Tuesday, 12 May 2009

TPP Exam Done and On to VCD

If the vcd course forces us to question our notions of violence, barbarism and war and how they relate to, for example, democracy and the state,* I guess TPP portrayed development in much more concrete terms than I was familiar with. To some people I can understand that TPP might be a bit too 'life, universe and everything.' Or that it was a massive 'attack' on development with very few positive glimpses or possibilities for the future. 

In our last TPP tutorial session, we were asked about what we had learned through the year or what we thought was most important. When it was my turn to speak I said what had struck me was the idea that development was 'invented' and hence, imposed. I feel like the veil has been lifted from 'development's face. 

I knew there was something 'wrong' or very 'ineffective' about the way development was being conducted in the 'field.' I was befuddled by our curious, cumbersome, and lip-service techniques, approaches and bureaucracies. And how we would constantly pat ourselves on the back! One of my good friends, Chipo Nymbuya, who came to her country Liberia after a couple of decades  and worked with us at UNDP for a couple of years. But she eventually became fed up and left.  Needless to say, there were also personal reasons for her not being able to stay with the UN longer. In our discussions, she would say that development could not work because it was so a-historical. And I would bring up examples of the Asian success stories - that development can work and is working. But little did I know that was what we refer to as the 'developmental state' in development literature.  

But I could never put my finger on it, I did not have the language or concepts to frame my thoughts and frustrations. But now I can say that development fails because it is technical and de-politicised. Technical, country-driven programmes cannot hope to address larger problems of inequality and injustice, unfair trade laws and regimes and the weakness of states in the face of globalisation.

You know what, I feel like I took the red pill like in the Matrix and now I know. The rabbit hole goes reallllly deep. 

I had hoped to cover a lot of ground for my exam preparations - I had wanted to read more of my study packs and have a more solid grounding. I can console myself with the fact that the lectures still provided a good overview of those topics such as social provision and the problems associated with that. We had touched on the idea of NGOs limiting the state by acting as service providers in my NGOs class. 

I am glad I focused on the zero sum logics of dependency and post development theories. With all their faults, they are eloquent and poignant. And, they are historical.  What else? Poverty reduction and the state and democracy. I never knew for example how much the state has been reduced and weakened. And that, the international community, the World Bank to be precise, is not interested in strengthening the state. We are just hanging out around to artificially recover the countries we work in so that market forces may be allowed to flourish. 

It all makes sense now!  I swear, it does. It really helps me to put my experience into a context. I now know what we are doing out there. What the assumptions are. And to some extent what the intentions are, too. This does not mean that I do not want to work in the UN any longer - that is hardly the case. The course has given me a deeper perspective and helps me to better understand where we are coming from and we are doomed to go. I may not be able to command any major changes but I can be different as far as my own work is concerned. How? Well, writing better reports, briefs, and striving to work closer together with national counterparts and across within the UN system. It sounds pretty lame but believe me, even saying that one sincerely did all of the above says a lot. And if I become the first female secretary general like in my secret fantasy...

How did the exam go? Ha, well, I had a lot of fun studying for the exam with my friends. We had a good break (tea-lunch-tea-snack-gossip) schedule going on! It sort of motivated me to come to the library every day and get through topics and do practice essays. And eat a lot of berries! ** The day before Chris and I were joking that if democracy, civil society-NGOs doesn't come up, we'll start laughing hysterically and walk out. Guess what? That happened in the exam. I panicked for the first 20 minutes. I decided to go ahead with the Washington-Consensus and poverty reduction question ii) post development and social movements and iii) manipulated the good governance agenda in favour of democracy. I wrote two half-way decent answers. One of them was heavily laced with all the statistics and quotations I had memorised. That must have been an eye and brain sore for the examiners. The third had a long introduction, a long conclusion and a sweet and short body. Mariam was sitting close by and I could not help noticing her speed and call for a second set of pages. She was done 10 minutes before hand, twiddling her thumbs. My confidence level kept dropping and I had to remind myself to keep going, keep going. So that was that. The first exam was not all that. I managed to write if that is any consolation. The after party was good though. We had some good laughs. 

I would say that my vcd exam strategy is any more strategic but it is not. So far, I have just read extensively so as to cover as much ground as possible. I do not know whether I have read more for vcd or not but it feels like it. Strangely enough. Also, I think with all the time we spent on the group study case, it feels like we have been doing vcd all our lives. I am determined to spend all of tomorrow - or the better part of it - doing practice essays with bombastic introductions and gross generalisations. 

We are extremely excited about this evening's lecture. Get this - Bang Goes Homo Economicus: Terrorists, Economists and Rational Fools by Christopher Cramer. It is going to be, in Po's words, *** 'awesome.' 

As I have mentioned tirelessly before, I did the essay on terrorism (no, I have not even picked it up yet, why subject myself to pain?) and wish I had explicitly said that social science does not explain terrorism, especially suicide bombers. I totally grappled in that essay. Who becomes a terrorist and why? Is this question similar to asking do we all have propensity to violence? I need to have much more conclusive conclusions. 

So here is to this evening's lecture and continuing revision for the vcd exam on Thursday!

* and how much neo-classical theory stinks - how much economics stinks - how much rationality stinks
** for memory
*** Kung Fu Panda

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