New article in Third World Quarterly: how social media reproduce global power structures

In this new article in Third World Quarterly, Tobias Denskus and I analyze blog and Twitter coverage of the United Nations High-level Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a three-day event held at UN Headquarters in New York in 2010. We find that topics receiving the densest coverage mirrored existing priorities as defined by the MDGs. Although most blog entries created content which, in contrast to tweets, went beyond spreading mere factual or referential information on the event and even included some critical commentary, sustained debates did not emerge. Social media content accompanying the Summit thus reproduced global aid rituals rather than catalyzing conversations about alternative priorities for and approaches to international development. The case demonstrates that social media can serve to reinforce elite structures and discursive hegemony, which calls into doubt their recent characterization as catalysts of political change.

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PBS interview on “Collective Action Against the Violence in Ciudad Juárez, 2008-2012”

Local PBS station KRWG just aired a 15-minute interview on my research on “Collective Action Against the Violence in Ciudad Juárez, 2008-2012,” a project supported by the Social Science Research Council, the Open Society Foundations and IDRC Canada. KRWG also posted a recording on YouTube. Thanks to Anthony Moreno for making my work available to the wider public!

KRWG

New article in Journal of Modern African Studies: how donors make urban politics

One of my papers just got published in the current issue of the Journal of Modern African Studies (Cambridge; 8/66 in Area Studies). In “‘When we launched the government’s agenda…’: aid agencies and local politics in urban Africa” I challenge the argument that the main cause of political impasse in African cities governed by opposition parties is incomplete decentralization, whereby a devolution of responsibilities is not matched by a downward reallocation of resources. Instead, I posit that we need to look beyond the national scale to uncover drivers of institutional change. I show how this dynamic has played out in Freetown where urban politics were shaped by global aid discourses translated into local policy frameworks through interest convergence between international and national actors. At the same time, the case of Freetown case also demonstrates how local politics successfully challenged the technocratic, apolitical reinvention of urban governance perpetuated by the international aid industry.

Virtual APSA panel on issues of and responses to Internet governance goes (a bit) viral

Hurricane Isaac won, or so it seemed: this year’s meeting of the American Political Science Association was canceled last-minute, mostly because few participants were able to actually get to New Orleans. However, thanks to the organizational skills of my unweary co-author Tobias Denskus, some of the presenters scheduled for a panel on “Issues of and Responses to Internet Governance” got together virtually instead. JP Singh of George Mason University and Mikkel Flyverbom of Copenhagen Business School presented their research on “Representing Power: Participation and Deliberation in ICT4D Projects and Internet Governance,” and Tobias and I gave our paper on “Do Social Media Reproduce or Challenge Global Development Rituals? A Content Analysis of Blogs and Tweets on the 2010 MDG Summit.” Jane Fountain of UMass Amherst chaired the session, and Irene Wu, Consumer Research Advisor in the Consumer and Governmental Bureau of the Federal Communications and adjunct professor at Georgetown, provided very useful comments. Tobias posted the video of our virtual panel here. The bloggers at Duck of Minerva already shared it as part of their growing collection of virtual APSA 2012 events (#virtualAPSA2012), and so has UT Austin doctoral student Luke Perez on his blog. Who knows, maybe this way we end up mobilizing a larger audience for our work than if we had given a 1.0-style presentation in New Orleans?

Down south: from DC to New Mexico

From the nation’s bustling capital across some of the poorest and most unequal parts of the country, a journey into radical politics and deep religiosity (and good food)… Am I finally returning to Afghanistan? No, this time I have set out to explore heretofore unseen territories in the United States of A., the fatherland of contradictions: its Down South. Starting out in contested DC–according to the U.S. Census Bureau the most unequal place in the entire nation–across Virginia into Tennessee and then Arkansas, two of the poorest States; crossing Texas east-to-west, and then into New Mexico. Arrival in Las Cruces: August 8, 2012.

The World Bank needs a strategic arbiter, not a narcissistic insider

Who is going to be the new World Bank President? For one man and his supporters, there is only one viable candidate for this position: he himself. In a recent Washington Post op-ed, he has laid out his unique set of experience and expertise. Those who dare to cast any doubt are either tackled head-on (see, for instance, the evolving debate in The Nation) or ignored (especially noteworthy when the critic is someone who happens to know the Bank much better than the contender). He also pitches himself against Larry Summers, which, in David Korten’s words, is “a rock bottom standard.” Besides, it also is a substantively questionable position since both candidates are actually quite similar. Both started out as academic prodigies who, unable to reflect and learn from mistakes, have since placed their bets on top-level political appointments in order to further their career and attain global fame. Both have thus been, for many years, political insiders who are utterly convinced of their intellectual superiority. Both consider the Bank a vehicle to carry out their visions of how global development should “happen.” And both are U.S. citizens. On the flipside, neither of them has a track record of respecting intellectual diversity, brokering agreements between stakeholders while staying on the sideline, or transforming a global organization in ways that would have won them the respect of those working for and those depending on it. But those are the very qualifications that the new World Bank President should bring to the table in order to lead effectively. And it times of rising regional superpowers such as Brazil, India and China, a hue of humility would probably be quite helpful, too.

DGSG pre-conference in New York City: successful pilot of a new interactive format

On Thursday, February 23rd, a diverse crowd of over 30 professors and graduate students gathered at Bar Basso in midtown Manhattan for the 4th AAG Development Geographies Specialty Group’s Pre-Conference. Seven presenters each delivered a seven-minute policy plea on issues ranging from land use and fair trade certification “on the ground” to the management of e-waste, Vietnam’s recent growth and inequality trajectories, and the practice of development as a political process. The group then met for dinner across the street and spent the next two hours debating and networking. Click here for the complete program. The next DGSG Pre-Conference is planned for 2013 in Los Angeles, CA.

Eric Carter's talk on DDT for malaria control (1)

Eric Carter's talk on DDT for malaria control (2)

Mark Graham's pitch on global inequalities of knowledge production (1)

Mark Graham's pitch on global inequalities of knowledge production (2)