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It has been 96 days since I got on a plane in New York and landed at Heathrow, ready to start my term abroad at Sussex and I had no idea what was getting myself into.  I expected to have fun and learn about new cultures, and I did, but I also would have my view on life challenged daily, mostly in part to this module.

In my first blog post, I mentioned how I have gone to Jesuit schools most of my life and how that significantly shaped my view on development and social justice.  I thought my trip to Belize was a great example of social justice.  For the most part, my classmates and I come from well off homes and we were taking time out of our own lives and money from our own pockets to travel to Belize to build this amazing woman a house for her and her three children.  This is what development was to me for a long time: people making the lives of others better.

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 Soon to be mom of four standing in front of the house my classmates and I built the summer of 2011 in Belize.

But something I learned this term is that development is not always positive.  Development can sometimes hurt more than it can help.  Before, I would not think twice about the money that was being used for aid.  It went to those in need, did it not?  It never crossed my mind that the money people so generously donated to help those less fortunate was being used to line the pockets of corrupt politicians or to pay for atrocities against the people it was supposed to be helping (i.e. Live Aid in the 1980s).  But this was not the most surprising thing I learned this term.

While I was reflecting about the past three months, I kept coming back to my place in the development world.  I am a relatively privileged, having opportunities that others can only dream about, like coming to England to study and being able to travel Europe during my stay.  I have a family who supports my decisions, no matter what they may be.  But I never thought how my place in the world skews my views on development.  By Western standards, those who are less fortunate or who are employed in professions not deemed as “appropriate” are victims and need to be saved, but has anyone thought to ask them if they wanted to be saved? Just because something does not look like what we have does not mean it is wrong and needs to be changed, which I think is a big part of the mindset in development today.

These past 96 days have been such an eye-opening experience and the days spent in that lecture theatre in Fulton are a huge reason for that.  I am going to take what I learned and look at the world through a new lens and I hope you do the same.

30 years ago, there were countless agendas and causes that were splitting the attention of the development community.  From international development, to climate change, to world hunger, the world was getting whiplash from jumping from cause to cause so rapidly. However, I am glad to announce that era in our history has finally come to a close.

The past thirty years in international development have seen a mass movement from the development practices of yesteryear to the practices we now see in 2043.  Gone are the days when aid is given in terms of material objects.  The past few decades have witnessed a more hands on approach when it comes to development, with government workers, NGOs, and those actually in need of the help, isolating what the root of the problem is…and then solving it.  The UN holds discussions between all the parties involved and ideas are formulated and then voted on to find a solution that everyone can agree with, much like it did 30 years ago.  The powers seated in the Security Council, however, are now interchanged every two years to ensure that every country gets heard.

Image from throughmylensetlh.blogspot.com

Image from throughmylensetlh.blogspot.com

After the Live Aid debacle in 1985, in which the funds collected were used to kill thousands of Ethiopians (although the money was supposed to go to help the Ethiopians), it became clear that throwing money at a problem will not make it disappear, but may even worsen it.  A few decades after the relief concert originally aired, it became known that not only was the money misused originally, it was used to buy guns (Plaut, 2010).  While aid workers thought they were dealing with grain merchants, they were really doing business with rebel leaders, unknowingly giving money to the rebels for the purchase of weapons.  Sadly, this is not the only story like this one.  Countless misuses of aid money have been recorded and it was about time it came to an end.  Simply by changing the way aid was given (going from putting a bandage on the problem to actually solving the root of the problem), we have been able to raise the standard of living in Africa and other previously “third world” areas.

Thirty years ago, global climate change was another issue looming over everyone.  The ice caps were melting and more and more natural disasters were taking place.  Through international research into sustainable energy sources, now then less than 10% of our energy needs are met with fossil fuels.  Energy harnessed from the Sun, water, wind, and biofuels (like those made from corn and other crops) have helped with our dependence on oil and fossil fuels, which in turn, helped lessen the impact on our environment.

Image from solarfeeds.com

Image from solarfeeds.com

Thirty years ago, world hunger was a serious issue.  Even children living in some of the richest countries in the world were going hungry.  That’s when the UN in 2026 came to agreement over the No More Hunger Plan.  This plan called on governments to take a front seat in the drive toward ending hunger in their countries.  In developing areas, experts were sent in to teach the locals more efficient farming techniques to increase their crop yields.  In already developed areas, laws were put in place to regulate the school system to make sure every child had three meals a day and did not go hungry.

