Culture

The Value of Knowledge

A few weeks ago I was asked a seemingly simple question in a survey: “Do you think that knowledge can currently be seen as a commodity?” After a couple of seconds’ thought, I started writing my answer. Several minutes later, I still hadn’t finished and decided at that point that I should probably stop in order to prevent myself from overwhelming the person in charge of collating the answers with an unnecessary essay.

I used to work in theoretical particle physics, which is a field where knowledge is very highly valued. After all, the raison d’être of myself and my colleagues was to acquire knowledge about the fundamental laws of nature, and then to disseminate it via peer-reviewed papers, thus making it available to everyone. Equally important was that, whilst writing any paper, we carefully cited previous related works, therefore acknowledging the importance of the knowledge acquired by others. I use the word ‘knowledge’ in this sense to mean concepts, methods, techniques, and observations. If the world of science did not work this way, then everyone would be on their own and we would literally be trying to reinvent the wheel every single day. Read More »

Graphics: Inheriting Poverty – Learned Helplessness and Empowerment in Development

All this month Development Roast has looked at different psychological issues involved in poverty. Today we ask: Does a population’s mentality affect a nation’s development? More specifically, is it possible that when many inhabitants of a country are children of multiple generations of poverty that they can suffer from what could be described as “learned helplessness”, which, as the name suggests, is a feeling of utter disempowerment and uselessness (see graphic). 

This idea was first outlined by American educator and author Ruby Payne in her 2005 book “A framework for understanding poverty”. From her studies of the Urban American class system she concludes that one aspect of generational poverty is a learned helplessness that is passed down from parents to children. This mental attitude means that, unlike the middle and upper classes, many poor people do not foresee a future that is free of poverty and therefore do not have the motivation to even try to escape it. Read More »

Guest Roast: Is Poverty a State of Mind?

By Erin Taylor

What is the psychology of poverty? This question has been a contentious one in anthropology, particularly during the last half a century. In La Vida (1966), a study of poor Puerto Rican families, Oscar Lewis argued that poverty produces certain psychological traits and social behaviours that become enculturated. His ideas caused an uproar because they were widely interpreted to imply that so-called poor people are not capable of escaping poverty. Critics lamented that his book was being misappropriated by the U.S. Government to implement paternalistic, “blame the victim” policies among poor African-American communities that stripped them of their agency, treating them like hopeless cases that needed to be disciplined rather than assisted.

Since then, a plethora of research in poor communities around the world has overturned the idea of a global culture of poverty. Read More »

The Conundrum of Identifying the Poor

I used to think that giving aid was easy. You just find those in need and give them money, incentives or beneficial programs, right? It turns out that even the seemingly simple initial process of identifying the poor is not as easy as it sounds. Not only has a truly efficient method of identifying those living in poverty yet to be established, but there are discrepancies between community satisfaction with known methods and the method’s official success rate.

The main challenge that is faced by researchers and potential benefactors in developing countries when identifying poor people is a lack of reliable income data. Many of the poorest people work informally and/or inconsistently, with few or no verifiable income records. Considerable and creative efforts therefore need to be made to identify intended beneficiaries if aid money is not to be misdirected toward wealthier households.

To date, Proxy Means Tests (PMTs) have proved the most accurate method of identifying families living on USD$2 or less a day. Read More »

Giving to beggars is bad and exploitative labor is good

Two days before Christmas I spent an hour watching a beggar. Would you like to hazard a guess at how many people gave to her? She was an old woman. She looked ancient but was probably only 50 or 60 years old. She was shriveled and doubled over to the extent that she took up little more than the space of an average TV set on one of La Paz’s busiest pavements. And her spindly wrist stuck out of this buddle desperately imploring passers-by to spare a coin or two. But no, hearts didn’t jump. Even in the peak of their Christmas generosity people were not going to jolted into giving by this pitiful sight and, in the end, out of the hundreds that went past, just six people stopped to drop a coin into her hand.

Read More »

Ecocide: The 5th Crime Against Peace?

