Posts Tagged ‘evaluation’

Hard copies


Hard copies are sort of inconvenient. IMG_2007You cannot have them all with you at all times and, as interesting as it is to look though an index, a full text search is usually more useful. However, their materiality and lack of full-text-searchability can also be a useful ordering mechanism. I also like how recalling the physical appearance of a book can help me remember its content (or even just its author and title).

Maybe if I bring the right pile of books to rest in front of my computer this chapter will come together?




ignorance shirt

‘Anthropology, of course, may be best known for the claim that full participation in any human activity requires forms of knowledge, particularly the knowledge of the ‘cultural’ forms of this participation. … Not so paradoxically, anthropology is also famous for the claim that this knowledge disappears from awareness into the ‘taken-for-granted’ or the ‘common sense’.’ (Varenne 2009: 338).

‘Anthropology has often been caught by the charge to identify those forms of ignorance that should then be remedied by the State (for example mothers in Japan should receive parent education). The more radical anthropologists have sought to identify the forms of ignorance that should lead to changes in the State.’ (Varenne 2009: 341)

Ignorance has no hierarchy (McGoey 2011: 154-155). ‘But [Varenne continues] anthropologists must first systematize the analysis of the production of acknowledged ignorance, and particularly of the conditions that lead to determined searches for new knowledge.’ (Varenne 2009: 341)

McGoey, L., 2011. Police reinforcement: The anti-politics of organizational life. In P. Bowman & R. Stamp, eds. Reading Rancière: Critical dissensus. London & New York: Continuum, pp. 148–162.
Varenne, H., 2009. Conclusion: the powers of ignorance: on finding out what to do next. Critical Studies in Education, 50(3), pp.337–343.

Asher Wolf on ‘Hope is people not falling into line with programming written by others’


Part ode to ‘creative consumption’, part an exegesis of TV content and part a celebration of the type of siloing [or filtering] that come commentary has been critical of, but overall an interesting post celebrating disruption and ‘working together’ as hope.

Hope is when we realise we no longer give a shit anymore about messages from daytime t.v., from governments and traditional institutions about how to save kittens up trees or stop the end of the world or fight unknown combatants in unknown lands for oil wells when we have renewable energy shining above us 365 days a year. see

Bureaucracy ‘out of tune’?


In the news this morning, there is this story that Pope Francis has complained about bureaucracy. My initial response to this short article is that his description/complaint is not about the ideal type of bureaucracy because it is populated not with bureaucrats but personalities. Is he making a call for ‘making music together’ in a phenomenological sense (i.e. Schutz’s (1976) ‘Making Music Together: A Study in Social Relationship’)?

The content and process of some recent learnings


I have just finished a two day symposium. It has been wonderful to sit in on the papers, questions and discussions of others. However, getting to enjoy what I have been doing makes me [even] more angsty about the gap between my current capabilities and the researcher I would like to be. Thinking about it, it makes sense to still have things to learn. However, there is that nagging doubt that maybe I will never get ‘there’.

Being a PhD student seems to involve a lot of trying to look sideways at what others are doing in order to guess what I should/ could be doing across so many domains. Through reading some work in progress from other students I have been lucky enough to get a glimpse the practicalities of working up an article for publication, turning a spoken paper into a written paper and even just working ‘data’ into writing. I do not think it is a failure of tertiary education that I am [hopefully] working things out this way; there are certain things in life you have to set out to learn rather than sitting around waiting to be taught.

Working out how my work stacks up with what I should be doing is a bit tricky. There seems to be so much politeness in the circles I find myself in, I feel like I only hear what is considered ‘bad’ work when the person responsible for the work is out of ear shot. Of course, just because somebody says something bad about a paper does not make such an assessment particularly valid. Yet I find myself wondering how to work out what bits of my work ‘float’ and what needs to be changed. Other students and early career academics often praise the peer review process of publication as being the one way to get detailed feedback. However, how can you tell before your work gets to that stage?

In my field work I had to move from guessing what people think to asking (through blunt questions and testing ideas in conversation). What is the equivalence of this in academia? One obvious (and necessary) strategy seems to be doing the leg work of writing up coherent drafts as ideas progress. I know I need to be more explicit about the questions I want my supervisor to answer.