Back to 2013…

Outcomes like these, while very optimistic, are entirely possible in the future.  I think that there does need to be a change in the way development is handled, to really get at the root of an issue.  If there were a genocide happening, we would not just send in doctors and think that will solve everything.  We would call on international governments to stop the leader who was committing such atrocious acts.  Why can this not be the case for other development problems?

There are a lot of different voices in the development community, but what if all the voices could harmonize? Imagine the possibilities…

References:

Plaut, M. (2010, March 03). Ethiopia famine aid ‘spent on weapons’. Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8535189.stm

These types of videos, where celebrities are looking directly at us to make a difference, have become commonplace in television and on the Internet.  It seems that as time goes on, more and more celebrities are becoming the spokesmodel for various causes.  For example, the situation in Darfur is often associated with George Clooney, who has dedicated his time to speak out on the injustices there.  To be honest, I was not aware of the existence of blood diamonds until I saw Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie of the same name and his subsequent campaign to end the use of them.  It cannot be denied that celebrities bring a certain star power to the causes they support and with that star power come the attention of hundreds of thousands of fans.  But is all the attention helping the groups who need it? Or is it merely helping the celebrity?

Image taken from imdb.com

Image taken from imdb.com

Celebrities, by nature, have an amplified voice that allows them access to a wide audience who are ready and willing to listen and act on what is said (Goodman & Barnes, 2011).  Take Lady Gaga for instance.  Lady Gaga is a major proponent for equal rights among the gay community and has advocated on their behalf regularly, and she is just shy having 41 million followers on Twitter (40,721,724 to be exact).  One tweet on behalf of a cause will reach millions of people instantly. Having access to such an audience is no doubt beneficial to any campaign.  When that reach is coupled with donations, millions of dollars (or pounds) can be generated at an alarming rate (Goodman & Barnes, 2011).  After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, there was an outpour of support from celebrities pledging their help on Twitter, Facebook, and other sites.  The Hope for Haiti telethon, which featured over 100 musicians, actors, and other celebrities, and its accompanying CD, raised over $58 million USD for emergency relief (Duke, 2010).

Image taken from hrc.org

Actors, Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield, use paparazzi attention to advocate for Gilda's Club, an organization working with children who have cancer. Image taken from huffingtonpost.com

Actors, Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield, use paparazzi attention to advocate for Gilda’s Club, an organization working with children who have cancer. Image taken from huffingtonpost.com

All of that is well and good, but celebrities are not known for their honest actions.  Jo Littler (2008), in her article, “’I feel your pain’: cosmopolitan charity and the public fashioning of the celebrity soul,” brings up the idea that celebrities get involved in charity to strengthen their image and careers.  By being viewed in a positive light, an actor or musician will surely sell more movies or music, not to mention the money they make from appearances for charitable organizations.  Some even argue that the money spent on celebrity involvement is merely siphoning aid from those who actually need it (Littler, 2008).  But because we place such a high value on the opinions of celebrities, we give them the power to decide which cause is worth donating to.  Celebrities are human too, so it is natural that they would be pulled to a cause that means something to them, but what does that mean for other causes?  A teen pop star will likely choose a “safe” topic because of her young fan base, effectively pulling attention away from other, just as worthy causes.  Not to mention the fact that celebrities are not experts in whatever aid is needed, be it water purification or social injustice, so they rely on simple messages that they, and their audience, can understand.  But this oversimplification of the issues does not allow for the nuances of a situation to be understood (Dieter & Kumar, 2008).  Without a complete understanding of the causes of an issue, it is like putting a band-aid on a gaping wound: it is not going to fix the problem.

I think celebrities can help a great deal…in limited doses.  The attention and money they bring to a cause is noteworthy, but the power they have over what their audience focuses on is often too much, given their little expertise.  I do not think the majority of celebrities should have the power they do when it comes to development.  While some have good intentions, like Angelina Jolie and Oprah, others may not and development experts are a much better judge about what is needed in an area.  I cannot deny, however, that the visibility they bring to the causes they do advocate is irreplaceable and is absolutely a positive thing.  Like many topics, this one is not so black and white.  What do you think? Should celebrities be put in a role where they choose which causes are worthy of our attention?

