Has social media made us lazy?

I have been thinking about social media and how it has made us lazy. Yes, social media allows us to sit on our backsides, click a few cat pictures (potentially cats in distress) and makes us feel like we have ‘saved the world’. Or if you are a bit more gifted, perhaps you’ll write about something – like I am attempting – post it on your blog, share it on twitter and Face Book and think you’ve done your part.

But have you? Really? Have you ‘changed the world’, one tweet at a time?

soc media
photo credit : marccx.com

Do hash tag campaigns really do much, apart from bring people’s short-attention spans to focus on one thing, even if it is for a few hours? What happens after this? Did #bringbackkourgirls do much? In this case, as this Guardian article argues, this campaign only solidified America’s military involvement, and intervention – an unintended consequence of a well-intentioned campaign.

As this journalist, writing about racists in Britain points out, “Hell, in a world where the video of a man singing in Korean and doing that strangely iconic horse-riding dance can get 2.5 billion views on YouTube, 1.3 million becomes a bit of an empty number, doesn’t it? Pressing like on a Facebook page requires less thought, less commitment and less accountability than signing up to a political party.” Her point is that real political change takes time, effort and actual on-the-ground mobilization. And not just social media activism.

If the mere spectacle of social change is what we are after, then perhaps social media helps us get there – but real change, lasting change takes time. And effort. Real effort.

If you’ve been trying to lose 20 pounds of fat on your body, you’ll know exactly what I am talking about.

Development: For whom and why?

Over the last two weeks, I have had a few interesting discussions on ‘development,’ both in the context of local community development and international development. One can see conflation of security discourses, humanitarian and related concerns in each of these debates.  The dominant narrative about ‘development,’ in the context of Asia and Africa seems to also stem from the need to ‘contain’ problems arising from lack of development. People are violent, anti-government etc. because they are poor, the theory goes. Only if we give them ‘goods,’ or wealth will they behave better, seems to be the governing logic. But is this true? Is poverty and lack of development really causing the ‘chaos’ that we see around us. Or is it ignorance, lack of dialogue or wrong geo-strategic decisions, by the powers that are involved – including the local actors?

While it is easy to brand someone we don’t agree with as ‘anti-national’ or ‘against our interest,’  I suggest that we must pay particular attention to the power dynamics involved on who gets to legitimize what sort of ‘development,’ a country needs and how it will be carried out. In the absence of this awareness, we may be led into arguments that are faulty at best.

Photo courtesy : wateraid.org
Photo courtesy : wateraid.org

A recent example of ‘anti-development’ rhetoric being used as a platform to shut down a civil society organization is the case of Green Peace in India. While the specifics of the case can be found here and here, the point at stake is the vision of what sort of ‘development,’ does the government of India want. While it is the right of every Indian to know and question the policies being formulated, it is a deeply anti-democratic measure to shut down a reputed NGO just because the government disagrees with its position. By this account, most (if not all) media outlets in India should be shut down, as they regularly print articles that are critical of the government. In fact, it is the job of civil society and media to hold elected officials accountable. This very crux of a pluralist democracy – which India is – by all means. Democratic pluralism demands that dissenting views be heard, incorporated in the planning processes. To want the goods of globalization and not want the criticism that comes from it, both from local and global organizations is not exactly an ‘open’ way to do business.

The context of international development also brings up questions of how ‘development’ is defined. Who are we ‘developing’ and why? What is at stake? Who gains and who loses and also, fundamentally; development at what cost?  These are some questions that need to be asked, suggests Bent Flyvbjerg (2001) speaking of the role of social scientists, in uncovering and understanding human action in a social context.

A recent conversation I was part of, involved an expert, who spoke of ‘fixing Africa,’ with his technical expertise. While to a trained social scientist / development expert, this may sound like the worst nightmare come true; in his mind, this idea of ‘fixing Africa’ was as natural as having one’s breakfast – you just do it because you can – there was absolutely no consciousness of the power dynamics involved, with the ‘American’ expert and the ‘poor, African,’ at the receiving end. The politics of what I just have pointed out notwithstanding, there are real power differentials here that need to be acknowledged. This often means that the ‘best solution,’ for the African context may end up not being what they actually need, but perhaps what the American or European (or Chinese) may think they need.  This is one big problem in the discourse of development. The one with the dollars often get to decide how the discourse of development is shaped.

