Theory, policy and practice perspectives from Royal Holloway


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Geographical Perspectives on “Development” – Where are we going?

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While a summer school beginning in October sounds a bit implausible in the UK, Bonn just about managed to find enough sun to justify the title of its conference!

The University of Bonn was host to the Human Geography summer school 2016, Geographical Perspectives on “Development”. Bonn itself is a green, bike friendly city located along the River Rhine and host to the headquarters of UN agencies, German development agencies, and key international NGOs. Introducing the conference, Professor Detlef Müller-Mahn challenged participants to consider what they themselves mean by “development” through reflecting on theoretical orientations and personal positionality. Questions posed included what do we mean by development, what approaches can be used to generate meaningful results and how research in this field can be conducted in both a critical and constructive way. Through this lens workshops ranged from ‘Politicising global chain governance’ to ‘Manoeuvring challenging research contexts’ and ‘Community owned solutions for sustainability challenges’ run by Royal Holloway’s own Professor Jay Mistry.

In the workshop “Theorizing, researching and (re)politicizing “economic” “entanglements” in the Global South”, participants were challenged to pin the tail on the research and locate yourself between the four points of economic, development, social and other geographies; or if brave enough in the slightly less certain lands that lay outside! Not as simple as it may sound, the exercise provided a means to reflect on where participants feel their research stands and what academic understandings they draw on when conducting research (see Vira and James, 2011 as to what happens when you try to cross economic and development geography). Further discussions on “economic” “entanglements” led to participants problematizing what are Continue reading


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Sustainable Development Goals: Something new or more of the same?

sdg-logoThe 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets were described by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as a ‘to-do list for people and planet, and a blueprint for success‘. They are seen as building on the 15 years of the Millennium Development Goals, which succeeded in providing a framework for global development cooperation and achieving significant progress in the reduction of extreme poverty, child and maternal mortality, and improved access to primary education. However, the MDGs were criticised for a top-down, Northern-centric framing of development definitions and development practice.

The SDGs were developed through a much more participatory process than the MDGs, with outputs including A Million Voices: The World We Want report.  This is both a response to previous criticisms, but also reflects the way Continue reading


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Participation: Potential and Pitfalls

‘Participation’ has become ubiquitous in debates around development policy and practice, resulting in many scholars and practitioners querying its merits. In a day-long workshop held at Royal Holloway, participants reflected on the potential of ‘participation’ to move beyond tokenism or tyranny, to be part of processes of social transformation and greater social justice.

The workshop was part of a programme of exchange between the Department of Geography and Erasmus partner University of Bonn, with Prof Sabine Tröger as a visiting staff member. It was co-hosted by the RHUL ICT4D Centre and the Politics, Development and Sustainability Group and discussed participatory approaches in community and international development work. Participants included researchers, practitioners and students.

Participatory workshop 2015There were four presentations in the morning, followed by discussion: Sabine Tröger critically examined the power relations in participatory processes with Ethiopian pastoralists; Jay Mistry from the EU Cobra Project discussed the challenges of doing participatory film work with indigenous groups in the Amazon; Naomi Shoba reflected on the participatory work with young people that Ovalhouse Theatre do, specifically on engaging with emotion in participatory theatre practice; Dorothea Kleine from the ESRC Food Futures 2.0 project reflected on the different roles of facilitator and expert in participatory work on sustainable consumption.

The afternoon was then spent in un-conference style themed small group discussion. A number of key themes emerged:

Participatory approaches are useful in ensuring that research is more relevant to the local community and supports positive social change. However, there are different perceptions of what participation is, e.g. some funders/development agencies consider community consultation enough, while others seek community decision-making. Participatory methods are not “neutral” activities but one step in a change process and there is no such thing as a “neutral researcher”. Continue reading


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Policy and Practice in Gender & Development: Early Career Researcher Perspectives

With the generous funding support of the Security and Sustainability research theme at Royal Holloway, University of London, we were able to convene a group of early career researchers on Wednesday 27 May 2015 to share insights into the policy and practice of gender and development in a variety of settings.

As the organisers for this event, we were eager to explore the gap between research, policy and practice in gender and development. The presenters offered thoughtful reflections and suggestions about how best this gap might be bridged. What follows are our perspectives about the most salient points of the day.

G & D workshop group

There were three presentations on very different themes that, for me, highlighted some common barriers to gender transformative change.

Firstly, Paola Piscitelli presented research on the practices of Mukheristas, informal cross border traders in Mozambique and South Africa. Her findings showed that even though 70% of Mukheristas are female, the organisation formed to champion their rights is run by men who do not address the challenges the traders encounter Continue reading