References:

Dieter, H., & Kumar, R. (2008). downside of celebrity diplomacy: The neglected complexity of development. Global Governance14, 259-264.

Duke, A. (2010, January 24). ‘hope for haiti’ raises $58 million and counting. Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2010/SHOWBIZ/TV/01/23/haiti.telethon/

Goodman, M., & Barnes, C. (2011). Star/poverty space: the making of the ‘development celebrity’. Celebrity Studies2(1), 69-85.

Littler, J. (2008). “I feel your pain”: cosmopolitan charity and the public fashioning of the celebrity soul. Social Semiotics18(2), 237-251.

Social movements throughout history have used the technology available to them to further their cause, most notably the use of the printing press to aid the American colonies in their independence.  Literature could be printed in mass amounts and handed out to the public, not so different from how information today gets passed around.  A quick tweet can reach hundreds of thousands of people within seconds, and if it goes viral, even more.  Clay Shirky, in his essay “The Political Power of Social Media – Technology, the Public Sphere, and Political Change,” (2011) sums it up well by saying; “Social media increase shared awareness by propagating messages through social network.”  But what does this mean for the people’s movement?

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Image from theblogofprogress.com

Of course, movements like the Civil Rights movement and the Suffragettes did not have social media as we know it today and yet were still successful, but in today’s society, it is hard to imagine a movement without thinking of its online presence.  When thinking of the Occupy movement, #occupy and pictures of police brutality that had gone viral come to my mind almost immediately.  In fact, I first learned about the Occupy movement from Twitter!

The video above shows the police brutality that was seen during the Occupy Wall Street protests. Bystanders were pepper sprayed by police forces.

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Image from aljazeera.com

The recent turmoil in Egypt has reached the public eye in a very real way; with photos and videos of the revolution being uploaded to social media as it happens, the public can see with their own eyes the injustice those afflicted are feeling.  Sarah Joseph (2012) even brings up the point that many of the images that are uploaded are images that cannot be seen in mainstream media.  So not only are you seeing firsthand accounts of these injustices, but you are seeing images that you would not be able to see any other way.

The Arab Spring and Occupy, for the most part, are non-violent protests and examples of what has become known as cyberwar (Johnston, 2000), which is a more civilized version of traditional fighting; so instead of blood and guts fighting, social media is a platform for fighting with words.  Social media allows for information and different viewpoints to be accessed quickly, letting people develop their own arguments.  It  gives them a platform on which to debate those arguments, free from government persecution.

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Image from blog.klout.com

The above graph shows the numbers of retweets per day over a 75-day period during the Occupy Movement; over 394,463 tweets were retweeted when NYPD cleared Zuccotti Part in November of the protesters!

            The success, or lack thereof, of the Occupy movement can be debated all day, but what is certain is the impact of the movement on social media.  Even if you do not support the Occupy protestors, you know what the movement is about.  You have seen the Facebook posts, the tweets, and the pictures that have gone viral.  You are now aware of the cause they are peacefully fighting for, and is that not part of the point?  Is it not important to bring the injustice of the situation to the consciousness of the public?

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Image from outsidetheirbox.com

As Thich Nhat Hanh said in regards to Thich Quang Duc, a Vietnamese monk who set himself on fire in protest in 1963, “you have to do something extraordinary to make yourself heard,” (Johnston, 2000).  Whether it be the Occupy protesters sitting in Zuccotti Park for days on end or the Egyptians overthrowing their leader, they did something extraordinary, thanks in part to the social media they used to plan and showcase the protest.  Social media gains these types of movements the support they need to be successful; the more people they reach, the more pressure is put on the ruling body to do something about the injustice.  But again, it was not social media that overthrew Mubarak, but the people.   So maybe it is not so much that social media is the key to a social movement’s success, but it definitely unlocks a door on the way to success.  What do you think? Is social media a key to success? Or does it double lock the door?

