Oct
02

Wax & Gold

Levine's Wax & Gold (1965) is one the 'classics' of Ethiopian studies in the socio-anthropological realm. Much ink has been spilled about his work (including the author himself added a Preface to the 1972 to explain his change of views), much work has also been inspired that draws on the wax and gold concept that Levine describes and employs. 

In many ways, this was a book of its time - similar to other ethnographic type works that emerged in the early decades within the discipline of anthropology. Levine has sections on history, coming of age, adulthood, roles, marriage, individualism, social organizations, psycho-social analysis; all of which focusing on the Amhara. This post won't delve into the content, but instead share his points on the idea of wax and gold:

  • "The apparent, figurative meaning of the words is called "wax"; their more or less hidden actual significance is the "gold"." (p. 5)
  • "This terminology is derived from the work of the goldsmith, who constructs a clay mold around a form created in wax and then, draining the wax, pours the molten gold into that form." (p. 5)
  • The chief delight of Ethiopic poetry is to attain a maximum of thought within a minimum of words. This effect is reached, as we have seen, through subtle allusions and plays on words." (p. 7)
  • "... wax and gold is so important in Amharic that some Amhara maintain that one does not properly speak the language unless he is well versed in the art of exploiting its numerous ambiguities." (p. 8)
  • "Just as the Amhara tends to be tight-lipped and evasive when confronted with questions he does not feel like answering, so he finds pleasure in stubbornly withholding his meaning from his audience through employing figures and allusions which no one can understand. This may be understood as a passive form of oral aggression." (p. 230)
  • "Unless there is some overwhelming personal advantage to be obtained from providing information, the Amhara tend to give answers - when they do not pretend not to understand the question - in terms so ambiguous as to be worthless" (p. 251). 

The 'wax and gold' tradition is one wherein ambiguity is praised as it conveys one's linguistic and intellectual abilities to speak with brevity and offer multiple meanings at once. Literal, straight forward viewed as simplistic and lacking of intellect, whereas the use of 'wax and gold' in communication conveys complexity and intellect.

Sep
25

Whose Voice Matters in IPE?

New open access publication: Whose voice matters in the teaching and learning of IPE? Implications for policy and policy making

Abstract: Critical decolonial assessments of International Political Economy (IPE) curricula have found a continued dominance of Euro-Western perspectives. However, these critical assessments have often been of specific programs or courses. In this article, we open the canvas wider in our quantitative assessment of privilege and marginalization, by conducting an analysis of IPE curricula from universities from around the world as well as of one of the most widely used introductory textbooks in the field. We find that scholars based outside of the Euro-West are marginal, while those based in the Euro-West continue to be dominant – in all the assessed course offerings. We also find that female voices are marginal, in all locations. Knowledge production systems privilege Euro-Western male voices and perspectives, furthering a process of systemic cognitive and epistemic injustices. Building upon our analysis of teaching and learning content, this article critically reflects on the implications of when IPE meets policy, and offers avenues for the policy engagement to avoid the same processes of privileging and marginalizing, and thereby better situating policy making to avoid repeating failures resulting from the identified entrenched biases.

Link: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14494035.2021.1975220 

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/14494035.2021.1975220

Sep
21

Contemporary Qatar

Edited books are challenging to summarize, this post surveys some of the chapters and key points that stood out to me in this new collection, Contemporary Qatar (2021), edited by Zweiri and Al Qawasmi.

Ch 1 outlines the challenges experienced by the new state, often driven by external actors but which slowed the process of state building, which included the oil embargo (1973/4), oil crisis (1979), Iranian revolution (1979), Egypt-Israel peace treaty (1979), Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), GCC (1981), invasion of Kuwait, Gulf War (1990/1), Soviet collapse (1991), Jordan-Israel peace treaty (1994), failed coup (1996). The resources that Qatar holds today, largely LNG, were not a certain investment in the 1990s, when prices were low, but paid off in the long run. LNG development began in 1991, with the first export in 1997, the economic benefits of this enabled economic diversification in the 2000s, and beyond. The authors also note the niche areas of diplomacy that develop: (1) peace diplomacy / conflict resolution in Yemen, Sudan, Palestine, Syria, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Eritrea; (2) higher education, with Education City, (3) Media  with Al Jazeera Media Network from 1996, and (4) Sport via 2008 Asian Games, 2011 Pan Arab Games, to FIFA and beyond.

