You’ll have noticed the pace of posting here has slackened. Truth be told, I’m having second thoughts about whether a blog on “Development” is really a viable project in the first place.
I started Campaign for Boring Development because I noticed nearly every blog on development out there were not actually about development at all. They were about development work. They were about the aid enterprise, about NGOs’ and multilateral agencies’ role with regard to development, about stuff expat aid workers like or about a series of more or less recondite academic discussions in the west on development research topics.
It didn’t take long to piece together why this happens: bloggers respond to traffic and the reader engagement it brings, and the thing that generates engagement is writing about the problems that Western development practitioners face. Poor people in poor countries, alas, don’t spend much time reading development blogs.
So the posts that were getting the most reader engagement here were posts about the lives of first world professionals involved in development. That thing I wrote on Bulte et al.’s double-blind seed RCT went the development-nerd version of mega-viral. The other post on why World Bank reforms don’t stick was another big hit among…wait for it…World Bank staffers.
Meanwhile, what I consider to be far and away the best stuff on BoringDevelopment – the posts on Seed Counterfeiting, in particular – basically languished.
This, I started to suspect, is why the globaldev blogosphere is the way it is.
The deeper problem is that “development” tout court is too abstract a topic to make for a good, meaty, focused blog. And “African Development” or “Rural Development” don’t really solve the problem. These formulations totally decontextualize the process, bleaching out all the politics, the state context and the power relations that increasingly seem to me to be the heart of the matter.
Development, when you get down to it, is a political process. Whether you go for the right wing or the left wing variant of this idea matters less, I think, than whether you buy into the concept in the first place. If “context is everything” then “development” doesn’t make sense as a starting point for analysis: why would you start from a category that works by zapping the very thing that “is everything” out of the picture?
The upshot is: I’ve been spending more time reading about the gentlemen in the photo, and less reading about the econometrics of missing variables. I think it’s a much better use of my time.
I may be obsessed with the problem of counterfeit seed, say, but without a deeper appreciation of the basic ways power and influence flow through the Ugandan state system, there are very clear limits on how far I can take that obsession. I may find the marketing strategies of Kenyan seed producers riveting, but without a sophisticated understanding of how agro-inputs policy fits into President Kenyatta’s coalition-building approach, there are very clear limits to what I can do with it.
There’s hope for a blog on Ugandan development or on Kenyan development or on Rwandan development in a way there isn’t for a blog on “development” as such. Hope for relevance and insight into questions that ultimately matter.
So now I need to get a solid handle on the political economy of the Kenyan, Ugandan and Rwandan states. Will it be easy? No way. It’ll be much harder. But worth doing.