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writing for godot

Development: A social and human rights tinderbox.

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Friday, 03 January 2020 22:35

Human rights: Food for a decision-maker’s thought   ‘Development blues’


Human Rights Reader 510

-A defiant development strategy is to reverse the ‘normal’. So, should development be ‘delivered’ or be participatory?  You know the answer…

-As a development motivation in this tinderbox, compassion is an unstable emotion. It needs to be translated into action or it withers. (Susan Sontag)



Why do still so many keep thinking that if we give decision-makers evidence-based data, they will bend? Hello…!

-Is 2020 a captive year of 2019? Is its outlook already predetermined? 2020 will be a dangerous year and irresponsibility (and continued human rights issues denial) will cost us dearly. In 2020, we will have to prove that we are capable of building a new future worth-of and fair-to every human being. (Oscar G. Garreton)


1. As an ultimately (as applied) Northern concept, development is bound up with Northern scientific knowledge and with how knowledge is presented. Is more such research evidence thus going to change decision-makers minds? Are we operating in a dream? Furthermore, attempts to make the needed social research attractive to Northern external funders is a travesty. They would, for instance, not fund research on the social determinants of health or on human rights (HR) issues, but do fund quite a bit of research on diseases. Regrettably, research priorities did not change as was hoped after the WHO Report on the Social Determinants of Health was published in 2008.*

*: I have heard at least two plausible arguments on this: a) That researchers do not want solutions; they want to make the problems more and more complicated to warrant further research (?), and b) That, as practiced in dominant countries, development science is colonialism by a different name (?). (Geoffrey Cannon)


2. For too many social scientists (including economists), it is not easy to accept that small research questions are in fact large in importance. What happens is that some of these that lead to the larger, key questions (…HR) are pushed to the backburner. By severely limiting the structural questions that ought to be asked, these scientists abandon rigor and fall into a kind of rigor mortis.** Take a very current issue: Randomized trials (that won two economists the 2019 Nobel Prize) only ask questions that are very narrow. [Randomization: random calculations using random variables made by overwhelmingly deterministic economists. (Louis Casado)]. Structural questions cannot actually be asked in such trials. These trials only ask questions that are very narrow leading to results that lack external, replicable validity; they are mechanistic and presume a universal causal logic is at play. They reproduce ideological pre-suppositions. ‘Randomistas’ say they provide straightforward answers to difficult problems …and what works in one place will work in another.

**: In this realm, universities training these scientists have to recuperate their permeability and capillarity with social movements and with the people that struggle for HR and other priorities in their respective environments. (Arturo Quizhpe)


3. Consent for these randomized trials carried out by the Nobel laureates was/is given by governments rather than by an informed consent of participants. So, does the cost of these trials justify the ‘new knowledge’ they purport to generate? I’d say no. Fully other macro variables are the ones that matter. To give rise to causal relationships, deeper contextual and historical (including HR-based) research is needed --beyond the frequent conclusion that “this is too complicated to capture”. There is a difference between what works and what-has-been-identified-to-work. These trials a) offer fodder to power brokers and opinion makers, as well as to public officials who then take an implicit view vis-a-vis contemporary market capitalism and its role in development, b) leave little room for political debate of any kind, and c) provide simplistic explanations that travel easily among policy makers. The result is a ‘pianissimo of development economics’. (Not my own words).


A question not to be conveniently forgotten: Are coping strategies a cop-out?


4. Coping only serves: a) as a fall back mechanism (with only short-term gains); and b) to make changes in underlying constrained local livelihood systems more difficult to reverse (delaying the pursuance of permanent gains in people’s rights). (Susanna Davies) Coping is thus used as a survival tactic keeping things within the prevailing system. Adapting is different: a) it entails changing the prevailing discriminating rules themselves; and b) it changes the mix of activities needed for a more sustainable future. For these and other reasons, coping in subsistence economies is no longer something to call for. Reinforcing coping strategies (positive deviance approaches, for instance) will lock people into a vicious circle of subsistence over-and-over trying to cope --which is economically inefficient-- because it will only reinforce the risk-averse-mere-survival-orientation of people rendered poor. Highly intense coping strategies are variously already pursued by many external funders and are perceived by them to be the best option available. Coping strategies legitimize short-term, often inappropriate, development alternatives.***

***: In development work, we are constantly pushed to achieve efficiency, i.e., achievement of results; effectiveness, i.e., achievement of objectives; impact, i.e., effectiveness of program implementation. But the additional one to be achieved, --and also asked for, but much less emphasized in this listing is sustainability where applying the HR framework becomes paramount.


