Showing posts with label academia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label academia. Show all posts

Thursday, May 31, 2018

EM Opinion Piece: The academic frontier

The academic frontier

By acknowledging that the academic frontier isn’t as fair as it would like to appear, maybe we will be kinder to one another as we plod ahead.

Payal AroraAcademia is all about marking territory. Grab hold of a trending topic and make it yours. Invent a term, coin a concept and hope it sticks. Knowledge is propertied. Sometimes the game gets vicious. Predatory. Perhaps a senior scholar in need of renewal may prey on the work of their doctoral student or younger colleagues. A ‘rock star’ academic can encroach on well established and poorly marketed scholarship and brand it around him or her. A major grant can buy an emerging scholar a ‘reputation’ overnight that others have spent years struggling to build through the long road of committed research.
This is no free market. Scholars from less wealthy institutions and countries struggle to be visible, to be heard and often to hold on to the ownership of their ideas. In desperation, they may put their work on ResearchGate or, hoping that this new digital frontier plays to a different set of rules. In reality, they may be read but not cited due to their relatively unknown status. Worse yet, their ideas may be appropriated by others and published with the right kind of dressing up.
Click here for the rest of the opinion piece.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Opinion Piece: EM Magazine

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Name politics

Whilst there are good arguments for re-examine naming in academic citations, making specific allowances for certain scholars over others reminds us that academia continues to be elitist, thinks Payal Arora.

It was a typical academic workshop. “Madhu Madhu” was the next presenter. This Indian female academic came on stage and started to explain the politics behind her name and how it went wrong. Her name was just “Madhu.” Not “Madhu Madhu.”
In India, you can tell a person’s caste by his/her last name. There is pervasive discrimination based on the caste to which you belong. Since you are born into a caste, there is absolute immobility. This is a barrier to social equality, also in academia.
For these reasons, she was politically motivated to drop her last name.
When she applied to do this workshop in the United Kingdom, she explained her name change multiple times to the organisers. However, columns needed to be filled and this diverged from academic protocol. Hence, the organisers gave her the name “Madhu Madhu.”
One might argue that whilst her politics are relevant and convincing in her local context, academic standardisation exists to avoid exceptionalism. It would be a privilege for Madhu to change bibliographic standards. It would emphasise her social capital against all those who do not have power to enforce their own name politics. A worthwhile case for academic democracy.
Meanwhile, an accomplished American academic Danah Boyd has succeeded in establishing her name in small letters.
To read the rest, click here 

Monday, December 13, 2010

The ICTD conference kicks off with marital discord between practitioners and academics

The ICTD conference for 2010 goes all Harry Potter on us, hosted by Royal Holloway, University of London. This university, started in 1886 and financially backboned substantively by Thomas Holloway who made his millions from patent medicine, is a fascinating site to hold the conference in. While we're immersed delightfully within the history of this educational space, we're confronted with the future of this relatively newly created ICTD conference space. Its a response to the persistent frustrations of the disconnect between academia and practice. It's about making "relevant" academia, to network these seemingly disparate groups in a fruitful manner and create sustainable thinking through interdisciplinary means.

So it is of little surprise that the conference launches with a panel of practitioners and moderated by Tim Unwin from Royal Holloway, University of London. In true academic self-flagellation, Tim remarks that only practitioners can truly "guide the next decade of academic research." Invited on the panel is Erik Hersman, co-founder and director of operations of Ushahidi, Anriette Esterhuysen, executive-director of the Association for Progressive Communications, Tony Salvador Senior Principal engineer, and Director of Research, Emerging Markets Platform Group, Intel Corporation, Anita Gurumurthy, IT for Change, Ken Banks, founder of and creator of FrontlineSMS, and Indrajit Banerjee, Director of the Information Society Division, UNESCO. They were invited to speak their mind on what they think should be researched on in the near future, look deeply into certain issues and question certain dominant assumptions in the field. Of course, as predicted, the debate starts of with the usual practitioner-academic debate, with an underlying bias of making the "practitioner" very current, reflexive, insightful and "close" to the beneficiaries. Academics however, need a new PR agent apparently as they're viewed as parasitical creatures, feeding off on the "brain food" of practitioners as Anriette states. Banerjee, an ex-academic fuels this further with his comment that "“academics are talking to themselves while development is out there." Of course, there is some noise on who is this "practitioner" anyway? Aren't all academics, if genuinely effective, are practitioners too ? - as such, all "good theory is good practice too," as Anita states. So is that really true?

While this ritual perhaps is essential, given the role of rituals in general as markers that indicate that we're all part of this community that shares common tensions that at once divide and unite at the same time, there were more interesting points that were brought up by this panel, namely from Erik, a technologist who astutely asks why do we pigeonhole technologies as tools for development? Its like saying Mozilla Firefox is for development just because it's being used by emerging market demographics! So why do we naturalize certain tools as “empowerment tools” and does this really have a particular advantage for the ICTD field or does it long term do more damage as we exoticise typical tools and thereby create barriers on intergrating "exotic" populations into the typical user-interfacing group?

fodder for thought for sure...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Not quite "up in the air!"