References

  1. Shirky, C. (2011) ‘The political power of social media – technology, the public sphere, and political change’, Foreign Affairs, Vol 90 (1). Retrieved from http://heinonline.org/HOL/Page?handle=hein.journals/fora90&div=8&g_sent=1&collection=journals#42
  2. Johnston, Josée (2000) ‘Pedagogical guerrillas, armed democrats, and revolutionary counter publics: Examining paradox in the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico’, Theory and Society, Vol 29 (4): 463-505.
  3. Joseph, S. (2012). Social media, political change, and human rights. Boston College International and Comparative Law Review35 (1), 145-188. Retrieved from http://heinonline.org/HOL/Page?handle=hein.journals/bcic35&div=6&collection=journals&set_as_cursor=1&men_tab=srchresults&terms=90 Foreign Aff. 28&type=matchall

In the past, development took place mostly in the form of colonization.  Powerful countries, like Britain, would go to their colonies and begin the process of development to better the economies of said colonies.  It probably did not hurt that Britain would also benefit economically in the process.  Prior to the 1929 Colonial Development Act, assistance was only given to colonies when needed, such as after a natural disaster or crop failure.  After the act was enacted, colonial assistance was “given only after a systematic examination of all schemes and projects put forth by the colonial governments,” (Abbott, 1971) which in the end, due to the restrictiveness of the act, did not help the colonies much with bettering their own economies.

But what does this mean for development now?  In terms of development, I believe that those countries that used to be colonizers give more money to those countries that were once their colonies than to other recipients.  Their special relationship means that former colonizers already have interests in the former colonies and we have to be sure that those interests do not interfere with the country’s development.

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Image from abagond.wordpress.com

Colonization, even with its positive aspects, did, in part, cause the underdevelopment of some societies.  As George Abbot brought up in his discussion on the 1929 Colonial Development Act, the act helped Britain more than it did the colonies it was designed for.  It reduced the levels of unemployment in the British mainland and stimulated exports, but did not bring many positive impacts to the colonies themselves.  Critics even argue that the act, while supposed to be promoting colonial development, actually worked against it, citing reasons like the act was too restrictive and it made broad distinctions that left out important projects, like building schools (Abbott, 1971).  So with these reasons in mind, can you tell me how this act was supposed make a difference, when it seems that all it did was restrict the colonies chances of actually receiving aid?

Presently, it is interesting to note that former colonies, such as India and Africa, receive sizable amounts of aid from their former colonizers, in this case, Britain.  In 2011, the UK gave £295 million in assistance to India (BBC, 2011).  The following graph shows the countries in which UK aid is given.  Compare this graph with the map of the British Empire above.  Do you notice any similarities?

Britain's aid map

Image from theguardian.com

Aid is focused in India and the Eastern coast of Africa, which in the past, were British colonies.

Whether aid is given either bilaterally or multilaterally, the money often comes with a use for it already attached.  Where the money goes is sometimes where the money is not needed, which does not do much in way of helping recipient countries develop.  The current aid system often reminds me of colonial era aid with all the hoops that recipient countries have to jump through to receive help.

Robert Fletcher, in his article entitled “The Act of Forgetting: imperialist amnesia and public secrecy,” (2012) cites a perpetual lack of acknowledgement of how colonization and globalization affected currently underdeveloped countries.  Fletcher uses a report published by the UN’s Department of Social and Economic Affairs that claims underdeveloped societies are less developed due to “internal obstacles” within the society, such as “ancient philosophies, old social institutions, bonds of cast, creed, and race, and simple lack of motivation,” meaning things such as a society’s culture are to blame for their being underdeveloped. What the UN fails to claim, however, is how colonization has led to this systematic underdevelopment of some societies.  The age of colonization and globalization, in part, led to the current distribution of wealth in our society: the gap between wealth and poverty is ever widening, with the rich getting richer and poor becoming poorer, and the UN report is only one example of people conveniently forgetting colonization’s impact on underdeveloped countries.

Not everyone may agree with me, but I think that current aid procedures, and their recipients, is oddly reminiscent of colonial era aid.  Many of the same countries are receiving the aid, just now they are not colonies anymore.  Does that not strike a chord with anyone else?  It is as if the past has been forgotten, but why is there a problem with people forgetting the past? They are bound to repeat it.  For example, when I was younger, I would eat so many grilled cheeses (or a toastie if I am going to be British about it) that I would get sick and would not touch another one for months.  A few years later, I happened to forget the whole ordeal and it happened all over again!

