From my research blog:

Hi from New Zealand! We have been back in New Zealand for a month now, have settled in our new home and are now well immersed back into the university routine so it really is about time I posted here. Because I have been busy with travel, moving and settling in work on my thesis has slowed to a snail pace but there are a few things I should catch you up on.

After leaving Honduras in early February I participated in the Doctoral Colloquium at the CSCW (Computer Supported Cooperative Work) conference in Savannah, Georgia. It was a very interesting experience, which reinforced the relevance of my study. In the midst of a sea of brand new applications and web tools, the more than ten years of experience the network I am studying has was of great interest to many. While I went there to learn more about CSCW and computing, I found that I spent a lot of my time sharing what I have learned. As there seemed to be a lot of interest I am currently thinking about expanding my presentation into a journal article.

While there is much I could write (and will write) about the computing aspects of this study, this is a development studies thesis, and my interest is evolving well beyond the internet networking. The network founder uses the term ‘human capital’ to refer to people’s “time, energy, expertise, experience, talent, and contacts”. As I continue my analysis and start writing it is the people and organisations within the network and what they are saying and doing that is capturing more and more of my attention. I’m also interested in the philosophy of the network (constructive, positive and apolitical) and how people in the network interpret and work within that space, and how this all interrelates as a model for development.

So onwards I go. I am still trying to finish up some last minute interviews via the internet, and working on transcribing and coding those that I have completed. Within the next few weeks I hope to finally start putting some words on paper (or at least on the screen) and starting to write. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Sunday Reader

January 11, 2010

I confess.  I am a Google Reader addict.  I skim through hundreds of blog posts and articles each week, faithfully sharing those that I find interesting, challenging or simply fun.  As one of my favourite types of blog post is the linky type (I love finding new sites and blogs and can spend hours following rabbit holes across the web) I thought I would start my own regular link feature.  My web reading tastes are eclectic so this should be an interesting exercise… expect lots of social justice and development stuff, politics, culture, academia, some recipes I’ve tried and some just for fun. Enjoy the rabbit holes!

First up, Why Does the World’s Most Popular TV Show Feature a Misanthrope Who Gets Away with Everything? I’ve been watching a lot of House lately.  My excuse is that it is on every night here, nicely timed for an hour when my daughter is asleep, work is done and I am ready to curl up with a wine or hot chocolate and relax.  Quite why I find watching a character so abrasive, manipulative and insensitive to be relaxing I’m not sure… perhaps because he says and does some of the things I only wished I could in my past life as a nurse. Whatever the reason, he’s far more interesting to watch than the one-dimensional, polished characters on many other shows.

In addition to watching House, my other evening routine is Facebook, and this week I succumbed to the bra colour meme, seemingly a bit of harmless fun with friends in order to raise awareness for breast cancer.  But I wasn’t entirely comfortable with it, which I put down to the fact that I couldn’t see how it would actually help the cause in any meaningful way.  Saundra Schimmelpfennig of Good Intentions are Not Enough makes a more discomforting point, asking if charity activities can actually hurt the very people they are trying to help, pointing out that mis-guided charity events may loose sight, and unintentionally cause pain to beneficiaries.  Saundra has also written an interesting series on Guidelines for Volunteering Overseas, something I am planning to do more writing on and therefore something which you may see more about in this blog this year.

Here in Honduras, the elections are over and day to day life goes on seemingly normally. However the reality is that the crisis is not over.  Just yesterday Quotha reported a Massacre in Aguán, which the police and army argue is a “normal eviction”.  If even half of what is reported by Quotha is true, then this is a “normal” that needs to be challenged and changed.  Other ongoing concerns in Honduras include reports that Honduras is broke, and continuing repression of opposition media outlets. Incidentally, both blogs linked here (Quotha and Honduras Coup 2009) are written by academics with long-standing, close ties to Honduras and contacts within the resistance movement, and I trust them.

Of course in addition to obsessively following the news and spending hours with my google reader I am supposed to be writing my PhD thesis this year.  This image from indexed kind of sums up the year ahead of me.  Maybe I need to study more closely Lifehacker’s advice on better tools for better students.

Finally, this recipe for Chicken with Citrus Sauce is amazing! Lucky we are living in a citrus orchard.

