Thursday, March 25, 2010

the whirled bank

I have just come across a defunct site that I think was put up by the 50 Years is Enough campaign. The site mirrors the registered site of the World Bank, but tells a very, very different story. Check it out:

I particularly liked the interactive banking game that lets you drag your country ever deeper into a debt quagmire.

a short, recent history of Congo

More from The Economist's excellent videographics: in 5 minutes anyone can understand why the world's worst war since World War II in the Congo is ultimately about the control of resources for our cellphones.

global fertility

The Economist offers some remarkably accessible videographics that explains some of the key international development issues. This one, on global fertility patterns, demolishes the Reverend Thomas Malthus in 3:32, demonstrating how there is no 'population bomb'.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

walking with the comrades

I have just read an excellent article by Arundhati Roy, the famed Indian novelist, entitled 'Walking with the comrades', in which she tells of her visit to armed Maoist insurgents in eastern India this year. The full article can be read here:

The article has provoked an interesting debate on an excellent website called Run from big media. You can review the debate here:

These resources give an interesting insight into what Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh calls 'the gravest security threat' facing India today.

the 2nd annual David Morrison lecture in international development

I am very pleased to say that Trent University's excellent David Morrison Lecture in International Development is now on YouTube. Part 1 is below.

The rest of the lecture can be viewed here:

halt the cuts in IDST's budget

The students of international development at Trent University are an exceptional group of young people. The following article was published in the Arthur, the Trent University and Peterborough community newspaper, this week:

Halt the Cuts in IDST’s Budget: Shortsighted Decisions a Serious Blow to Trent’s Educational Experience

Written by Andrew Skinner and Christina Franklin

Monday, 22 March 2010 14:22

What would you do if your department were planning to cut its fourth year course offerings in half, attempt to stuff 40 fourth-year students into seminars meant for 15, and shrink the department faculty by one third? This is the current situation facing the Trent’s International Development Studies (IDST) Department. On the chopping block are:

- IDST 314: ‘Global Institutions and Development’
- IDST 411: ‘Capitalism’
- one section of IDST 424: ‘Canada, Globalization and Development’
- IDST 425: ‘Topics in Global Political Economy: Money and Finance’
- IDST 470: ‘Religion and Social Movements’
- IDST 476: ‘Family and Modernity’.

Gone also would be the Oshawa serial of IDST 100: ‘Human Inequality in Global Perspective,’ which effectively means there would no longer be an IDST program offered in Oshawa. So, if any of the 40 students currently enrolled in IDST 100 in Oshawa want to continue with an IDST degree, they will have to come to Peterborough.

Though it appears that cuts are being made in the ‘instructional budgetary allocation’ of all departments to help make up Trent University’s deficit, these cuts will negatively impact the IDST department in a particularly deep way. For those who may not be aware, the Trent IDST program – which examines the sources and consequences of global inequality from the economic, cultural, political, historical, gender, environmental, and social perspectives – is one of the best in all of North America, and certainly in Canada. Its year-abroad programs are unparalleled, and its small but dedicated faculty are second to none. The proposed cuts not only eliminate the growth of an outstanding program (particularly its expansion in the growing Oshawa market) at Trent, but cut deep into the core of what makes the program so great: its breadth and depth of courses, and the exceptional professors it attracts.

This decision seems to be a shortsighted one. On a primitive financial level, the IDST enrollment for the 2009-10 year is up by at least 15 per cent. As it is right now, the department is almost coming apart at the seams to accommodate this growth. Beyond simple accounting, the proponents of these cuts do not seem to realize that the net worth of an educational institution (or any business for that matter) cannot be captured on a spreadsheet. The long-term reputation of one of Trent’s image-defining departments is seriously jeopardized by the proposed cuts. As Trent IDST students return to their hometowns or graduate and move into socially-minded careers, they will tell the story of how Trent’s IDST program is declining. The most powerful marketing tool is still word of mouth.

While the situation of the IDST department is particularly bleak, it is certainly not unique. It is part of what we perceive to be a larger strategy to move away from the liberal arts foundation of the university towards the more grant-rich pastures of science programs. Don’t get us wrong: we have nothing against science or making money! But the reality is that Trent’s niche in the university market is as a smallish liberal arts university, and it needs to continue doing what it does best.

If you are a first, second, or third year student we encourage you to investigate the cuts in your department because they will directly impact the quality of your education in your remaining years at Trent, should you choose to stay. If you are a fourth year student, we also encourage you to investigate cuts in your department, because the value and reputation of your degree will be undermined by the loss of Trent’s prestige that these cuts necessarily entail.

