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Shapeshifting fission and fusion in the Tory leadership contest

Shapeshifting fission and fusion in the Tory leadership contest

Mud-slinging between rivals in the Tory leadership election sounds like more of the same old ‘tribalism’ in UK politics. But this is not just politicians behaving badly because they are unpleasant people or politics is dirty. Choosing a new leader reveals how much politicians are forced to shapeshift into different groups, improvising into new alliances and enmities to further their interests and causes. To dismiss the way politics enacts as tribalism, is to disparage both politics and the societies around…

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Ethics under threat in Westminster

Ethics under threat in Westminster

In a New Statesman podcast released today, I discussed ethics in Westminster with writer Armando Iannucci, MP Anum Qaisar and journalist Ailbhe Rea. It is clearly time for a debate about our expectations of politicians. How did the UK get itself into a situation where the Prime Minister is still in post although he lied to parliament. Apparently when Hemingway was asked how he went bankrupt, he replied: “Gradually, then suddenly.” That does seem to be the way of important…

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New research: political truth-telling and lying

New research: political truth-telling and lying

I’m embarking on new research about how politicians, journalists and researchers tell truths and lies and how knowledge travels around political worlds. I was once tempted to lie in research about MPs. Or was it a lie? In the run up to a UK general election, the Guardian phoned my publisher and said that a well-known academic had written a blog about how I found cheating in the previous election. If they ran with a story about it, would I…

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Challenging harmful partnership practices

Challenging harmful partnership practices

Global coalitions tend to be constrained by hierarchies of knowledge and harmful partnership practices. I wrote about how this plays out between international NGOs and national/local NGOs in Whose Development? (1998), with co-author Elizabeth Harrison, and some years later about some strategies for challenging  these inequalities in an article called Doing Development Differently (2014). At a small INGO working on child rights we questioned our assumptions about where expertise lies. We once claimed that we were experts in child protection…

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To be or not to be an anthropologist

To be or not to be an anthropologist

Since I trained as a social anthropologist at Edinburgh University in the early 1980s I have been wrestling with whether I wish to be defined by that disciplinary orientation. Whatever work I was doing, the label seemed to stick in my mind – often with me joking about being a recovering anthropologist even when I was trying to be a social development worker, policy wonk or manager. At last I have concluded that like so many binary choices, a yes…

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Complex leadership

Complex leadership

We face various emergencies – climate change, inequalities, conflict, mental health and now pandemics – as well as attacks on peace, democracy and justice – white (and other) supremacy, Kafkaesque bureaucracies, cuts to public services, and attacks on the rule of law – that require intelligent leaders. And yet if we don’t rethink how we conceive of leadership, then poor leaders thrive and decent leaders don’t stand a chance. I’m editing a volume about leadership (part of a series with…

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Anticipating recovery anthropologically

Anticipating recovery anthropologically

In my last blog I wrote about evaluating the past; this note asserts that politicians fail to anticipate the future with sufficient imagination.  Politicians in democracies are often brilliant at anticipating what they need to do to win the next election, in most cases staying in close touch with their local party members and as many electors as possible. One British MP told me he has canvassed every Saturday of his life for decades and puts a letter through the…

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30 years of Experiments in Evaluation

30 years of Experiments in Evaluation

Whether evaluating energy projects in Kenya or Sri Lanka, services provided to UK MPs in Westminster or a UK university’s grant-making, anthropological research skills helped me side-step the customary assumptions. Evaluation often involves simplistic questions like, ‘Is this project a success or failure?’, when most human endeavour is usually both. It frequently fails to take account of plural views, complex histories and the socio-political processes involved in evaluating people. It is often mind-deadeningly dull and formulaic when creativity is needed….

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Parliamentary Scrutiny after the DFID-FCO Merger

Parliamentary Scrutiny after the DFID-FCO Merger

Accountability and scrutiny are vital to effective governance. UK Government aid and development strategies and programmes are scrutinised by Parliament (the International Development Committee and the Public Accounts Committee), related financial watchdogs (the Independent Commission for Aid Impact and the National Audit Office) and civil society (including NGOs and universities – albeit many of whom are recipients of DFID funding for delivery or analysis services). So what happens if the IDSC is disbanded? But first, how have the scrutineers responded to the news that DFID and FCO will…

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