Ch 2 is historical, and there are several book length efforts on this. I'll leave the summary as I have done that for the other books. Ch 3 on governance highlights unique directions of Qatar for the region, and what consequences this had - namely supporting a generation of young leaders and expanding freedoms, which created some tensions in the region with other nations whose leaders did not share this vision. Ch 4 covers political participation - there is much said about the 2021 elections, but municipal elections have been on-going since 1999; the author shows a relatively low voter registration, variable voter turn out, and declining candidates. This chapter is quite quantitative. There appears to be a need to delve into the qualitative aspects of why.

Ch 5 covers foreign policy (also covered by Kamrava, I'll avoid repetition here). Ch 6 explores the peace diplomacy, drawing on first hand experiences, and outlines the cases of Yemen, Lebanon, Sudan, Djibouti, Palestine, and Afghanistan. Some unique contributions in this chapter for those interested. Ch 7 offers a detailed case study on foreign relations with Palestine while Ch 8 outlines the expansion of military capacity and capability following the 2017 blockade of Qatar. Ch 9 broadens the conversation on sport in Qatar, moving beyond its international and tourism purposes, but also its cultural and bottom-up social drivers. Ch 10 re-orients the rentier framing of Qatar to one in the political realm, as a developmental state; this seems a useful re-conceptualization, as far too often broad generalizations are made of groups of states, which may not hold. Ch 11 covers the geopolitical of gas, specifically in relation to the US shale gas market and Qatar's LNG. 

Ch 12 is one of the few in this collection that address domestic social issues, it focusing on national identity. The drivers resonate with many other chapters (economic, education, big projects, blockade), what is unique about this chapter is that the author presents recommendations on how the emerging national identity issues could be address, which include: (1) cultural criteria for immigrants (in a country where the majority are not citizens); (2) a labour market shift that focuses upon the longer term / multi-generational migrants who are 'local' as opposed to revolving shifts of foreign workers; (3) strengthen public schools via state investment and training with an aim to increase their appeal and phase out coupon system currently in place for private schools; (4) ensure the urban housing policy facilitates residential structures that are intentionally mixed, slowly addressing the legacy of some families living in particular areas to enable greater interaction and solidarity across society. Ch 13 addresses the memory of the blockade, and makes an interesting case about the rise of nationalist sentiment before the blockade that enabled the government to take a bold stance, which thereafter increased nationalist sentiments. Ch 14 covers women in the workforce, with Qatar being positioned as having a low female work force participation and lacking a 'female friendly' work environment. However, the chapter would have been enhanced with regional and international comparisons - Qatar has relatively high female labour force participation (similar to Germany and the UK) and has a rate nearly triple that of other regional countries (e.g. Saudi, Egypt, Iran). The interesting question seems to be the converse - what enabled Qatar to be so different (while acknowledging that further progress could yet be made on enable greater labour participation). 

This is an excellent collection of works for those interested in Qatar. A limitation is that a lot focuses on the political and economic realms (domestic and international) and less on the social issues (other than national identity and female labour participation). Nonetheless, for those interested in the subject areas covered, this is an important contribution. 