To become more involved in this student-led campaign there is a Facebook group called ‘Petition to Halt Cuts in IDST Instructional Budgetary Allocation’ which you can join to find out about announcements regarding this important issue (you must be part of the ‘Trent network’ to join). Students from all departments are encouraged to join.

We call on President Steven Franklin and/or the Dean of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Mark Parnis, to make an official statement about the planned cuts, and to open a dialogue with students (who are also ‘consumers’ of education). We believe that the stunning breadth and depth of the proposed cuts compromises the future of Trent University’s long-term financial viability and its ability to deliver a top-quality education. The value of our education cannot be reduced to numbers on a spreadsheet. If you would like to sign the petition please visit either the Seasoned Spoon or the TCSA Office, both in Champlain College.

President Franklin’s Office:
Vice President, Dr. Christine McKinnon:
Dean of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Mark Parnis:
Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies, Dr. Jocelyn Aubrey:

Postscript: Following the publication of this article, both the Dean and the President agreed to meet with a group of IDST students. Let's see what happens.

Monday, March 22, 2010

recent activities, winter 2010

As the winter of 2010 settles, it will be a busy period for me. In addition to my ongoing responsibilities to faculty, staff and students as Chair of the Department of International Development Studies, I will continue to teach IDST-ANTH 221, Agrarian Change and the Global Politics of Food. In terms of research, I will be revising the manuscript of my forthcoming book for Fernwood Publishers, Hungry for Change? Farmers, Agrarian Questions and the Global Food Crisis. My two-part survey article on the agrarian question for The Journal of Peasant Studies will be published and I hope to complete work on a review article for the Journal of Agrarian Change. I will also be revising my chapter in the forthcoming textbook An Introduction to Gender and Economics: Foundations, Theories and Policies. Finally, I am scheduled to give invited talks at the University of Western Ontario as well as Amnesty International.

Of course, it is likely that a number of unexpected activities will also occur: they always do!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

rock & roll jihad

A lot of the people who offer their opinions about the global political economy really know very little about the realities of people's lives or their beliefs. This is especially true when you consider the way in which Islam is often depicted in the mainstream media. The dominant image is the burka, a head to toe covering worn by women that a majority of people in Europe apparently want to see banned--even though in France, the principle country pushing for a ban, women that wear the burka number in the few thousands. The burka is a symbol of the oppressive medieval mind-set that many uninformed people associate with Islam. The word that strikes me that best describes this viewpoint is: monolithic. For it to be true in other religions, all the Christians of the world would have to share the narrow fundamentalism of the US religious right.

Modern Islam is, despite 30 years of the Shia Iranian Revolution, remarkably diverse and indeed pluralist. This came back to me with force when over the weekend I read Salman Ahmad's autobiography, Rock & Roll Jihad: A Muslim Rock Star's Revolution. Salman Ahmand is the leader of Junoon (obsessive passion), Pakistan--and South Asia's--leading rock band. For many outsiders, the idea of a Pakistani believer wanting to play rock 'n roll would sound anathema. Not Ahmad. Born into an upper middle class family, Ahmad tells a compelling story of how his religious and social beliefs can be channelled through his electric guitar--much in the same way as U2's The Edge. More to the point, from his point of view, some of Junoon's music matches the best rock 'n roll the world has to offer, in its intensity and commitment.

Ahmad does not shy away from the contradictory politics of Pakistan, lambasting former dictator Zia-ul-Haq for attempting to impose his one-dimensional, Wahhabist vision on the country--a vision quite at odds with the views of the 'Pakistani street'. Ahmad continually reminded me of the tolerance and pluralism that pervades urban Pakistan, even as it is quite conservative--something that is too easy to forget in a world where caricatures are easier to depict in the mainstream media.

Ahmad's book shows how he creatively channels Sufism and the spirit of Faiz Ahmed Faiz into his music and his life, quoting at one point Faiz's poem 'Speak':

Speak, for your two lips are free
Speak, your tongue is still your own
This straight body still is yours
Speak, your life is still your own
Time enough is this brief hour
Until body and tongue lie dead
Speak, for truth is living yet
Speak whatever must be said

In reminding us of the need to speak the truth to power, Ahmad reminds us of our common humanity and the common challenges that we all confront. Read the book--it is a first-person account of a world that you will recognize, but which is not your own.

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