I took to the symposium a paper I had thought a lot about, and I decided to cram it full of ideas I wanted people to respond to. The paper which resulted was at the expense of the work drawing on the reading around the paper I had undertaken. While I felt uncomfortable about this, I thought it might lead to a better outcome than when I blasted the room during a PhD conference with a lot of theory and did not get a single question. Plus, it was tempting to treat this new situation as an opportunity to take up (rather than fight against) my supervisor’s suggestion that my thesis should be descriptive with a simple argument. After all, where is the line where an analytical argument becomes theory anyway? In the end, while I was grateful for the empirical comments I got, I did not get the sort of engagement I was looking for from anybody. Reflecting back now, I can see how the absence of key elements of an expected academic paper and how blasting the room with data both contributed to closing off discussion. A painful [and slightly embarrassing] lesson [hopefully] learnt.

Working with data, ideas and drafts is a slow process. My paper did not need to go in front of the audience in order for me to identify the weaknesses, but being so slow to commit to any format meant that I did not give myself the opportunity to set the paper aside and rework it into a more appropriate piece of work. It would be nice to go on and say now that I will be organised and that I will commit to get things into a full draft earlier. I would like to commit to writing up proper drafts within self imposed deadlines, instead of working on disjoined sections for months on end. However, I know my next deadline is just around the corner and so I will just forgive myself, gather up my learnings and enjoy putting the next paper together in the hope that I will slowly move towards a style of working which allows me to produce work I can enjoy sharing.

Considering ‘Creating Places for People: An urban design protocol for Australian cities’


Creating Places for People: An urban design protocol for Australian cities is a document that feels nice and manageable to hold (you can download an electronic copy here). The heavy weight, non glossy paper has the slightly speckled look of recycled paper (which it is), and the cover is similar but a slightly heavier cardboard. It is a thin, smaller than A4, document, which has been printed in landscape and bound with a fold and two staples. Most of the text is black, but throughout colour is used for parts of headings, dot points and diagrams, with the main colour theme being blue and green. There are three full page colour photographs featuring action shots of people in three different award winning projects aroundAustralia. Just like four of the five smaller images on the front cover, these images are not referred to in the text. The fifth image on the front cover is a larger version of the ‘town/district’ illustration used in a diagram outlining the ‘national to site level’ of scale contexts.

The first part of the title of the document, Creating places for people is in itself interesting. The primacy of human needs is first and foremost, which is hardly surprising, but the active stance of ‘creating’, the approach to looking at ‘places’ rather than just buildings, and I choose to read into the word ‘people’ not just humans, but ones that are socially embedded.

That it is an urban design protocol for Australian cities seems to make sense in such a highly urbanised country. Furthermore, we seem to have some obsession with splintering urban and rural/regional research (and then remote ATSI communities are a whole other story), so I guess a blanket ‘Australian design protocol’ would be out of the question. However, it seems I misread what counts as ‘urban’ or a ‘city’, as the ’12 broadly agreed principles… can be applied to any project or location – whether it is in a large capital city, regional centre or rural town.’ (1).

In the foreword the protocol is described as ‘a collective commitment to best practice urban design’ which ‘is the result of two ears of collaboration between peak community and industry organisations, and governments at all levels.’ (iv) Indeed, the list of organisations involved does include the Australian Government, state government architect offices, Property Council of Australia, and others including the National Heart Foundation of Australia (v).

As for the content of the protocol itself, they certainly managed to meet what I would think of as being any vague ‘broadly agreeable’ criteria. People using spaces is an aim, and there is specific mention of respecting ‘the needs and aspirations of the community that lives and works there’ (9). There is mention of cultivating ‘cohesive + inclusive communities’ (7). As I am not used to reading diagrams it took me a few minutes (and moving onto the next page to work out that it is part of the definition of one the ‘five pillars, Liveability, which the ‘twelve basic principles’ are ticked off again (8).

