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To better understand development, stop reading development blogs

To better understand development, stop reading development blogs

Although the title of this post appears paradoxical and self-defeating, I hope you do not take it literally. If you have read this far, then I assume you ignored the declarative statement, and are perhaps intrigued, puzzled or just ready to disagree. It is a broad-side shot that is by no means personal or aggressive. I am not suggesting that we should not read and engage with development blogs, but that we need to expand our repertoire and thinking.

I am sure that I am not the first to make this statement, but was motivated by an email from BFF and WhyDev co-founder Weh Yeoh, who shared this passage below. It was written by Owen Barder recently, and is not only insightful and delightful, but paradigm shifting:

“As developing countries have become more integrated into the world economy, and less dependent on aid, so their interests have changed. The most important international events for developing countries this year were the repeated failures of European leaders to put in place a credible plan to save the euro, the G20’s decision to put the world trade talks out of their misery, and modest progress at the Durban talks on climate change. These will all have more impact on developing countries than gatherings of the “development set” at World Bank meetings, the UN general assembly or the Busan forum on aid effectiveness” (Owen Barder, Guardian)

What struck me about Owen’s statement is that it goes to the core of knowledge and learning. Specifically, that more than ever, we have to locate the agendas, priorities and ideas of development within multiple disciplines and frameworks: International Relations, Psychology, History, Geopolitics, Ethnography, Economics, Trade, Finance, Politics, Sociology, etc.

Owen’s statement is particularly relevant and illustrative for countries such as Ghana, which the Financial Times sees as “an emerging black power, rather than an aid-dependent African reformer, collecting World Bank stars”. Ghana’s formulation of poverty reduction and economic growth strategies, budgetary decisions and resource allocation will have more to do with geopolitics, global and regional economics and domestic politics than with development frameworks, human rights and aid agendas. The latter usually being the bread and butter of aid and development online chatter.

My own personal experience of development discussions and readings, both on- and off-line, presume a unique space for development; not that it is regarded as unconnected from politics, trade and economics. It is axiomatic that development occupies the same space and time as these realities.

However (and I am very guilty of this), we presume development to be it’s own mastery, to have it’s own uniqueness; perhaps suffering from what Marc Bellemare referred to in a recent post as ‘chronocentrism’ – developmentcentrism. That what is happening now in Development is somehow different and unique compared to other periods in History. This is not unique to development.

“Indeed, for many, it seems difficult to take a long view of the history of economic thought and admit that, much as we chuckle at some of the research “findings” of a few hundred years ago (Malthus is a particularly good example), researchers 50 years from now will find plenty to criticize about our own work — if they read it at all”. (Marc Bellemare)

In order to escape this bubble of developmentcentrism (new jargon alert), we must stop reading development blogs and read more widely. A good reading list should not look like the Guardian’s Global Development Key first-year reads‘, but more like an entrancing Amazon Wish List (ok, so mine may not be entrancing, but feel free to give any of these titles as a gift to me).

Of course, chances are that you, the reader, already do this and tumble through sites such as Feminist Ryan Gosling (speaks for itself, with many spin-offs) or Third and Delaware (which chronicles fashion statements from every single episode of Roseanne). But, you only need to look at development blogs’ suggested readings, links and rolls to get caught in the echo chamber.

So, here, I would like to make some suggestions of blogs and other sites across a variety of disciplines and studies, and that do not mention the words ‘development’, ‘aid’ or ‘SEAWL’, but which are relevant to expanding and bursting the development bubble. I would also love to get your suggestions and interests (there are many standard suggestions in regard to economics, which is usually conflated with development, so lets try to get beyond Tyler Cowens in this field).

Anthropology

  • Savage Minds: “Savage Minds is a collective web log devoted to both bringing anthropology to a wider audience as well as providing an online forum for discussing the latest developments in the field.”
  • CultureBy- Grant McCracken: intersection of economics and anthropology
  • Zero Anthropology: anthropology after empire
Economics
  • Vox: research-based policy analysis and commentary from leading economists
  • Beat The Press: “continues to offer up useful rebuttals to the who-could-have-known-it type of journalism that happily swallows the pabulum delivered up by financial institutions, government and central banks.” (WSJ)
  •  An American Perspective from China: Do you want understand the global economy? Then, you will need to understand the Chinese economy
Geopolitics
  • Stratfor: although it gets a little deterministic, offers another valuable perspective for understanding the world
Psychology
  • Psychology Today: blog of the popular magazine Psychology Today
  • PsyBlog: understand your mind, understand others’
  • MindBlog: Deric Bownds reports new ideas and research on mind, brain, and behaviour
A bit of everything

What non-development blogs do your read to better understand aid and development?

