Sunday, January 14, 2007

Field Notes from a Conference

I attended a development studies conference recently and being there was a reminder that I needed to note down these two academic phenomena before I forgot:

1. The Questionment

As the name suggests this occurs during the question time that follows a talk. However, what's on offer isn't a question at all, it's a statement, usually with the subtext of 'hello everybody I actually know rather a lot on this subject too.'

Example: "Thank you for your very thought-provoking talk, I couldn't help but think - when you mentioned the current sugar crisis in Fiji - that what we are really seeing is a two pronged attack on the industry. One prong being changing trade rules; the other being race relations. With a colleague I've been doing some similar work on Solomon Islands, with regards to the Chinese...[fade to multiple blahs]...So, um, do you see any similarities between the Solomons and Fiji in this regard?"

2. The Overweight Caveat

This is where you note the killer counter-argument to your own hypothesis, claim that you are not disputing/discounting it, and then to proceed by totally ignoring it. The old saying "I'm not a racist but..." is a pub form of the same technique.

In the Development Dictionary (the crappiest development book with the most misleading title ever written) one of the authors performs a classic execution of this maneuver. The example runs something like this. The author is writing an article about 'problematising poverty'. In particular, claiming that the west often 'invents' poverty in the developing world as an excuse for intervention. Now, upon reading this, the not 100% credulous reader might ask: "But what about those people for whom poverty isn't a western invention?"

Aha! The killer counter argument!

But, it turns out, our author is ready for that one, writing early on in the essay: (paraphrase) "this is not to discount the fact that millions of people live lives of grinding poverty..."

No, not to discount it at all [/sarcasm]. Not to mention it again in the article either.

Still I suppose you can't fault the logic. If you exclude the billions (not millions) of people who live in grinding poverty, everyone else who those nefarious agents of western hegemony (development workers) claims is poor probably is just a creation of the discourse.

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