About time Bucharest’s dreadful butcher mayor took time off from destroying the past and looked at the spanking new trams Sofia is adding to its fleet……
Romania's best classic station - Radio Muzical - is playing here now
Rhodes’s project is to offer an account of what he and Bevir call the ‘stateless state’. This is an image of the state that focuses on the agents of the state – the civil servants, politicians and special advisors – rather than its institutional structure. The state for Rhodes is effectively the sum of their actions. But they do not have free reign: their agency is situated in various webs of relations and beliefs, which are themselves shaped and influenced by particular longstanding narratives and traditions.
Rhodes identifies three particular narratives which are highly influential: the Westminster narrative, which are the longstanding codes of conduct around political neutrality and service to the minister which govern the behaviour of civil servants;
the managerial narrative, which has become increasingly prominent in the UK since the 1960s and in which the practices of managing, reputedly based on the private sector, according to identifiable targets and with appropriate sanctions shape conduct in the departments;
and the governance narrative, in which coordination is achieved through the internal and external organisation of networks across the state and often into civil society as well.
These narratives are not necessarily complementary and often competing. The image that is produced is one of various agents reproducing the state through their constant negotiation between these received traditions and the problems and dilemmas that confront them, rather than the more familiar image of the state as powerful, hierarchical and ossified institutions wielding structural power
Every so often I receive a short email from a senior development consultant – women and men with probably 15, often 20 or more years of paid professional employment inside the ‘aid industry’ – they basically started before it was even called an ‘industry’! The messages are usually short, sometimes straight from ‘the field’ (i.e. really uncomfortable, dangerous and complex locations) and often along the lines of ‘little do you/that researcher/this journalist really know about organization X or the crisis in region Y’.
But with very few exceptions, these voices rarely make into the development blogosphere, let alone find their way into virtual, classroom or policy discussions. The proverbial ‘I will write a book about my time in the industry once I have retired’ approach only works for very few and even if they manage to write that book, the distance of a few years between what happened in, say, Rwanda and the publication creates a safer, but often also less relevant story.
Why are senior consultants ‘hiding’? There are some more obvious reasons why senior consultants are often not very visible in public debates:· They tend to be very busy: they have carved out their niche and are on the go to the next assignment in ‘their’ country, region or area of expertise
· They tend to be older and may not have been socialized in the digital culture of sharing, being online and maintaining a digital presence or even a brand
· They actually have something to lose if public critique leads to fewer assignments for a favourite organization or they are perceived as ‘difficult’ (many freelance senior consultants have quasi-employment status with some of the largest bi- and multilateral organizations)
· They know development is a job; after decades of work, every profession, job or calling has been met with plenty of reality checks; even if you are not cynical or burned-out it is difficult to have similar discussion regularly or get excited when the latest ‘participatory bottom-up community design project’ turns out to be just like any other project with a budget, log-frame and quarterly reports
· They do not really like the academic reflection business and prefer to get an assignment ‘done’ rather than reflecting on an industry that may not be responsive to critique anyway (see previous point)
On the other hand, their detailed and nuanced insights would be beneficial in many discussions on why certain organizations do what they are doing, who was resisting an idea and how difficult and political consensus building really is; they could also shed light on many realities in the field, the grey areas, the trade-offs, the secrets of the industry of how to get positive change going and how to avoid bureaucratic pitfalls etc. Or how they maintain marriages, families, well-being and gruesome travel schedules.
How do we get access to senior consultants and get them to share their wisdom, stories and experiences (if they want to…)? Traditional formats, like inviting them to (academic) conferences and workshops, usually fail or are limited to the context of one event. The IRIS Humanitarian Affairs Think Tank is an interesting approach that connects researchers and humanitarian practitioners in an academic framework with support from SaveThe Children. And there are probably similar projects that I am not aware of and that you are most welcome to share with me so I can add it to this post. So what other formats can we think of? Writing retreats that aim at producing a publication through a book sprint rather than going through traditional publishing channels? Or do we need more traditional, multi-sited research that works along those busy schedules and may include interviews in unusual locations, e.g. airport lounges, R&R hotels or organizational debriefings?
At this point in time, I am thinking out loud really and I am grateful for comments, suggestions and ideas!