what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Missionary Position

Getting to Denmark” seemed an appropriate title for the collection of musings I’m trying to edit about the challenges which technocrats and academics funded by international bodies have wrestled with over the past 2 decades in ex-communist countries – particularly those of us working to try to build the capacity of state bodies there – whether central or local. 
Several billions of euros have been spent on such efforts (not including the hundreds of millions spent in the last decade by Structural Funds in these countries which have employed local rather than international staff)
The musings are a small selection of blogposts I’ve done over the past 5 years - which build on two long papers I produced a few years ago -
- “administrative reform with Chinese and European characters” (2010)  - whose last section  is a summary of the sort of lessons I felt I had learned about public administration reform in Western Europe 
- “The Long Game – not the logframe” (2011) was a caustic paper I presented to the 2011 NISPAcee Conference ( building on an earlier paper to the 2007 Conference) in which I took apart the superficiality of the assumptions EC bureaucrats seemed to be making about the prospects of its Technical Assistance programmes  making any sort of dent in what I called (variously) the kleptocracy  or “impervious regimes” of most ex-communist countries.  

But the adrenalin released by the 50 lengths I try to swim regularly in the Rodina Hotel here made me realise today that “The Missionary Position” is a better title – not only in the sense of potentially getting more hits but of its hitting the target better…… 
After all, what have most of us “Westerners” in ex-communist countries been doing these past 25 years (however little we may have recognised it) – if not “proselytising” (in almost evangelical fashion)  for better systems of what the jargon has (significantly also since 1989) taken to calling better “governance”???

I have always had a problem with this term - which seemed to cover broadly the same issues as the discipline I had known as “public administration” – although I grant you that “governance” has given more emphasis to anti- corruption, coordination, transparency and pluralism.
Volumes have been written about the change of terms – and its significance (one of the best is Whatever Happened to Public Administration? (2004)

In 2007 I did actually use the title “Missionaries, Mercenaries or Witch-Doctors?” for a paper I presented to the Annual NISPAcee Conference (in Slovenia) but, until now, I hadn’t made the connection between my activities since 1990 and the wider process of evangelism – let alone “colonisation”.  Only today did I read an article which used an anthropological approach to interpret the sort of people who go on “missions” to “developing” countries

Most “experts” are trapped in their particular world (geographical and/or intellectual) – be it of “political science”, “sociology”, “economics”, “management”, “public administration”, “europeanisation” or “development”.
Each has its own distinctive networks of socialisation, approval and punishment. Those of us who prowl the edges of these disciplines run the risks all renegades do – of neglect, ridicule, calumny, ostracisation ….except that we were never there in the first place to be ostracised!

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