Thursday, April 29, 2010

Paper- Ideology-based Trends in US Political Blogs

A new paper compares the practices of discursive production and participation among top U.S. political blogs on the left, right, and center during the summer of 2008 and, based on qualitative coding of the top 155, finds evidence of an association between ideological affiliation and the technologies, institutions, and practices of participation across political blogs. Sites on the left adopt more participatory technical platforms; are comprised of significantly fewer sole-authored sites; include user blogs; maintain more fluid boundaries between secondary and primary content; include longer narrative and discussion posts; and (among the top half of the blogs in the paper's sample) more often use blogs as platforms for mobilization as well as discursive production.

The variations observed between the left and right wings of the U.S. political blogosphere provide insights into how varied patterns of technological adoption and use within a single society may produce distinct effects on democracy and the public sphere. The study also suggests that the prevailing techniques of domain-based link analysis used to study the political blogosphere to date may have fundamental limitations.
Read the full abstract and download the paper- A Tale of Two Blogospheres: Discursive Practices on the Left and the Right, by Yochai Benkler and Aaron Shawvisit. 

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Hot off the Press: New Book on Legal Empowerment by IDLO

The International Development Law Organization (IDLO) has produced a new book on Legal Empowerment, which is edited by my colleague Stephen Golub, consists of 15 essays by practitioners and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. I have not had a chance to read it yet, but hope to summarize and review the book soon. The book, Legal Empowerment; Practitioners' Perspectives can be accessed on IDLO's website here, for free (Thanks, IDLO!). 

Official Announcement follows:

04/03/2010 - SWITZERLAND

At a launch event in Geneva, the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) released a new book examining issues in the emerging development field of legal empowerment. Legal Empowerment: Practitioners' Perspectives, edited by Stephen Golub, contributes empirical knowledge to the debate on how disadvantaged populations will best secure their economic and social rights. It is the second publication in an IDLO book series entitled Lessons Learned: Narrative Accounts of Legal Reform in Developing and Transition Countries."This book offers diverse, practical perspectives on legal empowerment strategies, activities and research in order to deepen the knowledge base in the field," said Thomas McInerney, IDLO’s Director of Research, Policy & Strategic Initiatives. "By bridging the knowledge gap between development practitioners and scholars, we can foster productive discourse and maximize the potential for law to improve the lives of the poor and disadvantaged populations whom IDLO and other development organizations support."

The concept of legal empowerment has emerged as an important component of the international development agenda. IDLO commissioned a number of qualitative and quantitative articles on approaches to integrating justice and development as part of its multifaceted legal empowerment program, which includes capacity building, networking, research and policymaking.
In addition to a consideration of the different definitions of legal empowerment, a number of common themes emerge from the authors:
  • Beyond legal sectors -- Legal empowerment for the poor reaches beyond a traditional view of the legal and justice sector to include the impact on health, education, irrigation, forestry, governance and other services and projects.
  • Beyond livelihoods -- Economic and social livelihoods involve a broad array of concerns, including public health, social accountability, children, identity papers and natural resource investment issues.
  • Paralegals -- Alternative and complementary legal services play an important role in the provision of effective legal assistance on behalf of the poor.
  • Civil society -- NGOs, grassroots groups and other civil society organizations are often more effective than governments in the advocacy and delivery of meaningful legal empowerment activities.
  • A two-way street -- Legal empowerment is both a bottom-up and top-down exercise involving grassroots activism and legal implementation, as well as legal reform and government action, in a fluid interaction.
  • Further research -- Additional applied research on the impact and lessons of legal empowerment activities is needed to guide NGOs, governments, development agencies and policymakers.

The launch in Geneva was organized in cooperation with the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies and the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

12 Future Trends for Development- Do you agree?

The Society for International Development (SID), which I am a member of,  has a survey of "12 provocative predictions for the new decade made by several agenda-setters and opinion shapers." The survey is to determine development professionals' level of buy in on certain predicted future trends that will impact development practice. I thought it was highly interesting, and am reproducing the questions below (where we were asked to rank from 1-5 from strongly disagree to strongly agree). SID has also requested a broader sample of responses, so if you would like to take this survey, please access it here:

(Not all the 12 questions are related to technology- in fact most are not- but for the purposes of this blog, I have reproduced the ICT questions first, as follows:)

1. "People power in development will move into a new age. 2010 will mark the fifth birthday of YouTube. In 2004 YouTube did not exist, now it gets 1 billion views a day. In 2003 China and India had 100 million internet users. Today that number is 350 million. In most African countries the number of Internet users has tripled or quadrupled in the past five years. In 2004, two in ten households in the developing world had a mobile phone subscription while today it is five in ten. These trends will accelerate and we will find ever more uses for them in development... Will this new technology foster a profound new wave of participation in development and change? I think so".

