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, July 18, 2018

Why Those seeking systemic change have had little traction….so far

I’ve been looking back at the posts which have this year discussed various efforts to improve “the human lot” and trying to draw the threads together……
One of the recurring themes of this blog is the “insularity” of those who theorise about social conditions ie their failure to realise that they are (generally) writing from one particular intellectual “silo” and aiming their missive at those within the same silo….
It’s taken me some time to realise that I’m guilty of the same sin….Let me explain…..

When I started this blog almost ten years ago, its initial focus was what we might call the “conditions of social injustice” in the West of Scotland in the 1970s which had persuaded some of us to elaborate a unique urban social strategy whose legacy is still evident today….

The blog then fairly quickly moved to try to explore the sort of reform strategy which might be appropriate for government agencies “in transit” from a system of total state control (under communism) to one with a strange mixture of “Wild-West”/Mafia capitalism and of loose democratic contestability…
At the same time, I was following the “development literature” in which the historical context (or path dependency) had been - not communism but – imperialism…The past decade – as a recent post summarised – has seen multiple challenges to the development model which had held sway in the post-war period…..with a much more political model of change penetrating even to the World Bank citadels of power

And, in recent years, the blog’s focus has shifted yet again – this time scouring the critical literature (which has grown massively in the past decade) about the “global economic crisis” and trying to identify some common ground in the various explanations on offer for the meltdown and their implications for the future of the prevailing economic model. Critical voices have increasingly been heard of that model – although alternatives are still in short supply

In each case, theories of change were needed and were duly produced – with varying degrees of coherence. The best of this literature is probably the World Bank material on government reform; and that from the 3 bodies listed in the “global justice” section – particularly the material from Smart CSOs with its three levels of forces of power – “culture”, “regimes” and “niches”
As always, a table will make the point more graphically than text –

How different “theories of change” have dealt with some key issues

The issue?
Key analysts

Urban Social injustice

How marginalised groups and areas could improve their political influence

Saul Alinsky
Peter Marris

Urban ghettoes were rediscovered in the 1980s and various methods used by governments to empower their residents….no real answer has been found to the problem of labelling and stigma….

National governance (communist legacy)

How to make state bodies effective and accountable to  citizens

Nick Manning
Tony Verheijen

Fast privatisation (not least of media empires) has created new patrimonial regimes impervious to citizen control. European Structural Funds have deepened the corruption.

National governance (imperialist legacy)

reducing patrimonial power

Robert Chambers
Duncan Green
Matt Andrews
Tom Carrothers

Global aid and consultancy is a massive multi-billion industry which seems impossible to reform. Fashionable nostra come and go – with the local regimes firmly in control….

Managing the Capitalist Crisis

Ecological collapse, peak oil, low profitability, corporate theft, globalisation

The "usual suspects – Chomsky, Harvey, Klein, Monbiot, Varoufakis

The blog has noted several times the reluctance of writers to develop common ground in their various analyses – let alone develop a proper annotated bibliography about the crisis…..

“Global justice”

The search for a more sustainable and acceptable alternative economic model
The ecological crisis has more resonance for change than talk about capitalism – so the most effective bodies which have captured global attention tend to focus initially on that – but increasingly broaden out to talk of alternative economic models

It’s interesting, of course, that newspaper headlines rarely refer to these fundamental issues – with the single exception of extreme weather conditions….

Perhaps this post is beginning to show the influence of the material I’ve been reading in the past week or so about thinking in terms of systems…..?? It’s suggesting that those of us angry with the way the world is being run need to –
-       Show more sensitivity to how issues are being defined in campaigns we’re not involved in
-       Spend more time making common cause with others
-       Clarifying our “theory of change”
-       Challenging the leaders of campaigns about such things…

Recommended Further Reading