But on a more serious note, unless aid procedures change, the problems that arose during colonization are bound to occur again.  I do not find much of a difference between then and now and I think Western countries, like the UK, should look upon their past with a discerning eye and see where they went wrong and see how they can change so it does not happen again.

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Image from rhapsodyinbooks.wordpress.com

(Basically me as a child…)

References:

1. Abbott, George (1971) ‘A Re-Examination of the 1929 Colonial Development Act’, The Economic History Review, New Series, Vol. 24 (1): 68-81

2. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-12607537

3. Fletcher, Robert (2012) ‘The Art of Forgetting: imperialist amnesia and public secrecy’, Third World Quarterly, 33:3, 423-439

“Development is not about words and procedures. It is about changing the realities of people’s lives.” – Everjoice Win, 2004

Would it not be great if a book titled like that existed? Then perhaps there would not be a debate on what international development actually entails, but I will do my best to put in my two cents.

It has only been a week since class began and my personal definition of international development has already been challenged.  Prior to my start at Sussex, my definition of development was very much linked to the idea of social justice, mostly due to my education in Jesuit schools (the Jesuits are an order in the Roman Catholic Church who promote social justice, for those who don’t know).  Development, to me, was very much centered on providing assistance to those in need.  For example, after my high school graduation, myself and ten other classmates went to Belize and helped build a house for a single mother with three children.  To us, we were helping this amazing woman develop her life, but development is so much more than that.  The idea of development is multifaceted, with footholds in “ecological, economic, social, political, and personal” (Chambers, 1997) realms.  It is not just about helping others, but empowering others to help themselves.

Development is not always positive, however.  Gilbert Rist touched on this idea in his article “Development as a buzzword.”  He argues that there is no real definition of development, but instead, it is more of a performative word; a word that you say by doing (Rist, 2007).  I cannot help but agree with the idea that development is something you say by doing.  To me, development is all about making a difference; you can talk about development all day, but in the end, it is actually acting on it that means something.  Despite this, his definition of development is as follows: “the essence of ‘development’ is the general transformation and destruction of the natural environment and of social relations in order to increase the production of commodities (goods and services) geared, by means of market exchange, to effective demand.”  Following Rist’s view, development has a negative connotation as well.  For example, land development allows for more resources such as housing and agriculture, but also leads to deforestation.  The World Bank reports that nearly half of our planet’s original forest has been destroyed, most of which occurred in the last thirty years.

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Image from rainforests.mongabay.com

Besides the obviously negative environmental changes, development leads to having to pay for things that should be free, such as a helpful hand from a neighbor or a day on the beach.  Rist positions this reality of a developed country in rather bleak and scandalous terms, saying, “Prostitution may be officially condemned, but it has become the common lot: everyone is for sale.”  While bleak, I tend to agree with this statement.  Everything, and everyone, has a price.  In today’s society, it’s hard to ignore the importance we place on money, even if it means destroying what was already there in lieu of something else.

Teak-deforestation-burma

Image from theguardian.com

What’s left of a forest in Burma after deforestation

As you can see, answering the question “what is development,” is not an easy task.  International development can encompass many areas, from economic development to political development to personal development.  It can be positive: from building houses for the homeless to teaching villagers how to grow certain crops.  On the other hand, it can be negative, leading to a loss of resources or a way of life that a village has grown accustomed to.

My personal favorite definition of development is best said by Robert Chambers in his editorial “Responsible Well-Being – A Personal Agenda for Development.”  Chambers writes “the objective of development is well-being for all,” perfectly encompassing what I have always thought to be true.  Development, even with its sometimes negative effects, always means well and THAT is what development is.

References

1. Chambers, Robert (1997) ‘Responsible Well-being: A Personal Agenda for Development’, World Development, Vol. 25(11): 1743-1754

2. Rist, Gilbert (2007) ‘Development as a buzzword’, Development in Practice, 17: 4, 485-491

3. World Bank. Deforestation. Retrieved from http://go.worldbank.org/0HLKY16WF0

4. Win Everjoice (2004) ‘”If it doesn’t fit on the blue square it’s out!” An open letter to my donor friend’, in Inclusive Aid: Changing Power and Relationships in Development, ed. Rachel Hinton and Leslie Groves, London: Earthscan.