What I’m reading this month: February 2019 edition

 Tube journeys (blogs/policy briefs/podcasts)

Mark Townsend, Kings of cocaine: how the Albanian mafia seized control of the UK drugs trade

This short article provides a good overview of why the Western Balkans have become an important focus for UK policy makers and law enforcement. The development angle isn’t as clear here as it could be (though the national interest one is definitely loud and clear…), and it really struck me reading this that this could make a fascinating case study of ‘un-reform coalitions’: Albanian and Italian crime gangs finding common ground, developing shared narratives, building relationships etc. It also introduced me to Hellbanianz’s You Tube channel, where their London-based ‘Hood Life’ music video, for example, already has almost 8 million views. If we’re increasingly understanding the importance of ideas and narratives, criminals seem to have figured that out a long time ago. (Heather Marquette)

 Southern Rail journeys (papers/journal articles/longer thought pieces)

 Tom Gillespie, From quiet to bold encroachment: contesting dispossession in Accra’s informal sector

This paper in Urban Geography uses Asef Bayat’s wonderful work on ‘quiet encroachment’ as a way the poor exercise agency against powerful interests to very good effect. Drawing on extensive ethnographic study of street traders in Accra, Gillespie shows how the quiet encroachment by informal traders on public space that’s increasingly barred to them is an effective form of collective action. In Ghana’s multiparty democracy, this is a strategy that helps to empower the poor and encourage them to engage in more active dialogue with authorities. (Heather Marquette)

Rajesh Venugopal, Ineptitude, ignorance, or intent: The social construction of failure in development

I’ve read a lot in recent years about success and failure in aid, and it’s nice to read something a bit different. This paper in World Development argues that development is a naturally pessimistic field where the challenges seem almost infinite, and humans’ abilities/resources/political will are always (sometimes glaringly) finite. Venugopal claims that this has led to a ‘sub-field’ emerging that focuses on development failures in three areas in particular: implementation, design and (hidden) agendas. He argues that these are often socially constructed failures, rather than empirically measurable ones, and we’d be better off working with the wider literature on ‘wicked problems’ than staying in our development policy world. This is, at least in part, because these are often ‘profitable failures’, where each critique comes with its own new micro-industry to help try to solve the problem (which it will never do). If you’ve ever spent any time in hell on Twitter watching these debates spin round, you’ll recognise this, I’m sure. (Heather Marquette)



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