Aug
20

Ethiopia & Food Security

QUOTES:

  • "As every farmer will emphasize, there is no average household, average yield, average rainfall or average food security situation. Averages are imposed; they provide illumination but are not lived realities. Instead of focusing on averages, greater attention should be placed on the diversity of ways in which households encounter food insecurity" (p. 25-26)
  • "One of the greatest strengths emerging from the Stages of Food Security methodology is the depth of qualitative insight. The process resulted in a reformulation of questions and metrics, and their co-analysis facilitated the emergence of highly contextualized information about the socio-cultural, economic, political, historical and gendered vulnerabilities to food insecurity." (p. 130)
  • "Fertilizer and pesticide use similarly vary by crop, indicating how typical household questionnaires make invisible the intricate and informed choices that smallholder farmers make within their agricultural practices." (p. 162-163)
  • "Ethiopia is making progress in creating new programs and expanding the coverage of services, yet significant challenges remain. With almost half of all children under the age of five experiencing stunted growth due to malnutrition, the need for action is urgent lest another generation be denied the opportunity to fulfill its potential because it has been limited by food insecurity." (p. 205)


REVIEWS:

  • "Ethiopia and Food Security could not have come at a better time. The author, who has lived, worked and conducted extensive research in the country over many years, brings a wealth of knowledge to the subject, a greater empathy for the rural people who are the chief actors in the book, and a fresh perspective, making the work richer as well as more insightful." —Dessalegn Rahmato, Forum for Social Studies, Addis Ababa
  • "While applauding Ethiopia's remarkable success in drought mitigation and famine prevention, Dr. Cochrane provides a unique perspective on the complex drivers of food insecurity and options for alleviating them. Ethiopia and Food Security is highly recommended for anyone interested not just in understanding and measuring these problems but also in addressing them by designing effective programs, policies and services." —Teferi Abate Adem, Research Anthropologist, HRAF at Yale University
Jun
19

How to Rig an Election

"The greatest political paradox of our time is this: there are more elections than ever before, and yet the world is becoming less democratic" (p. 1). This paradox is explained in How to Rig an Election (2018) by Cheeseman and Klaas (published by Yale). In sum: "How is it possible that the flourishing of elections has coincided with a decade of democratic decline? The answer is that dictators, despots and counterfeit democrats have figured out how to rig elections and get away with it." (p. 3) The book is an excellent read for undergraduate students, it is clear and accessible. The chapters cover gerrymandering (Ch 1), vote buying (Ch 2), repression (Ch 3), hacking the election (Ch 4), stuffing the ballot box (Ch 5), playing the international community (Ch 6). Each chapter provides a range of examples of each issue, from a set of countries the authors have more experience with (which are global in nature). The focus of the book is on contexts where democracy does not have deep roots (they say the emphasis of cases is more on how to "strengthen or build democracy, rather than rescue or defend it").

The chapter on hacking the election is fascinating in that it sheds light on new directions of rigging, particularly the use of technology. The authors state that there is "a clear risk that we are heading towards a future, previously imagined only in science fiction movies, in which our actions and beliefs are recorded and manipulated at a level of detail that was hitherto unthinkable. And whether we like it or not, such methods are being increasingly deployed in an ever-larger number of elections, with important consequences. When elections are decided by small margins, big data can be decisive." (p. 148)

Conclusion? "In the twenty-first century, elections will be rigged with strategies both old and new, because autocrats have learnt a simple but sad truth: it is easier to stay in power by rigging elections than by not holding them at all. For that reason, we must learn an even more uncomfortable truth: right now, those who rig elections are outfoxing not only their own people but also the international community. Unless we learn how to identify these strategies and address them, then election quality will continue to decline. Over time, this is likely to call the basic legitimacy of democracy into question, as people grow frustrated with elections that fail to usher in change." (p. 239) 

Jun
14

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates

Gates' How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need (2021) is well written. The book seems to aim for an audience that has had minimal engagement with climate change conversations. The first chapter sets the scene for the author's positionality, followed by a few chapters on climate science 101. For those moderately versed in the climate conversation, these might be skimmed. Chapters 4 to 9 present the crux of the subtitle, available solutions and needed breakthroughs. Unsurprisingly, the book takes a technological focus on mitigation, and admittedly it offers little on politics, economics, values or societal transformation.