2. "Searching the Internet just by thinking. Internet search as we know it is just one decade old; by 2020 it will have evolved far beyond its current bounds. Content will be a mix of text, speech, still and video images, histories of interactions with colleagues, friends, information sources and their automated proxies, and tracks of sensor readings from Global Positioning System devices, medical devices and other embedded sensors in our environment. The majority of search queries will be spoken, not typed, and an experimental minority will be through direct monitoring of brain signals. Users will decide how much of their lives they want to share with search engines, and in what ways".

3. ‘China's view will become the bellwether of all development agreements. As Copenhagen signaled, it will be impossible to have any agreement on any development issue without China's blessing. In an increasingly G2 world, only one of the G's has developing country bona fides, even if no-one really considers it to be one, and its voice will count the most in any development agreement.’

4. "An equal right to pollute (and the Polluter-Pays Principle). One smart suggestion I’ve heard…is that each person has a right to pollute and that there might somehow be a way to monetize this. By this accounting, your average Ethiopian can sell her underpolluting ways to the average American and use the proceeds to deal with the effects of climate change, educate her kids and send them to university".

5. "Interests and alliances vs. laws and institutions.’ The forces for global integration (trade, travel, communications, finance) are greater than the forces of fragmentation (ethnic/religious conflict, protectionism, unmanageable crises)".

6. "Viva la (Nonviolent) Revolucion. I’ll place my hopes on the possibility – however remote – that the regimes in North Korea and Myanmar and elsewhere are taking note of the trouble an aroused citizenry can give to tyrants, and that people in places filled with rage and despair…will in the days ahead among them find their [Mahatma] Gandhi, their [Martin Luther] King, their Aung San Suu Kyi".

7. "Food and nutrition will slowly slip from the top table of the development agenda. Much as I hate to say it, I cannot see food and nutrition being the subject of a high level meeting in Number Ten [Downing Street] any time soon. Of course, something could be prompted by another food price spike, but I have been disappointed by the international community's response to the 2007-08 food price increase and I would not expect anything different next time around".

8. The World Cup kicks off the African Decade... for the 2010 World Cup, naysayers thought South Africa could not build the stadiums on time. Those critics should be red-faced now. South Africa’s impressive preparations underline the changes on the continent, where over the last few years, 5 percent economic growth was the average. Signs point to a further decade of growth to come. Canny investors will put more capital there. This in turn has the potential to shore up fragile young democracies across the continent.

9. "Copenhagen will energise, not demoralise, those fighting for climate issues to be higher up the agenda. Climate change is a window into the future for so many issues - the relations between market and state, between private and public behaviours, and between the rich countries and the emerging ones - but what does it say about climate change as an issue? Whoever was to blame for the Copenhagen agreement, the outcome told us that negotiations as usual will not work... It's time to reboot the negotiations using a different operating system, and I think the Copenhagen outcome will crystallize this for many people".

10. Synthetic biology and bionic food. "Biologists will have access to tools that will allow them to arrange atoms to optimize catalysis, for example, or arrange populations of organisms to cooperate in making a chemical... The obvious application will be in manufacturing and delivering drugs more efficiently. However, these treatments might be superseded by smarter ones, such as oral vaccines and ‘programmable’ personal stem cells or bacteria... that could, for example, sense a nearby tumor, coordinate an attack and drill into the cancer cells to release toxins. Another application is in the production of chemicals, biofuels and foods — for example, the development of parasite-resistant crops or photosynthetic organisms that can double their biomass in just three hours. As costs drop, such technology will allow developing nations to leapfrog fertilizer-wasting, fossil-fuel-intensive and disease-rife farming for cleaner, more efficient systems, just as they are leapfrogging costly landlines in favour of mobile-phone networks".

11. A graying rich world and its emerging challenges. "As population growth marked the twentieth century, population ageing will mark the twenty-first. By 2020, the average European will have fewer years of life expectancy remaining than years he or she has already lived. East Asians will soon follow. Humankind will spend much of the coming decade grappling with questions about how to organize and pay for the care of an increasing elderly population and about who will produce what the elderly consume".

12. Lasers and limitless, carbon free energy. "Next-generation lasers will allow the creation of new states of matter, compressing and heating materials to temperatures found only in the centres of massive stars, and at pressures that can squeeze hydrogen atoms together to a density 50 times greater than that of lead. The resulting fusion reactions may one day be harnessed to provide almost limitless carbon-free energy. Enough fusion fuel is present in the oceans to supply the current energy needs of the entire world for longer than the age of the universe".

Once again, SID has also requested a broader sample of responses, so let them know what you think! Access their survey here:

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