“In contrast to those who suggest that we act as soon as the whistle blows, I suggest that, even before the whistle blows we ceaselessly try to know the world in which we live — and act. Even if we must act on imperfect knowledge, we must never act as if knowing is no longer relevant.” (p. 6) —Mahmood Mandami in Saviors and Survivors Some thoughts on ‘voluntourism’ First, a definition The usage of the term ‘voluntourism’ has increased exponentially in the last half decade and, for many, it carries negative connotations. For some voluntourism is one manifestation of the overtly disparaging “slacktivism” meme that has gained a lot of traction as well. This wikipedia article does a nice job reviewing the history, current status and controversies surrounding “volunteer travel.” A conversation with a Jordanian aid worker This semester I am teaching a class on the humanitarian sector, and I recently…Read More
“This research is really needed and important for Jordanian aid and development workers.” –M&E aid worker in Amman As part of my research on national (aka ‘local’) humanitarian aid and development workers, I have been fortunate to talk with many Jordanians working for INGO’s in various capacities. Their generosity and openness has been a gift. Here are some thoughts from my discussions with one young professional. Thoughts on low response to survey Recently I have had a series of very informative interviews with a young female Jordanian research director at a mid-sized INGO working in Amman. Among multiple topics, we have talked about my survey, live for many weeks now, and she said the release of the survey was badly timed because just now the ‘expats’ are coming back from holiday/New Year break and everyone is gearing back up and working long hours these early winter months. To date,…Read More
Its not what you know its who you know Overview The use of social networking as a tool to navigate both personal and professional life is a time honored cultural universal. Indeed, historically nearly every facet of social life was deeply influenced by (perhaps even determined) one’s family, clan, and tribal connections. The traditionally accepted norm of using connections to move forward in life both personally and professionally is now simultaneously clashing with and merging into our more modern and bureaucratized world. Begun in 2002, LinkedIn matured the commodification of this social phenomena, and its corporate reach has grown rapidly. Versions of this platform have been launched in India, China, and Russia, just to name a few. Two years ago the Middle East version was launched, and now all totaled there are nearly 500 millions users around the world able to connect in 24 different languages. This post explores the use…Read More
Social media certainly has its downsides, but one major positive function of the Facebook platform is that groups can be formed, bringing together people that otherwise would remain proverbial ‘ships passing in the night.’ Many months ago I joined the closed Facebook group Fifty Shades of Aid, and scrolling through the posts has allowed me to deepen my understanding of aid workers around the world.
Using ‘exceptional’ nations as examples of positive deviants A look around the globe with an eye toward ‘exceptions’ can yield some interesting observations and lead -perhaps- to some useful questions. Not long ago I spent 5 months in Costa Rica teaching a class which compared the American culture with that of Costa Rica. What I found doing my background research (see Bowman’s New Scholarship on Costa Rican Exceptionalism) is that these two nations have something in common: both believe themselves to be exceptional. American exceptionalism has been an oft used -and maligned- trope for many scores of years, the idea being first offered by the French historian and ethnographer Alexis de Tocqueville back in 1931. That many nation-states (and before that, empires) see themselves as exceptional is just another manifestation of ethnocentrism or, by its other name, nationalism. Are there other ‘exceptional’ nations? Ghana and Namibia have been cited as…Read More
And the student asked, “What can we do?” Bringing aid worker voices to students at my university I can’t take my class on a field trip to the Middle East or to the Jordanian headquarters of some INGO that is part of the Syrian refugee response, but via Skype I can bring meaningful voices into our classroom space. Last spring I invited an Evil Genius to my class. Then deployed in Jordan, our class had a chance to learn from J, a 25 year veteran of the sector. Here is the post about that visit. At exactly the same point in my Intro to Sociology course this fall -covering a chapter on global poverty and wealth- I again invited a humanitarian to class, this time a young, bright local aid worker named Hala, a Jordanian of Palestinian decent, that I met when I traveled to Amman last August for my research….Read More
Local aid workers in Amman, Jordan My recent too-short research trip to Jordan yielded many interviews with local aid workers in Amman and at the refugee camp at Azraq. The hospitality and openness of all the aid workers I talked with was deeply gratifying, and our talks were all extraordinarily productive. These aid workers and I are now working on a survey instrument that we hope can be widely circulated among local aid workers in and around Amman and perhaps even beyond. More to come on the content of these interviews, but for now I want to recount an after-hours conversation related to Azraq and refugee camps in general. Over a couple beers a small group of us traded insights about a range of topics including Trump’s response to the protests and counter protests Charlottesville, the living situation in the various Syrian refugee camps, and the gap between donor interests…Read More