This book was not on my reading list, but I picked it up after a guest lecturer made mention of it positively. I was most interested in the proposals (Chapters 4-9). In Ch 4 we get nuclear, offshore wind, hydrogen, carbon capture, amongst a few others. The chapter raises some interesting points that infrequently come up in transition conversations, such as all the infrastructure requirements - from massive transmission systems to housing electrical services (we tend to focus on supply infrastructure and use, not distribution). Gates does not much engage with all the metals required for the proposals to occur. Ch 5 reiterates the point as an enabler for changing how we produce products and raises the challenge of cement as a GHG producer with no simple replacement. Ch 6 grapples with agriculture and land use, calling for changing foods (artificial and lab meat) and reducing food waste; it points to the challenges of fertilizer and deforestation. Ch 7 covers transportation and calls for electrofuels, advanced biofuels and electrification all around, but does not really contest how the system works nor where all those metals are to be sourced (nor the injustices in the extractives sector). Ch 8 deals with heating and cooling; proposals are clean electricity and efficiency. Ch 9 delves into adaptation, which includes a pitch for CGIAR and agricultural research, with an emphasis on tech solutions; calls for climate smart city planning, restoring ecosystems, desalination, climate financing and a cautious bit on geoengineering. Ch 10 touches on "smart energy policies"; some recap from previous chapters, a call for research, and a wide range of brief points. Ch 11 has "the plan": research (more, high risk/high reward, prioritized); market shifts (governments lead via incentives, regulation / standards, price carbon). Ch 12 concludes with what "we" do, citizens, which include advocacy and personal adjustments.

Given that Gates has been involved in some experimental blue skies work, one surprise is how inside-the-box much of this book is. Keep driving (electric), keep flying (advanced biofuels), keep your diet (lab grown meat), make minor adjustments (reduce food waste, energy efficient heating/cooling); whether it was intended or not, the message is not all that demanding nor urgent. There is no talk of serious redistribution (beyond the charity model). There is no talk of climate justice. Quite comfortable. Even so, if Gates is keen on this messaging spreading, why not make the book open access? It does not appear that Gates is in need of book sales revenue, why not make it accessible to more people? That would align with the Gates Foundation position on open research... 

Jun
10

Another Now

What would the world look like is the 2008 financial crisis inspired a radical transformation of society as we know it (rather than bailing out the banks to continue the status quo)? Yanis Varoufakis has ventured some answers in his Another Now (2020). The book is fictional, which the author uses to present a range of viewpoints and perspectives. In this regard, the characters provide a unique opportunity to have a discussion. For those interested in alternatives, this will be of interest. I won't spoil the story, but as a preview, the author writes:

"Costa's long-standing assessment of the crash of 2008 was that it had been too good a crisis to waste, and yet waste it we did. It could have been used to transform society radically. Instead, we not only rebuilt the world as it had been before but, by bailing out the banks and making the working people pay off the debt, we had doubled down on it, instituting a global regime in which, effectively, political and economic power had been handed over wholesale to the most bankrupt of bankers. Costa had always believed that an alternative had been available to us. A road we never took. Now, it seemed, he had Kosti's dispatches to prove it." (p. 39) 

Jun
04

The Data Detective

Harford has written a pile of books on economics and ran a show decoding the world of statistics. I picked up The Data Detective: Ten Easy Rules to Make Sense of Statistics (2021) to see if it might be useful for undergraduates in the social sciences. Harford is a good storyteller, hence the pile of books, but the ten commandments and the golden role (be curious) are quite vague (essentially: avoid bias, use different data types, put data in context, know the source, question big data and algorithms, be open to change your mind). Useful, but not specific. At times the author speaks to fellow data nerds, however the majority of the content is introductory (too generic for university students). Well suited for a mass market book.