Am on the road right now, but not quite Up-In-The-Air style. From Amsterdam to Thousand Oaks (near LA but as argued by some, “far” from LA as possible), I’m doing the conference circuit, the social life of many academics. After all, here’s a willing audience for your obscure Whitehead reference and hand-punctuated intellectualism. And if you thought Marxism is dead, you’ve evidently not attended enough academic conferences. Impossible ideals are preserved in the confines of academia, a natural fodder for multiple critiques of real world practice, leading to publications and sustenance of passion from the vantage point of the beloved armchair. Don’t get me wrong; I love armchairs. It’s comfortable, and allows for a respectable pause for reflection and pontification. Of course, I like it even better when we’ve earned the temporary rest through actual experience but then, if that were always the case, whom would we have left to mock?

So what was this conference about? Well, besides the usual deep evaluation of hotel rooms and fine dining which is the lifeblood of such conferences, we came together to bond on what’s the social responsibility of mass media, particularly pertaining to contemporary events such as the financial crisis to the oil spill. The term “social responsibility” itself should be up for discussion though as its hard to be responsible to an abstract “social” entity, as if there’s a monolithic group with shared interests. No wonder we can go around in circles sometimes when we’re grabbing trendy terms as a starting point of discussion, without acknowledging that this expectation is in itself problematic. Being responsible to one social group comes at the trade-off of another. The question is, who is the deserving and current chosen “victim” group that is deemed in need of representation and protection?

Also, one can’t help but notice that when critiquing the media, often journalists are badgered to death on their amoral drive for the quick storyline, their direct role in distorting news. So it was refreshing to see a journalist in the audience share her struggles of how hard it is to penetrate the corporate marketing slick that gets circulated to all journalists. It’s so manicured that often she lamented, journalists have little choice but to print what they get from these corporations. Better something than nothing. Now that’s what I like about conferences - when different stakeholders come together and give us their side of things. Unfortunately that does not happen often. We surround ourselves with too many people from academia and too few from the professional world.

Another discussion that I thought was interesting is this demand for “balanced” reporting, this fair share of voices. It seems to me that people argue for an even platform for all parties. There’s this romantic notion that if they all enjoy the “equality” of representation, there will be more diverse perspectives and debates. Hardly. We start from a deeply uneven platform where special interests and lobby groups dominate. So if we’re looking for more “balanced” reporting, we have to first make explicit the dominant views and stakeholders and from that standpoint, advocate for those voices that are less vocal, less noticed, less attended to.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Classroom Simulations: Taking on Bashir, designing Airports in Shanghai and more

I’m a huge advocate of simulations in classrooms. You get students to take on role plays and enact within real life contexts and rest assured, these students will blow your mind away. We have traveled from Brazil to Sudan to China. From addressing the building of a factory in the Amazon to standing for elections in Sudan, these students have risen to the challenge beautifully.

For instance, the Brazil case study I designed demanded that each student group represent different interests: Perenco Oil, Ecowatch, the Brazilian middle class, the government and the Survival international Group. This played out on a popular TV show, where I took on the role of “Veronica”, a famous TV show hostess. What we got was “Candy forest” representing Ecowatch battling her way with an experienced VP of Perenco Oil, with the government trying hard to play neutral. What was fascinating was that the attacks were focused on Perenco, leaving the government relatively unscathed inspite of their supportive stance. I find this reveals so much about our understandings of international conflicts and more importantly, I hope, humbles students to realizing the complexities of real life scenarios.

The Sudan exercise too was such a delight. This could have gone on for hours! They had so much to say and even as the class time was up, they were fully pumped with ideas that were itching to come out! Student groups were told that they were all competing to be the next ruling party of Sudan and thereby, had to come up with an election campaign. The twist here was that each group was told that they were representing a particular faction: the African tribal group, the military generals, the economists, and the international relations focused groups. This is the outline each group got from me including information on the country's geography, economic, political and socio-cultural makeup.



Current Situation: President Bashir has stepped down as President due to the Darfur crisis and international pressure. The seat of Presidency is vacant. A new election monitored by the UN is going on with 4 nominees as finalists.

Your group is 1 such team vying to be the future government of Sudan.

Your audience are the Sudanese people. They are tired of being viewed as victims and tired of apologizing and being shamed by the West. Afterall, it was a bad government and not bad people. They are proud and have a rich cultural heritage and want to make their mark in their own unique way.


1) President nominee

2) International Relations Advisor

3) Economic Advisor

4) Education Advisor

5) Security & Diplomacy Advisor

Decide on the following for your campaign speech:

1) Your campaign promise – Core issues

2) Campaign motto “Yes we can” byline type

3) Target voter demographic- what is your strategy?

STEP 1: All groups give a presentation to the public on their plan for Sudan

STEP 2: President nominees take the stand. Cross-fire: President nominees consult their team and ask questions to each other

STEP 3: Audience asks further questions

STEP 4: Voting takes place


In short, I m a big fan of simulations! More to come...