 

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Brendan Rigby

Managing Director & Co-founder at WhyDev
Brendan is an education specialist and co-founder of WhyDev. He is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education exploring complementary basic education and the literacy practices of out-of-school children in northern Ghana. Formerly, he was an Education Officer with UNICEF Ghana, and Director of Venture Support with StartSomeGood. Brendan has also been an education consultant and trainer for Plan, UNICEF, ScopeGlobal and the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority. He is obsessed with tea, American football and karaoke.

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21 thoughts on “To better understand development, stop reading development blogs

  1. […] – for example sign up to DAWNS Digest for humanitarian news – and relate theory to events. Read beyond ‘development’; economics, politics, sociology, psychology, geography, ecology, medicine, law and more are all […]

  2. […] – for example sign up to DAWNS Digest for humanitarian news – and relate theory to events. Read beyond ‘development’; economics, politics, sociology, psychology, geography, ecology, medicine, law and more are all […]

  3. […] – for example sign up to DAWNS Digest for humanitarian news – and relate theory to events. Read beyond ‘development’; economics, politics, sociology, psychology, geography, ecology, medicine, law and more are all […]

  4. karbually

    The one thing that needs to be clearly understood by the so called experts in development is that their definition of development may not necessarily the same definition the poor, marginalized, disposed, disfranchised, and politically alienated communities have. For development to be what is globally accepted to be( New, better and more knowledge, attitudes, and practices) it should be contextually defined.

    1. That is true karbully. It is often taken for-granted and unquestioned that our concept of development is just one; and influenced by our history, politics, cultural norms, values, etc. How would you define development in your context? Do you think human rights should be at the centre of any concept?

  5. These are all great ideas. I also suggest we all read more emanating from the “global south” (I hate all that lingo). For example, I love Afrolens and I like all the stuff published by CIPPEC (some inside and some outside the development field). And I always invite people to read my blog, “The View from My Window in Palestine” which is concerned with international aid and development under military occupation. There are so many, many more.

    1. Great point Nora. Although, it can be a bit hard to find those from the ‘global south’ (or rather, not from the centre). Afrolens is – http://afrolens.com/; and CIPPEC is Spanish? What other ones do you suggest?

  6. Development can only become development if and when it is seen from the affected perspectives and homegrown solutions natured to address the needs as they are as opposed to what others see as needs

  7. […] To better understand development, stop reading development blogs, Brendan Rigby argues that we must read more widely than development blogs. A good reading list […]

  8. I love the BBC’s Africa Today podcast for some quick overview news of goings-on across Africa. Also, the This American Life podcast is great for modeling storytelling and creating empathy. Any other podcast recommendations?

    1. Great podcast suggestions Tanya. I love the storytelling of TAL, and would like to see something similar for aid/dev. Owen Barder’s Development Drums is good, AidWorks by 2SER, and Global Prosperity Wonkcast. Don’t forget the guys at freakonomics either.

  9. I think you are making a great point here, Brendan, because “cross-pollination” between sectors is essential for innovation. Any kind of centrism eventually produces narrow-mindedness.

    My main non-developmental reading source is The Economist. I also like to read Inc.com and Fast Company for some entrepreneurial and business ideas.

    1. Thanks Liza for your suggestions. I also like to read The Economist. It represents a view for how many people see the world, and despite it clear agenda and philosophy, is good for those of us who are not economists.

  10. I like twitter for finding interesting reads outside the echo chamber. The key is to follow non-development people.

    1. Yes! Who would you recommend, in anybody, Alanna?

      1. There are so many! I look for professionals in random fields who think about their work and journalists outside the development sphere. Here’s a sample:

        @nilofer
        @audreywatters
        @olgakhazan
        @sethmnookin
        @amsciam

        …and pretty much every TED fellow. They’re terrifying smart people who think across disciplines all the time.

      2. I would like to go with you .

    2. To echo Alanna’s comments there are some great journalist folk who I find fascinating to follow on Twitter. You get a better perspective of things globally. These guys are Australian based but tweet about many things international: @grogsgamut and @colvinius.

      Further, apart from blogs and Twitter, I find that reading fiction (and non-fiction too) helps me understand development better. One good book that helped me understand poverty better was the fictional work A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. For non-fiction, two psych books – The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential-and Endangered, by Bruce D. Perry and Maia Szalavitz, are also useful books to help understand human beings and the way we think. Always useful working in development!

  11. Tina Zappile

    A few geopolitics/IR/politics blogs: Duck of Minerva, IPE Zone, Stephen Walt, The Monkey Cage

    Economics/business: How We Made It In Africa

    1. Thanks for the contributions Tina.

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