact to transformation: Do-Gooders, Multicolored Saviors and development as lifestyle
The debates in development around (unpaid) internships, volunteering (whether it takes place in the context of ‘service-learning’ or the large-scale schemes the EU is rolling out often center around ‘white saviors’ and sometimes the ‘precariat’. But promises of intersectionality, multi-culturalism or empowerment will largely remain unfulfilled-or at best individualized as the development industry will embrace new subjects and objects.
Will there be a different volunteering culture as middle-class Indians venture into remote villages? Or will Chinese volunteers arrive in Africa in a second wave of cultural expansion of its influence-not dissimilar to traditional Western notions of ‘development’?
How not to present survey data- 2017 UN Global Staff Survey edition
As a social science researcher I can confirm that this is a very sad case study of “how not to present survey results” and clearly not worthy of the UN system, its staff and the important issues that are raised in the report.
Academic conferences as neoliberal commodities (book review)
If Donald Nicolson’s book can achieve one thing, then hopefully more discussions on the purpose of academic conferences across disciplines, privileges and inequalities!
Failing in the field (book review)
Failing in the field is a great primer for students and non-academic researchers who are embarking on the exciting journey of data collection and fieldwork. But while getting research design and implementation right, we should remember not to leave ‘the field’ to the political scientists and economists alone ;)!
Don’t post direct links to your new journal article!
Create a simple landing page for your articles and academic work!
Usually a simple blog post with the abstract of the article, but also key findings, is a great start. Blog posts I can read and share!
The blog post also contains a LINK to the pre-print platform of your choice (Academia, ResearchGate etc.) or the option to download the pre-print directly from your website. THEN there is also a LINK to the journal’s homepage where I can download the full paper.
Electing Saudi-Arabia to the UN Commission on the Status of Women is not a bad idea
So just to be clear: There are many things you can and should be critical about when it comes to Saudi-Arabia – but electing them as a member to the Commission on the Status of Women is actually the right thing to do within the context of UN diplomacy.
Other members should put pressure on Saudi-Arabia-especially behind the scenes, but the UN is not the right scapegoat for messy international relations and hypocritical relationships that include money, oil and weapons…
The Assault on Journalism (book review)
This is a great open-access collection that goes far beyond journalism safety and highlights many important issues in communicating development and social change topics in our mediatized world!
Revolution and Authoritarianism in North Africa (book review)
I thoroughly enjoyed Revolution and Authoritarianism in North Africa.
It provides plenty of food for thought and discussion and will certainly make a very good introductory text for students before they start discussing the countries, societies and revolutionary dynamics in more detail. Volpi’s book also makes a very important contribution to the emerging debate on how ‘we’, particularly in academia, need to continue with nuanced and careful analysis as mediatized events gain momentum and sound bites replace complex reflections.
Especially the political science and international relations community also needs to admit how limited their power of prediction really is when contested spaces are re-negotiated.
Kenneth Warren and the Great Neglected Diseases of Mankind Programme (book review)
From my point of view the book was certainly an unexpected gem for my collection. A traditional biography which opens up some interesting reflections on how our (research, development, policy) world used to work, a glimpse into the life of a big man with big ideas and big impact-yet a subject to dominant discourses and existing power relations. A father who had little time for his children and maintained an impressive global network in the pre-digital age.
Is platform capitalism really the future of the humanitarian sector?
To cut a long story short: I would be a bit more careful in predicting a future of the humanitarian sector based on data-driven cash programs where NGOs mimic global capitalistic platforms.
Combat charities and the mediatization of extreme humanitarian volunteering
No matter how many times they try or who bankrolls their efforts, an American guy shooting at people in a far-away land will not be the solution to end war and conflict…
Radio Okapi Kindu (book review)
Radio Okapi Kindu is definitely among my favorite aid worker memoirs now and a great addition to this emerging genre that continues to surprise me with fresh voices and approaches to communicating development in engaging and different ways!
Can we transform the repetition of virtual development debates into something bigger? And do we have to?
As diverse as ‘our’ community may be and as much as we suffer collectively through the one or two annual populist essays of ‘but does aid really work? You know, corrupt African dictators and all…!?!’, the digital, virtual water cooler may be just that: A relatively safe space for venting frustrations, finding support and maintain a community of like-minded people (which is not simply the same as a ‘filter bubble’…).
The privilege of giving career advice in international development
The toughest question in terms of career building is the question of the slowly changing ethical framework of international development: How can I justify my engagement?
Duncan writes: ‘I loved writing; I was (broadly) on the left; I wanted to understand social and political change and if possible contribute to it.’
Is this still enough to build a career given our global Northern/ Western, male etc. privileges?
Since social change usually happens slower than we anticipate my tentative answer is ‘yes, to some extent’-but the more important questions for which I have no good answer at this stage is, to put it more provocatively, who should have a career in international development in the future and at what cost will they happen in a globally accelerating labor market?
Reporting the Retreat (book review)
Looking back to journalistic practice and professionalism 75 years ago offers some really interesting insights into today’s discourses around war reporting. What Woods describes as ‘inevitable preference for stories of European evacuees’ (p.126) rings very true with today’s discussions around the ‘value’ of Northern victims and ‘heroes’ in journalism or development communication.
Reading #Harvey through a #globaldev lens
There are also new, relevant articles that have started to link Harvey to broader questions of international development and humanitarian aid and that are interesting food for thought in 'our' industry.
Love, Africa (book review)
At the end of the day, Gettleman’s memoir is not an exceptional piece of writing or insight and maybe other reviewers had expected more, because he is not ‘just’ a regular humanitarian aid worker or traveling journalist. He delivers an entertaining memoir that clearly has potential for further discussions and non-expert engagement around topics of foreign correspondents and journalism from and about Africa, but ultimately falls a bit short as self-reflective, and –critical assessment of how white men, global media brands and expat bubbles create ‘our’ image of a rapidly changing continent with its 54 countries.
Reading #Maria through a #globaldev lens
This time another American territory is affected among other islands many of which still have links to European countries through various statuses as overseas territories. So new questions are emerging in the aftermath of a natural disaster of how 'them' and 'us' are linked, how humanitarian challenges are not just an issue of the 'North' helping the 'South' and how questions of development thinking and research are becoming even more important as climate change creates a truly global community of suffering, resilience and connected support.
The Lomidine Files (book review)
Maybe the economist has replaced the pith-helmeted medical doctor in some areas and their Excel sheets are less invasive and dangerous than colonial experiments, but the Lomidine Files is a book about similar desires to understand, help and ‘eradicate’ poverty in contexts of making bodies, states and (our) aspirations count.
A few reflections on the new OECD flagship report on Data for Development
Perhaps not surprisingly, data turns into a technical, almost apolitical challenge that is framed in much the same way most other new concepts have been embraced by large international organizations.
Blogging and curating content as strategies to decolonize development studies
In the end, ‘decolonizing’ also means that more sources from different margins are included. This goes beyond the global North and South dichotomy and expands diversity to academic institutions, smaller NGOs or local news media sites almost anywhere in the world.
The complexities of the ‘lifting people out of poverty’ narrative
Economic growth comes with huge cost-and maybe even more importantly with lifestyle changes. It is great news that kids can read late at night at the well-illuminated kitchen table, but that same electricity is also required to run the fridge, microwave or TV and charge mobiles and laptops-and tons an tons of plastic and other resources will be used and sold ‘to lift families out of poverty’.
Third World Quarterly & the case for colonialism debate
This is a curated and regularly updated overview over the events that followed after the publication of Bruce Gilley's article The Case for Colonialism in the journal Third World Quarterly. 

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