Liveability is dealt with primarily through ‘design principles about people’ (comfortable, vibrant, safe, walkable), although it apparently also has a lighter grey tick against some of the ‘design principles about place’ (enhancing, connected, diverse), and one of the ‘principles about leadership and governance’ (engagement) (8). I was most interested in the ‘connected’ principle, which is defined as, ‘Connects physically + socially.’ (8). However, I was not too surprised in a design protocol that the ‘Attributes-How it helps to achieve world-class urban design’ did not include any mention of fostering connections between people.

In conclusion, while the document does appear to be something that you would expect to find broad agreement on, there are clearly some very big claims about people and places in this document. It is not necessarily a bad thing that such a document makes claims, just if I was to unpack it far enough to actually start to discuss the politics behind the protocols I would probably come across as being more than a bit of a tosser.

P.S. The little icons used throughout the report are sort of cute and do make it easier to see where each box in the summary (Appendix A) was drawn from in the report, but who decided that ‘comfortable’ would be a girl with pigtails holding hands with a man, who is holding hands with a woman, who is holding hands with a boy in shorts?

Displacing politics through measuring?


No time for reading tonight so here is the link and the abstract for an article so it does not get forgotten. I am surprised by how much reading gets fitting at the moment as I feel so anxious about having so much to do. It is probably a twisted type of procrastination.

Sally Engle Merry, ‘Measuring the World: Indicators, Human Rights, and Global Governancein Current Anthropology Vol. 52, No. S3,

Indicators are rapidly multiplying as tools for assessing and promoting a variety of social justice and reform strategies around the world. There are indicators of rule of law, indicators of violence against women, and indicators of economic development, among many others. Indicators are widely used at the national level and are increasingly important in global governance. There are increasing demands for “evidence-based” funding for nongovernmental organizations and for the results of civil society organizations to be quantifiable and measurable. The reliance on simplified numerical representations of complex phenomena began in strategies of national governance and economic analysis and has recently migrated to the regulation of nongovernmental organizations and human rights. The turn to indicators in the field of global governance introduces a new form of knowledge production with implications for relations of power between rich and poor nations and between governments and civil society. The deployment of statistical measures tends to replace political debate with technical expertise. The growing reliance on indicators provides an example of the dissemination of the corporate form of thinking and governance into broader social spheres.

Public libraries have been shown to be cost effective


Here is the poster (in a library) from which I found out about the report

This is a report on libraries which I plant to make time to read (but not tonight, so just a quote and I promise I’ll go back to work!)

Dollars, Sense and Public Libraries found that the benefits contributed by public libraries significantly outweigh their provisioning costs and represent a sound return on community investment.

A little thing


I am all for having a critical understanding of social programs and for unpacking the texts and images that appear in glossy policy documents. However, sometimes I like to remember that generally the staff rolling these programs out do care and are thinking beings.

One example of this insight is provided by a staff member working on a government funded and managed program. Instead of using the tagline for the program of ‘Making XXX a better place to live’ this staff member insisted on printing everything with, ‘Making XXX an even better place to live.’

Sure there are still the issues around notions of progress and debates around agency, but this staff member’s quiet insistance on the word ‘even’ still makes me smile.

Inclusion or segregation?


Thanks to Google Alerts, I found my way to this article from Amnesty International’s blog .

Fifty-six Romani families were forcibly evicted from their homes on Coastei Street, in the city of Cluj-Napoca in north-western Romania on 17 December 2010.


The Mayor’s letter to the activists goes on stating that “the relocation…and the signing of the rental contracts has created the necessary premises for these persons to legally benefit of stable residence in Cluj-Napoca…This way, the access to the labor market, to continuous professional training, to education, to social and medical assistance system and last but not least, the social integration and the participation to the community life was facilitated.”

It is interesting that the local authorities see “social integration” in that way. The community was pushed to the outskirts of the city, at, what could be easily described, as a remote and isolated location next to the city’s garbage dump and a former drug factory’s waste station.

The closest bus stop is approximately 3 km away. Access to public transport, school, employment and health services appears to be more difficult. The community was moved from the centre of the city, where they used to live among the rest of the population, to an area primarily, if not exclusively, inhabited by Roma. How thin is the line separating “social inclusion” from ethnic segregation?