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!

Friday, January 12, 2018

"Development" Voices

From Poverty to Power is one of the most interesting blogs around – and, believe me, there are not many which can persuade these arthritic old fingers to do the clicking! (The Brexit Blog is one of the exceptions which also delights in its clarity of thought and expression…..)
“From Poverty to Power” is a remarkable blog which reduces “development” issues to easily comprehensible narratives - and which succeeds in drawing down helpful comments and, indeed, assistance from its global audience.

One of its latest posts – on the “ten top thinkers on development” – has attracted some ire from colleagues who objected to its gender imbalance. My own objections were rather different - 
“It’s rather misleading to title this post the “ten top development thinkers”, I huffed …and continued  “Fifty Key Development Thinkers (2006) captures some of the important names –not least AO Hirschmann and Robert Chambers who made a much bigger contribution to thinking than some of the names on this “top ten” list - which clearly bears a rather old-fashioned economistic stamp (by the way only 3 of those 50 thinkers were women).
I then recommended two particular books which cast a contrarian eye on the development inductry - Sachs' (Wolfgang) The Development Dictionary (2010) and Deconstructing Development Buzzwords (2010) I’m actually in the world of “institutional” development and working, since 1991, in central Europe and central Asia. “Development” has always been a loaded term and, indeed, politically incorrect from 1990 – despite the scale of EU Structural funding (tens of billions of euros).

Last autumn I did a series of posts about the academic literature on public management and made a point which I rarely see recognized – that writing on the subject has a "Continental" bias, with most of the dominant writing being anglo-saxon (whose influence strongly extends to central european academia). I’ve just uploaded a little book Reforming the State” on this subject, arguing that the “modernisation” effort here could benefit from some of the insights from the “development” field

Just before I had uploaded that (slightly self-serving) post, another reader had made this excellent point -  "The kind of thing that gets you noticed for such a list might be:
1. Come up with a big idea about development, preferably slightly controversial or counter-intuitive
2. Explain how if the idea was taken more seriously it could end poverty or at least change the development paradigm
3. Selectively collect evidence and anecdotes that support the theme of the book
4. Spin out a simple idea to be a full length book
5. Aggressively promote the idea and be prepared to “battle it out” with other leading thinkers to prove who has the best take in order to promote your idea and book
Maybe this is something men are more inclined towards on average than women. Mot seriously, there are lots of other thinkers, women and men who have done important work on advancing development thinking and practice – but they might not have gotten the same level of visibility or notoriety as those on this list". 

 Some decades ago I wrote a short book to try to demystify the way a new local government system worked. That made me realise how few books were in fact written to help public understanding!
Most books are written to make a profit or an academic reputation. The first requires you to take a few simple and generally well-known ideas but parcel them in a new way – the second to choose a very tiny area of experience and write about it in a very complicated way.

After that experience, I realised how true is the saying that “If you want to understand a subject, write a book about it”!! Failing that, at least an article – this will certainly help you identify the gaps in your knowledge – and give you the specific questions which then make sure you get the most out of your reading.

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