Friday, July 6, 2012

Scanning the horizon from the ground

In an inherently unpredictable world, trying to sense the future is both impossible and of continual interest. Complexity sciences in use frequently encourage horizon scanning. The Institute of Development Studies, especially 'post' financial crisis, agrees. Everyone's got a horizon, but they may be different; one person's horizon is another person's past. And what better place to look for up and coming trends rather than dPhil students?  Unquestionably, capturing 'complexity' is key.
Some themes arose in a recent discussion of dPhil student's spaces: peer to peer democracy, subsidies' impact on poverty; multiple shocks; ethno-politics of wellbeing; politics of life; and capturing complexity. 

One young man is working with indigenous people in a mountainous portion of Mexico where there is strong group membership and close identities. He is focusing on the power relationships between indigenous and non-indiegnous population around discourses of well-being.  How are different mechanisms of resistance appearing in the region?  They influence at the micro level but not the macro environment. The status quo is re-produced at the macro level.  IDS hasn't paid much attention to Latin America - in Great Britain in general, Latin American studies institutes have been closing recently. 

Another is focusing on peer to peer democracy in Egypt. How are ICTs impacting the post-Arab Spring setting? Obviously they were key for the revolution. But how are they now enabling the emergence of citizenship and the shaping of new forms of identity?  Social and technological phenomenan are becoming increasingly interlinked. The emerging social-technical environments do not fit our current paradigms of power and participation. 

How do social systems behave like complex systems? Can one bring greater rigour to what is often an experiment with metaphors? Eric Kasper is going to be working with PRIYA in India to carry out action research with the urban power to look at how they are acting as agents of their own development. He will be using a diversity of methods including an agent based model and a participatory methodology to understand rapid urbanisation and urban poverty. How do the structure of social networks impact what is possible in terms of social change?  Mixing methodologies becomes increasingly important. 

Maybe new horizons are less about finding new things so much as finding new ways of seeing.  One lady used participatory film, digital mapping, relationships and bodies to find new ways of seeing the politics of life. AIDS, women, clinics, messiness and being personally and socially challenged: what's actually going on and how are we opening up the Latour's 'black boxes'.

Multiple shocks - from famines to financial crises - share many dynamics. It's all political, of course - and context specific. The differences of crises, multiple sectors, mixed methods and all the other ways we have of dividing the world often only come together within the lived experience of the human person, the household, and the networked enterprise over time.  In the end, it comes back to people: what is the real experience of the people 'on the ground' wherever that ground might be? From horizons to ground - work: some opportunity for development.

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