Political Science?

The New York Times ran an article on Sunday by Professor Jacqueline Stevens titled Political Scientists are Lousy Forecasters. In it, she cites evidence of how poor most political science modelling is, mostly because it is government or think-tank funded and therefore comes down on the ‘right’ side of the debate. She also quotes Karl Popper who laughed at political sciences pretensions at science believing science can only be conducted in isolation or controlled conditions, a notion totally at odds with human emotional rather than rational (take note economists) behaviour.

However after returning to university and continuing to work there is some capacity, my advice to political scientists would be do some actual research. You know ‘go out there and ask questions bringing some science into what is right now is political pontificating in ivory towers. I am constantly surprised how reluctant/cowardly academics in political science are to getting their hands dirty and talking to people.

It reminds me of the row between the value of academic Laura Seay and journalist Tristan McConnell. Seay criticised journalist’s understanding and analysis in the Congo. The fact she did it in Foreign Policy, a noted top-down rag is a bad starting point. Despite Congo being her research area, she wrote this piece from Texas. She lamented the incomplete analysis while welcoming the exposure of issues of poverty and violence. While we all wish for thorough research, this can take years. While our professor is happily writing away, getting paid and going home to the family, these problems are not going away. Thorough analysis is welcomed but NGOs and journalists on the ground are savvy and intelligent enough to get to the nub fairly quickly.

What i think we are really hearing is the ground lost by academia in the public mind and to some degree its relevance. Academic research didn’t highlight or predict the fall of Yugoslavia or report the massacres to the world. Its prescription has also failed Bosnia since. If they do comment, it all comes too late. I was even invited to a conference on whether academics should be more public involved. Naturally the first day was reserved for debating what is ‘involved!’

Sociology is always the way forward.


Blood in the Mobile

I finally got around to watching this the other day and I’d say I was slightly disappointed by it. Apart raising the issue and highlighting it to the embarrassment of Nokia, Polson, the filmmaker really gets nowhere and seems to lack the charisma if not the determination to get answers.

I don’t doubt the risks he took, but the risks of the boy whoo took him down the mines and the reaction to him there from the fellow miners

Polson then at the end seems rather disingenuous with Nokia, asking the head of social responsibility that he made promises to the boys in Congo and what can he tell the now. Well if he did makes those promises, he certainly didn’t on camera. And what is Polson’s responsibility to these boys? They are treated terribly and lead desperate, fear-ridden lives but what happens to them next? These minerals are mined to demand. Cutting the supply means losing demand and hence jobs. What is better?

The section in Germany with the geologists came across as frankly silly and its inadequacy was immediately pointed pout by Global Witness. The part with the Congressman was under explored. The part with the UN spokesman really could have been built on. I was slightly suspicious of it. It seemed loaded.

Polson seems to have lived in a Danish wonderland, unknowing of the big, bad world out there. To a certain degree I think it was an act. People live terrible lives, exploitation is rife, corruption is not unusual but an everyday function of survival for all. You do what you have to do.

It’s the people at the bottom who lose out but the solution here might not be to expose the workers so openly and to essentially demand their dismissal. The whole structure is at work here. The consumerist nature of the West, the exploitative and short-termist multinationals, the tied development, the race to the bottom (in this case literally) economic system. Its the same structure that is creaking right now. We need to help push it over.

Africa Development Books

I’ve attended two books launches in the last few weeks both concerning development in Africa or sadly the serious lack of development. The reasons are simple; an abuse of position and power within the state leading to conflict or bad governance; and poor development policies and/or the selfish influence of Western power through corporations or the state leading to bribery, the sales of arms and resources exploitation.

The answers are of course far from easy and so in that sense, the two books explained and debated at the launches point out the easy part. That said, its a start and they both do highlight the intricacies and complicities of the ‘simple’ difficulties. There is now constant debate and conjecture within development circles by economists, critical theorists and development practitioners over the best model for development and ultimately they fails on their implementation as they lack the will.

I have yet to see an international development policy that has succeeded since the days of massive state investment policies, protectionist export development and a dominant state model lifted East Asia out of poverty. Without massive resources, a paternal state and protectionism, I can’t name a single example of a state moving from third to second world, let alone to first world. Yet under neo-colonial history, neo-liberal economics and the overriding and often ill-placed human rights framework, states at the bottom will remain there.