The book is in response to the "statistics lie" narrative, but a cautionary tale of how to engage them carefully and cautiously. The pitch: "I want to convince you that statistics can be used to illuminate reality with clarity and honesty. To do that, I need to show you that you can use statistical reasoning for yourself, sizing up the claims that surround you in the media, on social media, and in everyday conversation. I want to help you evaluate statistics from scratch, and just as important, to figure out where to find help that you can trust." (p. 9)

A few notes:

"The counterintuitive result is that presenting people with a detailed and balanced account of both sides of the argument may actually push people away from the center rather than pull them in. If we already have strong opinions, then we'll seize upon welcome evidence, but we'll find opposing data or arguments irritating. This biased assimilation of new evidence means that the more we know, the more partisan we're able to be on a fraught issue." (p. 36)

"A randomized controlled trial (RCT) is often described as the gold standard for medical evidence. In an RCT, some people receive the treatment being tested while others, chosen at random, are given either a placebo or the best known treatment. An RCT is indeed the fairest one-shot test of a new medical treatment, but if RCTs are subject to publication bias, we won't see the full picture of all the tests that have been done, and our conclusions are likely to be badly skewed." (p. 125-6)

"Modern data analytics can produce some miraculous results, but big data is often less trustworthy than small data. Small data can typically be scrutinized; big data tends to be locked away in the vaults of Silicon Valley. The simple statistical tools used to analyze small datasets are usually easy to check; pattern-recognizing algorithms can all too easily by mysterious and commercially sensitive black boxes." (p. 183).

May
30

Epistemic Freedom in Africa

For students looking for an introduction to decolonization, or faculty looking to catch up on conversations they have been missing (or conversations they have avoided or actively sought not take part in), Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni has brought it together for you in Epistemic Freedom in Africa: Deprovincialization and Decolonization (2018). As the title implies, this book is rooted in the African perspective of decolonization, which makes it somewhat unique that books written from other vantage points (e.g. Mignolo). For those deeply embedded into these conversations, Sabelo's other work presents more of his own contributions, whereas this book summarizes much of what the major leaders have contributed (the book includes a lot of quoted content from these leading thinkers, which is a resource for those not familiar with those works). Two chapters are Open Access here.

Some notes:

"This affirmation and validation take the form of publication in the so-called international, high-impact and peer-reviewed journals. Europe and North America constitute the 'international' and the rest of the world is 'local'. Consequently, international, high-impact, and peer-reviewed journals and internationally respected publishing houses and presses are those located in Europe and North America. Highly ranked universities are located in Europe and North America. Taken together, these realities confirm the existence of epistemic hegemony. The signature of epistemic hegemony is the idea of 'knowledge' rather than 'knowledges'" (p. 8)

"Hountondji (1990: 10) distilled 13 "indices of scientific dependence". The first is dependence on technical apparatuses made in Europe and North America. The second is dependence on foreign libraries and documentation centres for up-to-date scientific information. The third is what he termed "institutional nomadism, a restless going to and fro" European and North American universities. The fourth dependence manifests itself as 'brain-drain'. The fifth is importation of theory from the North to enlighten the data gathered in the South. The sixth dependence is aversion to basic research and sticking to the colonial ideology of instrumentality of knowledge. The seventh problem is in choice of research topics that is determined by interests of the North where knowledge is validated (Hountondji 1990: 12). The eighth dependence is confinement to territorial specialisations in which African scholars are often reduced to native informants. The ninth form of dependence is that African scholars are engaged in scientific research that is of direct service to coloniality. The tenth issue relates to research into indigenous knowledge which eventually is disciplined to fit into the modes of Western science. The eleventh challenge is that of linguistic dependence on six European languages (English, French, German, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese) in teaching and research. The twelfth index of scientific dependence is a lack of communication among African scholars as most prefer "a vertical exchange and dialogue with scientists from the North than horizontal exchange with fellow scholars from the South" (Hountondji 1990: 13)." (p. 25-26)

"What emerges from these questions is the importance of the material to which students are exposed and the consciousness of the teachers in the delivery of the material. Most often one gets the impression that it is the quality of students that is discussed and very little is said about the quality of the teachers and their consciousness. There is a lot that is wrong with the academics produced by Western-style universities... If indeed the key problem with the African academics is that of consciousness caused by miseducation, then the focus on changing the very idea of the university as the factory that produced the academics and intellectuals should be accompanied by re-education of its products." (p. 84)