Similar critiques of development have come from other scholars. Arturo Escobar (1995) places the discussion of development in his book Encountering Development, this in the context of the ‘Truman doctrine’ of the late 1940s and early 50s.  The ‘discovery’ of poverty and ‘lack’ of material goods in Africa and Asia was made then, which completely ignored the way that the natives understood community, frugality, he further points out. He argues that it is with the massive onslaught of marketization that led to the pauperization of people and eventual creation of massive levels of poverty.

This idea of ‘developing’ the world by infusing capital, industrializing the poorer countries and measuring their progress by the standards became the standard operating procedure, he argues. This ‘Orientalism, Africanism and Developmentalism,’ continues, unabated and relies mainly on the standards, metrics and systems devised as part of the discourse of creating a representation of the ‘underdeveloped’. At stake are issues of representation, autonomy of those who are at the receiving end of this development. (Escobar, 1995; Mitchell, 1988). While the critique of development that Escobar offers is valid in the context of the discourses of development, what it ignores are the local, indigenous formulations of how this development impacts the receivers of ‘aid.’

Flyvbjerg (1998) argues in his book Rationality and Power: Democracy in Practice that we must pay special attention to power dynamics in the ‘rational’ planning processes. What passes for ‘scientific’ and ‘expert’ knowledge can often be deeply dogmatic and convoluted, that reinforces certain ideological ideas. This aspect of focusing on power dynamics, relations of how the parties being ‘developed’ and those doing the ‘development,’ need to be kept in mind simply because without this awareness; we cannot have a mature and critical look at ‘who gains and who loses.’  Intended development projects may end up causing more harm, than actual benefit.

So, are International NGOs working against India’s interest when they try to stop a mining project, or do all Western ‘experts,’ have Africa’s best interest , when they plan projects in Africa? I don’t think the answer to this is straight-forward. While donor relations normally dictate what gets done in a target country, I suggest, following scholars such as Escobar and others, which we need to radically re-think development. Asking some basic questions such as the ones outlined above may be a good start.

Critical questioning and thinking are the bedrocks of any democratic order, and I would argue that media, civil society organizations and active citizenry should be the ones ensuring that this function takes place, on a regular basis. In the absence of this, we would end up with massive levels of propaganda posing as actual knowledge, with media becoming the mouth-piece of those in power – both politically and other wise- and a plutocracy that serves only those in power.

How to write about Islam?

Amidst all the noise about the end of the world scenarios being portrayed as a result of ISIS conquest of parts of Iraq and Syria and equally banal assertions that Islam is somehow inherently violent, and needs ‘reformation’, the common man out there is left confused. As someone studying Islam in America, I am at a loss for words, at times, and have to remind myself that unfortunately much of what we read and hear is from people who have no clue what they are talking about. Propaganda, vested interests, media hype make a clear political or sociological analysis of what is going on in the MiddleEast and the U.S. very hard, if not impossible.Blue mosque

What is the best way to write about Islam, then? Is it to be an ‘apologist’, and ‘defend’ Islam against all the attacks and criticisms? Though this approach is needed sometimes, it doesn’t sound very helpful, because there are genuine criticisms of Islam and Muslim societies that should be considered and weighted in, if one is writing in an honest manner. The alternative is to take a critical stance and call for a radical reform of Islam, as several atheists and former Muslims have done. The most egregious and distasteful manifestation are people like Irshad Manji and others like her, who are often seen coddling with the pro-Israeli or extreme Right-wingers in the U.S. It doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to see how these two groups get along. The criticisms that they level are often steeped in broad stereotypes and an almost anti-intellectual approach to Islam and its rich intellectual and cultural heritage. The third way to write about Islam is to write it from a perspective of how Muslims themselves understand Islam and I will delve into this approach, in a bit of detail here.

For starters, what is Islam? Is it a ‘religion’, as we understand it? There is serious debate among scholars of religion about what constitutes religion. Is Islam a religion by the classical definition, or is it an ‘exceptional’ religion, in that many definitions of religion do not apply to it- by virtue of its origins, growth and universal appeal? A few scholars that have written extensively on Islam. Dr.Talal Asad is one such scholar, who I will quote extensively in this article. Asad reminds us that Islam has been studied by Anthropologists – he names Ernest Gellner in particular – as someone who has tried to present Islam as a totality. This Islamic totality, according to Gellner, is formed as a result of social forces, political ideas as well as historical facts. This view that is often informed by Orientalism, and is premised on an opposition between Islam and Christianity – with Christianity located in Europe, while Islam is situated in the Middle East, Asad contends. Even current media representations of Islam use these binaries to define a ‘modern’ West and a ‘backward’ ‘Muslim world’. There are several problems with this binary approach, not least of which is how does one speak of Muslims in the West? Are they ‘negotiating’ with modernity in the West, or are they excluded from modern notions by virtue of their religious beliefs? No easy answers to these questions. With this in mind, Asad reminds us that writing about just social interactions or social constructs such as ‘tribes’ is not very helpful, as this approach, adopted by scholars such as Gellner reifies the Islamic norms, social relations and other aspects.