Honduras and the Internet

October 17, 2009

Further to my last post on Why I Support the Resistencia, the following is a post I wrote at the end of June but never posted.  Interestingly, although my thoughts on who is doing the posting has not changed over the past few months, my impressions of the resistencia have.  Perhaps I was more influenced by the golpista’s characterisation of Zelaya supporters than I thought:

I’ve been thinking and writing and deleting and rewriting posts about the political crisis here in Honduras and had all but decided to just keep quiet and post only the most apolitical updates and personal news. But I can’t quite bring myself to do that.  As an Internet researcher I am fascinated with the onging conversations and debates about the Zelaya and about the coup, and with what they reveal about Honduran politics and scoiety.

While most people probably still rely on traditional media outlets for news about the crisis in Honduras, the news from these sources has been less than reliable.   Domestic media coverage has been tightly controlled with some pro-Zelaya outlets shut down, and programmes or talkback callers have been cut short if they are pro-Zelaya or anti-coup. There have been reports of the arrest and detention of pro- Zelaya journalists.  Within Honduras the truth can be hard to come by. However the International media has not been great either.  Although there has had more coverage of the anti-coup message, reports are often inaccurate treating rumours as fact and many seem overly sensational.

As a result many here have turned to the new social media to read about, and to report events and information, and to promote thier point of view. Giordano wrote yesterday of the Twitter War over Honduras, reporting that at the time of his writing the anti-coup twitterers were winning the war.  With the weight of the worlds leadership on thier side they quickly worked to spread the word regarding the seriousness of the coup, particularly in the face of solid media coverage of the death of Michael Jackson.   But pro-coup Honduran twitterers (and bloggers, emailers and journalists) have fought back, and hard.  My informal observation has been that the strongest messages coming through over the past day have been anti-Zelaya and pro coup (or as they would have it, constitional succession?).  A count of the last 100 messages in a Twitter search using the term ‘Honduras’ showed 51 pro-coup, and just 11 anti-coup (the 40 other were news only, personal tweets or unclear).  In particular there seems to be a concerted effort by the pro-coup Twitterers to inform the international media and politicians that this was a legal change of power not a coup, and that Hondurans do not want Zelaya back.  At face value the battle  now seems to indicate that Honduras is largely anti-Zelaya. Pro-coup Twitterers and bloggers report 70-80% of Hondurans are anti-Zelaya.  As there are never any links to actual statistical data I read these as 70-80% of Hondurans known to the writer are anti-Zelaya.  The significance  of this becomes apparent when one looks more closely at eaxctly who is writing the posts and twitters.

The first characteristic of anyone using the new social media is that they must have access to the internet. They also need to be able to string words together in a compelling and readable manner. In a place like Honduras,to be able to blog or twitter means the author in general has a higher than average level of education, and an income that supports regular access to a computer and the internet.  As a result it is primarily middle class and above who are doing most of the Internet posting.  And these also happen to be the groups in Honduran society that are clearly anti-Zelaya.  Zelaya’s support, and the resistance to the coup on the other hand, comes mostly from the working poor and campesinos.  These are the ones who are least likely to be writing blog posts or filing newspaper reports. The voice of the poor is, as usual, largely absent from the online conversation.

Even where Zelaya’s supporters in Honduras do raise a voice it is often ignored or ridiculed. They are frequently referred to as naive, uneducated and manipulated. Certainly there is evidence that he tried to buy peoples support, and it is highly likely he was thinking about more than (or something completely different to) the well-being of the poor when he raised the minimum wage and handed out free light bulbs.  But that this should lead to the wholesale dismissal of their point of view is I think, indicative of the class and societal divisions in Honduras.

That Zelaya was supported by the unions, campesino and indigenous groups is not insignificant.  That the social internet is authored by the middle class and above, I think is significant and needs to be taken into account when assessing the support for, and against the coup and the new government.


April 23, 2009

causewiredA while back I wrote a post titled Letters> email> facebook, which was inspired by the book CauseWired by Tom Watson.  I have now finally finished reading it – the delay being related to the amount of time I have for reading and my reading priorities rather than book itself.  It is in fact a very readable book, and an excellent introduction to the world of online causes and digital philanthropy.  The text is littered with example of organisations and groups using the Internet in unique and exciting ways, and I have used more of my thesis work time looking these up online than I probably should have!  The discussion is also enlivened by  Watson’s long experience in the sector and the fact that he knows, or has met, many of the personalities involved.  This means he is able to bring a personal face to the topic and to the, and is well placed to bring an engaging insider perspective.