Bottom line


-Development models made out of rotten wood end up with debris strewn across the landscape. Too many chickens in such models come home to roost with a vengeance.


5. For any development policy, dependency**** is crippling. What are needed are ‘points of support’ that come with no strings attached and that safeguard/preserve a country’s sovereignty and a people’s dignity. (Julio Monsalvo)

****: It is difficult to feel grateful when an external grant is permanently stamped with the name of the donor (who in reality should not be called a ‘donor’, but rather an ‘external funder’…). By their very nature, HR ought not to be and cannot be realized through international ‘assistance’! Solvent, sovereign states are the ones primarily responsible. Most of the world's peoples are deprived of the needed HR-based development policies, because of a grotesquely unfair international economic order of which international assistance is a part. The private sector, more and more enmeshed in it, has no role whatsoever in guaranteeing the protection of HR. (Alison Katz)


6. Looked from the other end, the one of the recipients/beneficiaries, claim holders at the local level are entrapped by a set of macro-development-policies that are adversely affecting them. They thus have to find ways to liberate themselves from this macro-policies entrapment. Why? Because there will be no sustainable HR changes at local level without macro changes. We better, once and for all, convince ourselves of this. Do not be misled: If current trends continue, things will get worse. What is now needed is to instill a sense of creative anger, among other, in us professionals; a determination that we are not going to take it any more. Each of us alone cannot do it. We need to set up committed networks, organize working coalitions…


7. Always remember an old development and HR maxim: “Self-respect leads to power within; community cohesion leads to power with; and a clear agenda for action leads to power to. (Elisa Martinez) Why remember?  a) Because dominant narratives propagate the ideas that end up as policy. This gives rise to project failures and unintended consequences (projects grounded not in reality, but rather on the needs of those intervening from outside…?) and b) Because, in most countries rendered poor, the enthusiasm/motivation (compulsion?) to formulate development policy is yet to be matched by demanding actions by claim holders on the ground.


8. Blogs like this Reader are places to amass creative anger, not necessarily to draw up possible solutions. Let these come from the sufferers of HR violations themselves. My Readers just make an over-and-over repeated call for action. Calls for action are not helped by scholarly presentations. When all is said and done, a lot more is said than done. We thus have an enormous task in front of us. And to prepare for that task, we need to sharpen our debating skills. We need to awaken the investigative reporter in us to constantly go after the human story behind the statistics. What people rendered poor around the world want is simply more: more from health, more from education, more from life, more from history, and more from us. So much for a passionate appeal from the heart.


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

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-Cultural hegemony pertains to the term hegemony that is ‘a method of gaining dominance by a leading (rich and powerful) state over other subordinate states, by threatening them with powerful means’. The term, very relevant in development and HR work, has evolved over time, from having signified a militaristic dominance, then a geopolitical dominance and, finally, a cultural dominance.

Cultural hegemony is a concept put forth by the Italian, Marxist philosopher, Antonio Gramsci. The concept implies the dominance of a custom-made culture that meets the needs of the majority, but serves the interests of the dominant social class. It involves the careful manipulation of the social institutions by the dominant group, so as to impose their beliefs, perceptions, and values on other social groups in such a way that the modified social culture is accepted as the norm.

Such a state leads to the almost blind acceptance of the resulting social, economic, and political discrepancies as normal. These social constructs are viewed as natural and beneficial to the larger population --when in fact it benefits only the dominant group. It eventually functions to replace the majority's worldview with that of the ruling social class. [This is why, in addition of carrying out social mappings (a technique that helps us to look at needed development resources and pinpointing who controls them) we must engage in political mappings that looks at the active political forces involved and what they control].

-Capitalism has survived by carrying out such a war for position, followed by a war for maneuver, i.e., capitalism maintaining its control, not only by violent means of coercion, but also by the effective diffusion of their ideology. In such a culture, the dominant bourgeoisie (capitalist) values are seen and accepted as natural. They are identified as beneficial by all the other social classes, and this leads them to defend and maintain the established status-quo rather than condemning it by revolting against it. To counter such a belief system, the working class needs to develop its own unique culture. (Komal B. Patil) your social media marketing partner
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