Archive for November, 2011

I’ll be running my mouth about the book again at Chatham University on December 2nd.  Chatham has some very cool stuff going in sustainability and the environment (a new school!), including a new Eden Hall Campus in Richland Township, PA.  My talk will actually be out on that campus, and not in the Shadyside campus . . . directions are here.

The flyer (they’ve done a nice job on it):

Hope to see some of you there . . .

Chris Albon copied me on a retweet today from World Concern that said:

A beautiful sight: things growing in #Somalia. This is what’s possible in the

For those not inclined to click the link, it went to this picture:

I have mixed feelings about this tweet and this picture.  On one hand, it expresses what I am sure is genuine relief from an organization that is concerned with the well-being of people living in the Horn of Africa.  On the other hand, the phrase “this is what is possible” suggests that this does not usually happen . . . except, of course, now we are in the Dayr, the October to December rainy season.  Though the Dayr is the shortest rainy season in this part of the world, wet fields and new growth do in fact usually happen right about now.  Further, the phrase “things growing in Somalia” suggests that nothing was growing before.  This was not the case – things have been growing, even in famine-struck parts of southern Somalia.  Not enough has been growing in some places, and this shortage has been compounded by all sorts of political challenges that have created a widespread problem.  Finally, there is a bit of tone to this – as if we are out of the woods in the Horn.  Well, maybe – but it will be months until a real harvest comes in, and much longer than that before accountable governance and functioning markets return, so we have a ways to go.  And given that this famine was not caused by drought (the drought exacerbated other underlying factors), the fact that we are having trouble addressing those underlying factors means the next drought (and there will be another one relatively soon) may create a very similar set of circumstances and challenges.

In summary, I believe in hope.  That is why I call myself an optimist.  But at the same time, we have to be careful about conflating hope with triumph . . . which is why I call myself a hopelessly realistic optimist.




I’ve made a few changes to my personal homepage (  This included cleaning up a few things, adding a few book reviews for Delivering Development, and updating my CVs.  However, today, for the first time since I set my homepage up, I have added a page . . . there is now a page for pre-prints.  I have become thoroughly fed up with the gatekeeping and slow pace of academic publishing – I was annoyed to start with, but after more than a year in an agency, and about 18 months engaged with a much wider environment/development community via the blog and twitter, I have come to realize that academic publishing, for all its rigor and legitimacy, is something of a liability.  There is no way anyone is going to wait around for my work, or anyone else’s work, to wend its way through peer review and the inevitable publication delays before it appears in print.

To address this, I am now posting work that I have submitted for review – it is polished, and sometimes it has seen a round of peer review already (those will be marked revised and resubmitted).  However, they are not fully finished, peer-approved work – which means they will likely change a little before they come out in final form.  My goal is to make this stuff available more or less as soon as I submit it.  I am open to comments and suggestions – I can still work them in before the final version goes out!

Some of you might wonder how this could affect the idea of double-blind peer review.  Well, in my experience, double-blind peer review in development studies – or indeed in any of the qualitative social sciences – is largely a joke.  In my field, we tend to invest a lot of time and effort working in a particular place, and so it is very, very easy to figure out who is writing about what.  I often know who the author of a piece is as soon as I read the abstract – and there are always enough details in any manuscript to facilitate a quick Google search that will identify the author.  Both pieces that I currently have on my website work from material for which I am well-known within my field.  For example, just mentioning the villages of Dominase and Ponkrum in Ghana in the livelihoods piece pretty much tells everyone who it is.  And the piece on academic engagement with development practice comes directly from a panel at last year’s Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting which was attended by more than 100 people, as well as an extended listserv exchange in the fall of 2010 that was sent out to several thousand subscribers of various lists.  Again, pretty much everyone will be able to figure out who wrote it.

So, the work is now up there for your perusal.  Have a look, and let me know what you think . . .