That said, I found the book to be highly uncritical of the changes it discussed -with the problems of distributing the causewired future relegated to a few pages at the end of the book.  While acknowledging that this is not meant to be an academic book (and I also admit I am now well immersed in the academic genre), I found the book to be over-enthusiastic in many places.  Watson is quite rightly, very enthusiastic about the potential of online social networks to bring about social change.  But while he has written a book about activism and philanthropy and saving the world, he has missed arguably the most important voice of all – that of the recipients of this attention, the poor and disconnected.  

Actually, that is not entirely true. Watson argues that the peer-to-peer nature of wired causes and digital philanthropy has the potential to reduce the distance between the donors and activists, and the communities and people they are trying to help.  This means that donors can choose who thier money goes to (the Kiva model for example), or get up-to-the minute micro-reports on projects they support.  This could well be true, and a is almost certainly a step in the right direction.  However I am concerned that Watson does not examine the potential pitfalls of the causewired revolution, for example the underlying power issues inherant in donor – recipient relationships, the issues of access to technology (in both developed and developing countries those that have access to technology – or to an organisation that has – have power, those that don’t are further marginalised), and the potential problems created when a recipient community or organisation does not have the capacity to use the increased funds and resources appropriately.  Maybe he’s leaving all that to an academic, but I think these are all issues Western donors and activists need to be aware of, and shouldn’t be relegated to dry academic books.

The last sentence in the book is perhaps the most profound for me.  After all the hype over wired causes, Watson quotes William Gibson – “The future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed”.  As with all proposed solutions for global poverty and injustice, the lack of change is probably related not to the lack of good ideas, but to underlying issues of inequality and power that mean the solutions never actually fulfil their potential.  As Watson argues, it is still early days for the causewired movement.  While it is almost certainly raising awareness of global issues and inspiring a new generation of social entrepreneurs and philanthropists, only time will tell if the peer-to-peer model and long reach of the digital medium will lead to any significant change in the lives of the poor and disempowered.

Letters> emails> facebook>…?

February 12, 2009

I have just picked up the book causewired from the library, which although not an academic book, looks very interesting.  Flicking through it I was struck by how rapidly the field of charity/ fundraising/ social causes is changing.  The internet, and in particular web 2.0 applications, is having an immense impact on the way in which we “Get involved” and “Change the World”.  My own experience reflects this.

In 1996, when I was 21 and looking to use my nursing training overseas I sat down and wrote a pile of letters to various charities, missions and NGOs.  Although I was aware of the Internet I was not a regular user, did not have an email address and would not have known how to find the email addresses of organisations even if I did – or they had them!  So I typed my letters on a word processor, printed them and posted them.  I recieved a lot of replies, all letters with glossy (and not-so-glossy) brochures, and sifted through them to find which ones interested me.  
If I had wanted to do the same thing 5 years later, in 2001  I would have spent an afternoon online, searching websites and emailing those organisations that caught my eye.  In fact I did.  Searching for organisations to work with for my Master’s research took days of online searches and emailing.
Today, in 2009, it would be different again.  In addition to surfing organisational websites I could join any number of Facebook cause groups, surf the blogs (and comment or email with questions!) of those already volunteering, and sign up to any number of volunteer recruitment sites to find the latest opportunities anywhere on the globe. I don’t have to ask for “further information”, it’s already there.  I could even sign up online.
When I wrote a research pre-proposal for my current (PhD) research in 2007, the network I am working with had a static website, yahoo forums and a conference.  Over the past year it has added Facebook groups, and the website has a new semi-interactive features and an increased number of videos. I also know from my first interviews that there are plans afoot to utilise social networking applications further.
This all makes me wonder where things will be at when I finish my PhD in 2-3 years.  On the positive side, I at least know my topic is current, and will be of interest and relevance to many.  On the other hand I wonder if it will already be dated.  In the time it takes to research and write, how far will things move on?   It will certainly be interesting to see!