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Presentation from seminar on Popular Representations of Development: Insights from Novels, Films, Television and Social Media by Michael Woolcock, World Bank and John F. Kennedy School of Government …

Presentation from seminar on Popular Representations of Development: Insights from Novels, Films, Television and Social Media by Michael Woolcock, World Bank and John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

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  • 1. Popular Representations of Development: Insights from Novels, Films, Television and Social Media Michael Woolcock World Bank & Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Development Studies January 21, 2014
  • 2. Overview • What this talk is, and is not, about • PROD’s “comparative advantage” • Why it’s interesting, why it matters – For scholarship – For a well-rounded development education – For thinking and doing in development practice
  • 3. What PROD is not • An overview of ‘world’ (or even ‘Western’) literature, cinema, or television on development • A treatise on the epistemological equivalence of statistics and poetry for determining policy • An analysis of the incidence or meaning of key development words (e.g., ‘poverty’) in literature over time – cf. Ravallion (2011)
  • 4. ‘Poverty’ in literature, 1700-2000 Source: Martin Ravallion (2011) “The Two Poverty Enlightenments: Historical Insights from Digitized Books Spanning Three Centuries” Poverty & Public Policy 3(2): 1-146
  • 5. What PROD seeks to be: a book that… • Takes seriously popular expressions of how ‘development’ is explained, experienced, and encountered – A source of authoritative knowledge • cf. JPE and WDR… – Legitimize, facilitate cross-disciplinary dialogue • Opens up alternative modalities for conveying complex, controversial ideas – Great teaching tool! • Is a complement to, not a substitute for, orthodox scholarly and policy research
  • 6. Table of Contents • Part 1: Introduction – Key themes • Part 2: Literature and Fiction – Novels, 1 World Manga • Part 3: Media and Television – Reality TV, ‘The Wire’ • Part 4: Films – Hollywood, Bollywood • Part 5: Public Campaigns – Empire Marketing Board, ‘Band Aid’ • Part 6: New Media – Twitter, Blogs • Part 7: Conclusion – Implications, agenda
  • 7. Perspective, empathy via stories, allegories (as ‘true myths’) • A long, venerable, diverse insight – BCE: The Bible • Isaiah (6:19) “their eyes cannot see, and their ears cannot hear” – 9th C: Jain, Sufi, Buddhist, Hindu lore • The Blind Men and the Elephant – Mid-19th C: George Eliot • ‘Appeals founded on generalizations and statistics require a sympathy readymade, a moral sentiment already in activity; but a picture of human life such as a great artist can give, surprises even the trivial and the selfish into that attention to what is apart from themselves, which may be called the raw material of moral sentiment.’
  • 8. Perspective, Empathy • Early 20th C: Joseph Conrad – “My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel — it is, before all, to make you see.” • Mid-20th C: Kenneth Burke – ‘A way of seeing is also a way of not seeing’ • Mid-20th C: John Berger – Ways of Seeing • Today: Scott E. Page – The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies • Today: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Purple Hibiscus; Half of a Yellow Sun – ‘The Danger of the Single Story’ (TED Talk) • Downloaded ~5M times
  • 9. ‘Tambien la Lluvia’ (‘Even the Rain’)
  • 10. Reconnecting the humanities and social sciences in development • Some examples: – Lewis Coser (1972 [1963]): Sociology Through Literature – Kenji Yoshino (2011) A Thousand Times More Fair: What Shakespeare’s Plays Teach us About Justice – Stephen Kern (2004) A Cultural History of Causality • Artists as researchers – Philip Zelikow (2012) on ‘Lincoln’ as innovative history • “Because filmmakers can often devote far more resources to research than scholars can, because the sheer process of a painstaking reconstruction of a past world can itself yield insights about it, it has always been possible that filmmakers might add to our collective historical understanding, rather than either popularizing or debasing it. In Mr. Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln,’ that possibility is happily realized.”
  • 11. Reconnecting the humanities and social sciences in development • Artists as trenchant social critics, advocates – Lynn Hunt (2006) Inventing Human Rights: A History • Novels help transform routinized torture into LFE – Phil Montgomery (2011) Two Roads East • Artists as teachers of social science concepts – Structure-agency; counterfactuals; ‘poverty traps’; identities; ‘lifeworld’; ‘asymmetric’ variables • Arts/Social Science hybrids – Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers • “It seemed to *Abdul+ that in Annawadi, fortunes derived not just from what people did, or how well they did it, but from the accidents and catastrophes they avoided. A decent life was the train that hadn’t hit you, the slumlord you hadn’t offended, the malaria you hadn’t caught.” • The political economy of artistic mediums – Is small beautiful? (i.e., is anyone ‘independent’?
  • 12. 1. Giving, receiving • John Steinbeck on his friend Ed Ricketts (the character ‘Doc’ in Cannery Row), who had a unique ability to “receive anything from anyone, to receive gratefully and thankfully, and to make the gift seem very fine.” – “It is so easy to give, so exquisitely rewarding. Receiving, on the other hand, if done well, requires a fine balance of self-knowledge and kindness. It requires humility and tact and great understanding of relationships. In receiving you cannot appear, even to yourself, better or stronger or wiser than the giver, although you must be wiser to do it well.”
  • 13. 2. Small vs Big Development “*T+here’s only so much good you can do unless you are willing to confront corruption, venality and disorder head-on. So if I could, presumptuously, recommend a reading list to help these activists fill in the gaps in the prevailing service ethos, I’d start with the novels of Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler, or at least the movies based on them. The noir heroes like Sam Spade in “The Maltese Falcon” served as models for a generation of Americans, and they put the focus squarely on venality, corruption and disorder and how you should behave in the face of it. A noir hero is a moral realist. He assumes that everybody is dappled with virtue and vice, especially himself. He makes no social-class distinction and only provisional moral distinctions between the private eyes like himself and the criminals he pursues. The assumption in a Hammett book is that the good guy has a spotty past, does spotty things and that the private eye and the criminal are two sides to the same personality. He (or she — the women in these stories follow the same code) adopts a layered personality. He hardens himself on the outside in order to protect whatever is left of the finer self within. David Brooks: ‘Sam Spade at Starbucks’ (New York Times, 12 April 2012)
  • 14. 3. Leaving, entering …slowly but surely we have become alienated from our own people and our own environment. This alienation would have been bearable had it not been that in our case the abandonment of our own culture did not at the same time bring access to another civilization. Thus we have sacrificed what was ours but have not gained in its place anything that might be considered its equivalent; we have lost our world, but we have not entered another… We have added much new cultural material, the value of which cannot be discounted; however, it often fits so ill with our own style or is so far removed from it that we can use it at best as a decoration and not as material to build with. It is quite understandable why we have been so mistaken in our choice. In the first place, much has to be chosen, and there has been so little to choose from. Ki Hajar Dewantara, 1935 (Indonesian educator)