Another problem with this approach that Gellner and others take is that religion, power and political authority are often represented as having fused in Islam, while this has not occurred in Christianity. This view is not wholly accurate since there is a vast diversity in how power and religion interacted, historically, argues Asad. The perspective that Gellner and Clifford Geertz take is not helpful in understanding the perspective of Islam as an analytical concept that is as much part of the present as it is a construction of the ‘past’. Further, this perspective grounded in history misses out on the diversity of Islamic practices in contemporary societies.

Asad’s key argument about Islam is that it should be treated as a ‘discursive tradition’. He says “No coherent anthropology of Islam can be founded on the notion of a determinate social blueprint, or on the idea of an integrated social totality in which social structure and religious ideology interact.” This means that all that Muslims do is not ‘Islam’. What Muslims around the world do is not necessarily a reflection of their religious traditions, just as much as all Christians’ actions are not a reflection of Christianity. He suggests that the only way for studying Islam and its Anthropology is how Muslims would do, i.e., examine how their actions relate or should relate to the founding texts – the Qur’an and Hadith. He further argues: “If one wants to write an anthropology of Islam one should begin, as Muslims do, from the concept of a discursive tradition that includes and relates itself to the founding texts of the Qur’an and the Hadith. Islam is neither a distinctive social structure nor a heterogeneous collection of beliefs, artifacts, customs, and morals. It is a tradition.” By tradition, he means: “A tradition consists essentially of discourses that seek to instruct practitioners regarding the correct form and purpose of a given practice that, precisely because it is established, has a history.”

Finally, it is helpful to remember that the ‘Muslim world’ is just a conceptual ideal, not a ‘social reality’. Asad reminds us that “It is too often forgotten that “the world of Islam” is a concept for organizing historical narratives, not the name for a self-contained collective agent. This is not to say that historical narratives have no social effect—on the contrary. But the integrity of the world of Islam is essentially ideological, a discursive representation.” This should be kept in mind, when we speak of a group of people that are over 1.6 billion in number and are present around the world – in every conceivable corner of every country.

One might also be tempted to ask: Why isn’t India a part of the ‘Muslim world’, since there are over 150 million Muslims there, despite being a minority? This is something every person who writes about Islam should consider. Broad generalizations, stereotyping and inaccurate analysis won’t help. On the contrary, such analysis will only confuse us, rather than clarify what we are seeking to study and understand. To quote Asad again, he says that the fatality of character among Muslims in Islamic society that Geertz and other invoke is the object of ‘of a professional writing, not the unconscious of a subject that writes itself as Islam for the Western scholar to read.’ As with Orientalist representations, what others write about Islam says as much about the author, as it does about the Islam or the actors they describe. A profound insight that should help us think critically before writing about a much misunderstood and misrepresented faith.

Why Gandhi is Relevant in 2014

Indians around the world celebrated Gandhi Jayanthi on October 2, his birth anniversary. It is a solemn day, often marked by social gatherings, politicians saying something banal about Gandhi’s life and legacy and talk-show hosts debating his life. While the question whether Gandhi’s life lessons are relevant is taken seriously by few, a vast majority seem to have created a myth around the Mahatma’s life and are happy to live by platitudes. I believe there is an urgent need to look at Gandhi’s life and the lessons he offered us.

Nehru_with_Gandhi_1942-Churchill Firstly, Gandhi’s life is a testament to the struggles that oppressed people have to go through to achieve freedom. Gandhi’s entire life can be seen as a struggle and his life, an example in sacrifice. As Arthur Herman writes in Gandhi and Churchill – The epic rivalry that destroyed an empire and forged our age, Gandhi had undergone a spiritual transformation in the decades he had spent in South Africa and had found his life mission. This mission was to ‘transform the character of his fellow Indians by bringing them closer to God.’ “By doing so, he intended to undercut the foundations of British rule in India and set his people free.” (p.215). Gandhi’s life mission was rooted in self-transformation and transformation of society at large, missions that most ‘value driven’ organizations and institutions espouse and aspire to.