Today there are 8 billion human beings, speaking around 7000 different languages, sharing the Earth with 8 millions different species of plants and animals. This is the amazing diversity of life on our planet, which is sadly under threat from deeds of large-scale environmental damage. Some are calling these ‘acts of ecocide’ and fighting for them to be punishable by international criminal law.

The word ‘ecocide’ is derived from the Greek oikos (dwelling place, habitation) and the Latin -cida (one who kills). A legal definition, proposed by international barrister Polly Higgins in her campaign Eradicating Ecocide is “the extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been or will be severely diminished.Read More »

We try to protect the biosphere, but what about the Ethnosphere?

According to the Living Planet Report issued in 2012 by the Word Wildlife Fund Global, due to increasing deforestation, natural resource procurement, and habitat destruction, global biodiversity—plethora of plant and animals found on the planet—has decreased by 30 percent since the 1970s with tropical zones incurring a 61 percent loss. This fact is shocking but will not come as a surprise to many. What few people realize, however, is that the world is seeing an equally staggering loss of cultures, traditions, and ways of life due to the same manmade conditions, a loss that significantly decreases the chances of a sustainable future.

One way we can measure cultural destruction is to examine the loss of language. A product of a culture that evolved over many generations, language embodies a culture’s imagination and unique perspective of viewing the world into a concise, single form of expression. This means every time a language dies so does a unique conglomerate of knowledge that took hundreds of generations to develop. Read More »

Culture or Law? What counts more in social-environmental change?

Last night I tagged along to a dinner in Bangkok where I met a couple of executives of Thailand’s national energy company. Needless to say that, as someone with environmentalist proclivities, I was deeply interested in their ‘insider’ views of the industry, as I have learnt from experience that these can be revealing. Although, like taking a ring road bypass to dodge rush hour city traffic, all questions of the environmental impacts of such processes as fracking were skillfully avoided, several things struck me as the conversation turned to the company’s ambitions in the United States.

Fracking is a process of hydraulic fracturing that uses up to 300 tons of chemicals and injects large amounts of explosives and water to crack rock and release natural gases from deep wells. It presents an opportunity to get at previously untouchable gas and every oil and gas explorer wants a piece of the pie. However, according to the executives, the confidence with which the non-renewable industry operates is somewhat geographically determined. Read More »

Does Biological Preservation Prevail Over Cultural Sustainability? The Struggle of the Maya Center Community in a Modernizing World

With the highest concentration of jaguars in the world and an incredibly rich tropical biodiversity, the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary in Belize is an invaluable area not only for its scientific potential, but also due to the economic advantages of eco-tourism. Unfortunately, the installment of the wildlife sanctuary 25 years ago also meant that the inhabitants of Maya Center—a small Mopan Mayan village with a population of some 300 people located in the Stann Creek District in southern Belize—was subsequently prohibited from entering an area historically sacred to their culture. Does this mean that the new economic and scientific “necessities” prevail over the livelihoods and traditions of populations already living in the area?

In the early 1980’s, the Ministry of Natural Resources and the International Division of the New York Zoological Society began studying jaguar populations in the Cockscomb Basin after citrus farmers and hunting magazines reported sightings of jaguars in the area. Soon after the initial reports, scientific inquiries into the population of jaguars within the area resulted in the highest concentration ever recorded with estimates as high as 11 animals per 100 km². With eastern Belize dominated largely by a few wealthy citrus farmers, the establishment of a reserve was seen as a vital step to impeding and preserving the land from the increasing deforestation spawned by the citrus industry. More commonly known today as the Jaguar Reserve, the original 3,600 acres set aside in 1987 has expanded to encompass over 128,000 acres. Read More »

INESAD News: Graffiti on the Great Wall—The Hidden Street Art Culture of Beijing

This week, INESAD’s Carolynn Look published an article in the October 2012 issue of Global South Development Magazine, where she is the editorial assistant and contributor:

Beijing, China. Hundreds of buildings tower over the people that bustle between them every day. Some get demolished, some get rebuilt, some just get a fresh layer of paint. But what strikes you as you walk through this eclectic monster of a city is that none of its buildings are covered in tags or graffiti as they are in other metropolises. Or so you would think on first sight. Read More »

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