"It is not surprising that, as an institution, the Westernized university in Africa is today the key site of struggles for decolonization. In the first place, it is the universities that promised freedom of thought only to stifle it through religiously adhering to a Eurocentric epistemology and Western-centric cultures and practices. In the second place, the university has the highest concentration of young people who are eager to understand why the institution is still maintaining alienating Eurocentric cultures and is not resolving and question of cultural and practical relevance of what it delivers. In the third place, despite the institutional constraints, the university is still the space where ideas are explored endlessly. Finally, it is within the confines of the Westernized university located in Africa that the youth encounter face-to-face epistemic and pedagogical brutalities that provoke them to rebel." (p. 163) 

May
25

Native Colonialism

The people of Ethiopia defeated European attempts to colonize it. However, Dr Yirga argues that in embracing western education and erasing local history and tradition, the institutions and laws put in place colonizing processes, what he calls 'native colonialism'. This is one of the most interesting books I have read of recent, highly recommended to anyone interested in what (de)colonization means, and specifically for readers looking for critical works on education and Ethiopian history. Native Colonialism: Education and the Economy of Violence Against Traditions in Ethiopia (2017) by Yirga Gelaw Woldeyes (Res Sea Press) is a unique book and offers (what many will see as) a provocative take on education in Ethiopia. In so doing, Dr Yirga also offers rich insight into the traditional education system, particularly of his home Lalibela. This is recommended reading. The Introduction and Conclusion appear onlineA few quotes:

"This book attempts to show that beneath the good name of education, there is a constant violence against local traditions that perpetuates the degradation of the lives of the majority whose survival depend on those traditions. The belief in the redemptive power of western education is informed by a colonialist worldview that local traditions and people are primitive. It is also an indictment that privileges westernized elites to speak and act for the rural majority without the latter's consent." (p. 2-3)

"Ethiopia has never been colonized by an alien political power, but a political system similar to colonialism has been institutionalized in the country by native colonizers. The western political ideology of the lite class has become the source of economic, political and social policy. Political parties determine development processes, and modernization is seen as a government-sponsored project rather than an evolutionary process that emerges from people's local experiences. Education has played a central role for the emergence and expansion of native colonialism. It promotes a worldview and culture that produces colonial consciousness. This book critically articulates the historical emergence, ideology and effect of native colonialism." (p. 3)

"The best way to show the violence of this empire is not to reason based on its own rationalities. This is what most commentators did when they criticize the quality or relevance of the education system. They often start from the education system, not from the meaning of education." (p. 4)

"Imitation, not interpretation, was the principal mechanism by which the new laws were adopted. Following the constitution of 1955, six codes were issued. These include a civil code, a penal code, a commercial code, a maritime code, a civil procedure code, and a criminal procedure code. "These codes were all either drafted by foreign lawyers or inspired by foreign sources" (Vanderlinden, 1966-1967, p. 255)." (p. 107)

"The adoption of western laws had the effect of creating institutions that are violent to tradition. The most significant manifestation of this violence is the silencing of local histories, knowledges and experiences, while reinventing the state as a sole source of authority using instruments of power that are alien to the people." (p. 109)

"...the combined effect of the two senses of alienation creates centeredlessness. First, the education system isolates students from their traditional roots. It declares tradition backward and barbaric; it initiates a sense of mission and a promise of power to students. Alienated from their place of tradition, students make efforts to seize the promises of western knowledge through the formal channels of the state. Although knowledge is presented as a stepping stone or a promise of power, Elitdom has strong barriers that make it difficult for many students to succeed. Consequently, students fall into the condition of powerlessness and meaninglessness." (p. 190)

"...the majority of the rural people are served by young graduates or school leavers who are indoctrinated by the superiority of science and western knowledge over Ethiopian tradition and history. This denies the possibility of developing local wisdom and experience into policy making." (p. 200) 

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