Secondly, the techniques that Gandhi promoted – Satyagraha being the key one – is still being used by nonviolence activists around the world, from the U.S. to Palestine. As a model of resistance, nonviolent resistance and non-cooperation are tactics that forced the British Empire to the negotiating table, more than once. Time and again, Gandhi deployed this tactic, both in South Africa and in India and despite some failures, it did succeed. In a situation where a powerless people are faced with a majority, that is armed, mighty and powerful, passive resistance did prove useful. Whether it was fighting for the miners rights in Johannesburg in 1908 or for self-rule or Swaraj years later, in India – similar tactics were in play. Mubarak Awad, a Palestinian activist seems to have been using Gandhis’ methods for years now. Martin Luther King in the U.S. considered himself a protégé of Gandhi’s methods.

Thirdly, with globalization, increasing consumerism and a general increase in materialism in India, perhaps it is time for Gandhi’s message to make a comeback. While economically, the Mahatma proposed self-rule and self-reliance, it may be next to impossible to roll back the Neoliberal framework that came into play in the 1990s, with the opening of India’s economy.

Perhaps the greatest contribution that Gandhi made to the Indian ethos is that of embracing pluralism and rejecting casteism. As a self-conscious Hindu, he practiced his religion throughout his life, but was against caste and its de-humanizing influence on the Indian mind. An anecdote that Herman quotes in his book is relevant here. In 1916, Gandhi took in an untouchable family at the Sabarmati Ashram. As Herman says, this set off a domestic pitched battle, with Kasturba threatening to leave immediately. “However, Gandhi’s will prevailed. He had deliberately broken the greatest Hindu taboo of all, the prohibition against any contact with dalits or untouchables. It was part of his war against the India he detested most: the India hidebound by ceremony and meaningless tradition split by ancient religious feuds, festering in its own filth, the India without compassion or pity.” (p.221).

While Indians are justifiably proud of the progress that the country has made since 1947, much remains to be accomplished – not only in economic and monetary terms, but also in terms of achieving basic dignity for the poor and oppressed. While there is growing pride in India’s ascent on the global stage, this must be tempered with a realization that India is also home to the world’s largest number of poor people. A mission to Mars may have demonstrated to the world that India is home to capable Engineers, Scientists and technocrats, but facts such as the above demonstrate that India has a long way to go before being truly a ‘regional power’, much less a ‘super-power’. India is the inheritor of a great civilization, hat has contributed much to the world, but also has a lot to learn from the rest of the world. Recent attempts to vilify Gandhi and his life are a danger not only to India’s legacy but are also part of a campaign to distort Indian history. For sure, Gandhi was not a perfect human being, nor was his life perfect by any means. Nevertheless, his life and message were a moral force that moved millions. While we must not fall into the trap of worshipping our leaders uncritically – something that most contemporary Indians seem to be doing – we must, at the same time embrace the best that our tradition has to offer. Towards this, Gandhi’s life lessons are exemplars that can be emulated.

My mother and the politics of giving directly

Ever since I learnt that money has value and it can buy things that can satisfy human needs, I have seen my mother (who lives in India) and uncle (who lives in the U.S) give money to my other poorer relatives. While in some cases these relatives have abused their trust, in many others, there has been a genuine need (emergency or situation that demanded a lot of money) during which they could not get access to credit, due to their financial standing. The loans (and other times, financial gifts) that my mother and uncle have given out have been life-savers for them. This ‘conditional cash transfer’ of sorts has worked, albeit with some flaws. This brings me to the discourse surrounding ‘conditional cash transfers’ (CCT) and also the ‘unconditional cash transfer’ (UCT) system pioneered by ‘Give Directly’ an American NGO and will show that what they are offering is not drastically new, though their approach seems new. This method simplifies the complex problem of addressing poverty and dumbs it down. I will treat both CCT and UCT together.

 Source: Google awards website

Source: Google awards website


Is this really new?

CCT and UCTs’ are not “new” by any means. They have been around since at least 2008, in their ‘modern’ form.  As this blog points out, “First launched in Mexico, Brazil, and Bangladesh over a decade ago, CCT programs had spread to about 23 developing countries by 2008. In Latin America alone, some 93 million people are said to be enrolled in CCT programs.”  The writer further elaborates that the program Bolsa Familia in Brazil has over 12 million families participating in it, with support from multilateral institutions. It has been credited for lifting 20 million Brazilians from absolute poverty and pushing 31 million into middle class. According to one report in the Guardian, “One of the biggest successes has been the enormous advances made to the school enrollment program. This is largely thanks to Bolsa Familia (“Family Fund”), which pays poor families if their children attend school. This fund has pushed children off the street and into the school room, while also providing the poorest with a well-needed form of income support.”

