What's trending in International Development?
3 March 2011
It seems important that a research institute should be aware of the zeitgeist. Not to be dominated by it but it helps to be relevant if you have your ear to the ground. With this in mind, we have monitored a number of newspapers in the UK and a selection of the most influential bloggers in the development community throughout February to see what was making the headlines. And in some cases what was not.
We recognise that the methodology needs some work - the sample of media is an awkward collaboration of the convenient and the aspirational.
A tagcloud shows us the words that have occurred most frequently in the headlines. Unsurprisingly Libya features in a big way. Other contenders include Egypt, Bahrain, Gaddafi and Protests. We know that this is all part of the same story, that is in itself amazing because we have one revolution happening over an entire region in the space of mere weeks. Dr Mariz Tadros, Egyptian researcher working on rights and women at IDS, says the story is not over yet and we should be wary if it fades too quickly from the headlines. "It is critically important that people's voices in the Middle East continue to be seen as sufficiently newsworthy to feature as top stories, for without that, their exposure to brutality, repression and intimidation will also go unnoticed."
In fact, Dr Tadros is concerned about the parts of the revolution that have already failed to make the news sufficiently. "It is outrageous that the people of Yemen who have been protesting for weeks and have lost lives and gone against all odds to keep the momentum of their struggle for freedom sustained are not considered as worthy of the attention of the media as are the people of Bahrain." While the number of British and American interests in Bahrain make this comparison particularly telling. It is worth remembering that Yemen has been repeatedly identified as a popular host for jihadist resistance. Perhaps the more telling difference is that civil unrest is more unfamiliar in Bahrain and there is a certain undeniable drama to the counter-intuitive.
The other thing which is really striking about the tagcloud is the prominence of China. This in a month when there was no single story that featured China in a way that would explain its profile here. Jing Gu, Chinese research fellow in the IDS Globalisation team observes that China can no longer be stereotyped and is taking on the diversity of roles. But because of the scale she believes China's prominence in the popular consciousness as an expression of the West's anxiety: "Where does China as a growing power, investor, consumer and donor fit within specific regional and global development regimes?". So these stats suggest a general global obsession with China, the realpolitik equivalent of our society's fascination with personal celebrity. Everything it does we want to know.
But Gu thinks that for all this interest in China, the crucial question is often missed: "when China will overtake the US as the largest economy in the world is not important, the point is how will China do it."
We also looked at the relationship between the most frequent words to occur in the texts of blogs and articles. The arrows in the figure below shows words linked by the word "and". It is also important to note this second analysis is based on a full text search, not just headlines.
There are a number of striking features that emerge from the analysis. First we see that places and contexts are divorced from concepts and principles. This is largely a result of syntax - you are more likely to say 'Tunisia and the international community' or 'corruption in Egypt' than 'Libya and security'. Nonetheless, it is tempting to see a certain poetic pattern in this.
We see the almost literal centrality of 'security' in the development debate. Leader of the IDS Governance research team-leader, Markus Schultze-Kraft says "this seems to reflect the political importance and media worthiness of the heated debate about the securitization of development and foreign aid agendas." A debate driven by the need to "find convincing answers to the difficult question of whether security, trade or development should come first."
There is a certain anxiety reflected in the buzz that is not directly articulated in the headlines. The stories that Aid to India have generated in the last month suggest a concern by the media to untangle the debate. But why should this be a particular concern now? Dr Schultze-Kraft believes this is largely about growing interconnectedness - between issues but also between places. "Development and foreign aid are linked to economic and trade considerations and interests and have to deal with the increasing challenges posed by variegated insecurities around the world." By this analysis 'security' will stay close to the centre of the debate for some time.
Finally let us spare a moment for the observation that "women and children" are such a familiar package that it has gone well beyond cliché. I am reminded of one of the outputs from the Pathways of Women's Empowerment research project which notes that the evidence is all around us about how media representation can reinforce or challenge stereotypes.
Nick Perkins, Head of Research Communications, IDS
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