I’ve been running a blog since 2009 called Balkan and Carpathian Musings whose posts reflect my experience first in Scotland, then in the last 25 years, in post-communist countries, of a range of efforts to develop what the jargon calls “institutional capacity”. The posts also relate my cultural experiences in Bulgaria and Romania over the past decade. I use blogpost.com and have a rather modest profile (about 100 clicks a day) and want to strengthen that profile – one of the possible ways is writing for the P2P Foundation which requires wordpress graphics…..hence this test….
Let me explain my motivation in more detail –
Since the late-60s, I’ve been involved in various forms of “development” efforts – first “community” and “urban/regional” development in Scotland (with a touch of organisational development) then, since 1990, “institutional” and “capacity” development in Central Europe and Asia. Now, however with many others, I question the very concept of development….Indeed the title I gave a little (autobiographical) book in 1995 was …. PUZZLING DEVELOPMENT (A few years later a collection of essays was called “In Transit- notes on good governance”)
For the first 17 years I tried to straddle the worlds of teaching and politics – lacking the patience and discipline to keep my nose to the intellectual grindstone – choosing rather to be a “reflective doer”…..a chasing different types of butterfly which would variously take the shape of things such as social injustice, organisational malaise……..As a result I found myself for five years, from 1985, a full-time politician – occupying a strategic reform role but also developing my networking skills in Europe. This paid off when the Berlin Wall fell and I started to work as a consultant in the newly independent countries – basically learning new skills (and fields of knowledge) all during the 90s….
It was in 2000 that I began to feel deep unease about the direction societies with which I was familiar seemed to be taking – increasing privilege, systemic corruption, centralization, ecological destruction, “consumerism”, poverty, privatisation and a failure of European vision were the things I listed in a paper I circulated amongst friends in an effort to clarify where I should be putting my energies and resources when I found myself with more time. I itemized the people and organisations whose work I admired; regretted the lack of impact they were having; and then explored what channels we seemed to have for making more of an impact.
A decade later – after the bursting of the bubble – I returned to the subject and beefed up the paper – the results of which can be read at Draft Guide for the Perplexed
But full-time projects still required my attention in Central Asia and Bulgaria during that period when I was also articulating an increasingly sharp critique of the assumptions of the sort of development assistance I was seeing
With more time at my disposal from 2009, I started a blog about my various experiences – generally inspired (or angered) by an article or book I had read relating to my disparate interests in what we might call the field of “social endeavour” – and developed the habit of excerpting and including relevant hyperlinks.
As an avid reader for more than half a century, I have become more and more aware of the shortcomings of most recently-published non-fiction books. Their bibliographies may look impressive and their chapter headings riveting – but the books increasingly suffer, in my view, from the following sorts of deficiencies –
- They are written by academics – who write for students and other academics
- and lack “hands-on” experience of other worlds
- the author’s speciality indeed is a sub-discipline – eg financial economics
- the focus is a fashionable subject
- written with deadlines to meet commercial demands
- making claims to originality
- but failing to honour the google scholar adage of “standing on the shoulders of giants” (despite – perhaps even because of – the extensive bibliographies)
I now have a litmus test for any book which catches my eye – actually not one but three –
- Does it reveal in its preface/introduction and bibliography an intention to build on the best of what has been written before on the subject?
- Indeed does it clearly list and comment on what has been identified as the key reading and indicate why, despite such previous efforts, the author feels compelled to add to our reading burden??? And can you, the reader, identify any obvious gaps in that list?
- Can the author clearly demonstrate (eg in the introduction or opening chapter) that the book is the result of long thought and not just an inclination to jump on the latest bandwagon?
In autumn 2014 I was so fed up with the constant emphasis by reformist writers on the “novelty” of their particular interpretation – and their failure even to try to find common ground – that I set up a new website Mapping the Common Ground – ways of thinking about the crisis Its purpose was to try to archive key books and articles which would help those wanting to get some guidance around the impossibly confusing literature on social and organisational change ……see, for example, this section of the library