In India, there has been a Public Distribution System (for food) for decades now, and a recent move to introduce the Direct Benefits Transfer (DBT) for cash transfer for those below the poverty level. This is meant to transfer funds to the poor directly. As Amartya Sen pointed out recently, in an interview, “ However, the Direct Benefits Transfer (DBT) programme is a particular scheme of cash transfer, and we have to ask what it may be displacing and whether the losers will not be plunged into more poverty. It is not the modality of cash transfer that is the only issue, but also how much, and for whom, and also, instead of what. If, for example, it is instead of subsidized food, we have to make sure that the people who depend on cheaper food will have enough cash to buy the unsubsidised food.” He goes on to further point out that this system may be harmful to girls and women in particular.

 

Why this system works?

The preliminary results from Give Directly’s work are encouraging. The question is, why? The answer seems deceptively simple: if you trust people with their welfare, most of them will do what is good for them. Humans are exceedingly good at self-preservation and in most desperate situations, people do what is good for their material wellbeing.

There are a few reasons why this seems to work. I outline a few here:

  1. Efficiency – The money is given directly to the beneficiary. This removes all administrative and other related costs and this is extremely efficient, if one considers that other traditional NGOs’ have overhead costs ranging from 15% to over 50% of the entire program costs
  2. Knowing who needs help and targeting them directly– This is also significant, as the costs of doing business i.e., identifying recipients, ensuring they are the right candidates and screening them etc. takes overhead costs. Middle-men also take away precious dollars as in other systems of aid delivery.
  3. Use of technology – Giving directly uses mobile transfer of money and is very efficient. All it requires for implementation is a good mobile system and willing participants. The rest is upto the implementing organization to set up a method of evaluation.

 

Gaps in the system:

  1. CCTs are about poverty containment rather than poverty reductionAs several studies including a few at DFID have pointed out, CCTs are about poverty containment and not poverty alleviation or reduction. They help in desperate situations of poverty, but are not so good in conditions where the clear stated objective is poverty reduction. The latter process requires structural changes in the system that are macro-economic in scale and require large systems to be integrated – including financial, physical infrastructure, availability of transport, credit etc.
  1. Gender perspectiveIn a recent interview with The Hindu, Amartya Sen pointed out that Cash transfers may actually hurt women and girls.But when the subsidy is given as cash directly it may benefit adults and boys more due to biased social priorities in Indian society. Dr. Sen said the transition delays in cash transfer could cause extreme hardship to people, many of whom lead a hand-to-mouth existence,” he added.

 

Will it pay off?

Anecdotally, I would say that many of the individuals that my mother and uncle have supported have thrived. Two people I know have started small businesses and are (relatively) better off than they were. Many others still depend on support, in times of crisis. Given the lack of a ‘welfare-state’ relatives who are somewhat better-off become the support mechanism in India and other developing countries.

On a similar note, one of the reasons the ‘Give Directly’ model works is that there is an implicit trust in the recipient, that he/she will use the money wisely and with care. There is also a normative belief that giving money helps people and is in itself good (remember that this is NOT a loan). So, this does call for a leap of faith, rather than just a philanthropic instinct to give in order to see “results.” I believe that given our obsession with results, data, metrics and the need to see “results” this system is bound to fail. In the short-run, there may be successes, but the inherent contradiction that this system carries with itself will bring it down. This tension between giving to “help” versus the need of scientific philanthropists and “development experts” to see results will be too much for this method to bear.

A related concern that has not been stated is the value system behind this giving. Why would a multi-lateral bank or a philanthropist such as Bill Gates or Soros just hand out money to poor people? Given their proclivity for managing and running their philanthropies like businesses, I believe the large foundations are highly unlikely to adopt this mode of giving. It calls for a radically new (or rather old) way of thinking – i.e., giving because it is a “good” thing or because you believe in the goodness of mankind and want them to improve their lot, on their own terms.

