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EM Opinion Piece: The academic frontier

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COLUMN 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.
Academia 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 o…

Opinion Piece: EM Magazine

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Look who’s talking! The burden of representationAs we trudge along in the line of scholarly duty, shall we dare to ask, who do we actually represent? Levien WillemsePayal Arora 17-04-20182 minute read Who do you represent when you write and speak? Even talking about yourself cannot be confined to your life, because people draw meaning from your lived experience in ways that are out of your control. This is the trade-off for listening. When you write, you filter reality. When you speak, you become a proxy for your ‘kind.’ It is natural to process the world through learnt cues.
When you are in a position of authority, what you say and do becomes ‘truth.’ Academics are in the business of making truth. There is much hubris involved in dedicating our lives to becoming the voice for the voiceless. During the colonial days, anthropologists were enlisted to unravel the mysteries behind the ‘exotic’ subjects in occupied regions of the world and filter these understandings in ways palatable to the…
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COLUMN 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 ICTD conference kicks off with marital discord between practitioners and academics

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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 t…

Not quite "up in the air!"

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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 u…

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 st…