Finally, one must remember that this model is not entirely “new” by any means. CCTs’ have been in existence since 2008 and are operational in many countries of the global south, particularly in South Asia, South East Asia and Latin America. So, the claims of ‘pioneering’ and ‘radically new’ are anything but that. As a reminder, one must ask whether the claims of ‘eradicating poverty’ that many of these organizations are making are exaggerations. While well-meaning philanthropists have been doling out billions for several decades now, this seems to have made a small dent in global poverty. The scale of poverty, disease and hunger in the world is so large that even philanthropists like Bill Gates have acknowledged that they cannot address them alone, and it calls for action from the government, private sector and wealthy individuals. So, how does one small NGO hope to revolutionize the field of development and eliminate poverty? The scale of the problem defies such simple explanations and the structural problems in these countries are far too many to be solved by just lending a few hundred or thousand dollars to one person.

So, does giving directly work?  Yes, it does – but only with many pre-conditions and in a limited context. While I am not referring to the NGO here, but rather the concept, as such.  Finally, I would say that what works for an individual may not work for an entire country. Keeping this in perspective will help future planners, nonprofit practitioners and policy makers from making obvious mistakes.

“As researchers, you are all artists, not just reporters of facts” – Dr. John Cameron, ISS

Photo credit :Sabith Khan
Photo credit :Sabith Khan

IMG_2750 IMG_2757I presented my paper on Arab Diaspora giving at the 11th development dialogue, hosted by the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Erasmus University, Rotterdam on October 10, 11 in The Hague, Netherlands. The student conference brought together 120 young researchers from across the world and despite the numbers, two regions of the world were missing, rather conspicuously – North America and the Middle East. Given this, it was quite ironic that I represented North America, while presenting my paper on Arab diaspora giving. This confirmed what Joseph Stiglitz, the eminent economist shared a few months ago, at a speech at The World Bank that the U.S. is increasingly being isolated on the world scene, when it comes to issues of development.

The issues under discussion during the two day conference spanned the entire globe – from indigenous rights to community development and environmental issues. The thoughtful presentations from the young researchers raised more questions than they answered and most of the participants seemed to agree that this was the right approach – in keeping ideas open, and exploring them deeply rather than trying to get closure, too soon and reaching hasty decisions or conclusions that may not be entirely right.

During the keynote speech, Dr. John Cameron, Associate Professor at ISS pointed out that researchers are like artists, who produce an image of reality, and one that they imagine. “You are all artists, not just reporters. Your imagination is always at play during the process of knowledge creation and one must be aware of this.” He pointed out. He spoke of the responsibility of socially responsible scholarship and reflexivity. Bringing in his own background, he pointed out how his experience of witnessing the racism against Jamaican migrant workers in his native U.K in the early 1960s’ formed his mind about the need to fight these attitudes and ultimately led him on the path to scholarship in the area. Using the metaphor of bridges, he spoke of the three levels in research: epistemological, structural and human agency. He spoke passionately about the need to look at data critically and warned that if this has not produced surprises, then perhaps we haven’t carried out real research.

 

Student reflections

While I could not attend all of the presentations, given that there were many parallel sessions, I did participate in a few. Here are a few key points from some of the presentations made during the conference.

Indigenous rights in Indonesia : Cypri Jehan, from Indonesia spoke about the land-grabbing issue in Papua. He spoke poignantly about the government’s efforts to take over land and colonize large parts of the indigenous people’s land. This, he framed in the context of governmentality and hegemonic discourse of “development.” “Whose development are we looking at?” he asked, pointing to the hypocrisy in much of the debate surrounding development.

 

Fisheries management and community based fisheries in Cambodia: Soy Sok spoke about how efforts to form fishing cooperatives in Cambodia have failed in many cases. This, he explained, is because the notion of a ‘community’ is very limited in the country. “Every family is an island” he pointed out, as he outlined the strategies used by certain groups to encourage formation of a social unit larger than the family, in an effort to facilitate and encourage growth in fisheries. He pointed out that while there is the notion of offering a ‘helping hand’ during funerals or other calamities, most of the time, Cambodians tend to think of the family as their primary unit of society.

Communal councils in Venezuela: Juan Carlos Trivino from Spain spoke about the communal councils in Venezuela and their approach to democratization. His framework was participatory democracy. His work involves proposing indicators to evaluate and analyze invited spaces of participation in a state-led model of participation. He proposed four indicators that would measure: 1. Discourse 2. Mobility of community 3. Design of community and 4. Participation of the community.

                While the themes, topics and ideas presented during the two days were all very different, the unifying theme was one of applied research and the need to question the status quo. The notion that we are a communicative species and one that is also relational came up time and again. The need for social justice, equality of opportunity and reflexivity on the role of the researchers was also stressed.