May 28 2009

small is beautiful

by at 4:01 pm

I am thinking about communication networks across the continent of Africa. In order to conceptualize the actors, and therefore the structure of their relationships, I looked for a visual representation of the existing structure of these networks. I found that representation in an image that might be familiar to many of us, by now: the lights of the world, as seen by satellite, at night. I cropped out the continent from its global context, and then circled the clusters of lights that appear across its surface. Continue Reading »

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May 28 2009

Educating Girls in Afghanistan with a Network Approach

by at 10:47 am

Education inarguably is key for human development, yet in many countries this opportunity is specifically denied to girls – sometimes for religious reasons, sometimes for want of laborers. When girls are cut off from education, they are kept in a cycle with fewer opportunities, less access to the legal system, worse health and other deficiencies. Yet providing girls access to education is not as easy as simply opening a school, especially where religious leaders or fundamentalists are determined not to educate women.

Afghan girls in school, courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor

Afghan girls in school, courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor

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May 26 2009

Nodes of power

by at 3:46 pm

There is an undeniable interdependence in the global network between states, financial institutions and NGOs, but this network is not the same internationally. Different states and regions have different connection strengths between these nodes – and some networks are more susceptible to changes from certain nodes. This comes from the uneven global development that Stiglitz writes of extensively. The divide between rich and poor countries that he writes about in “The New Global Economy” means what happens within the United States’ nodes, for example, may directly affect India, a lower-middle income country. But what happens in India may not always directly affect the U.S. It comes down to economic strength, political might and histories of power.

That said, regardless of the geographic section of the network, what happens in one node inevitably affects the others. Here the state and financial institutions seem to have more power than the NGO node, following the politics of globalization.

Consider state priorities – if a country’s foreign policy identifies another country as a vested interest, NGOs may take more notice and begin or increase work in that country. NGOs will be further compelled to do so because financial institutions are more likely to fund projects. The results are widespread, including cash and human resources capital flowing into the selected country. These resources then begin to affect that country’s network – though the results could be good or bad, as Collier and Stiglitz both note.

NGO work in Afghanistan highlights this. The U.S. took an active interest in investing in redevelopment projects and money was thrown into Afghanistan as NGOs flooded the country to build roads and schools, bolster civic society and more. These resources have helped many in Afghan society, but also have helped restart the countries poppy production. Both the good and bad have an impact on Afghanistan and its place in the global network.

The opposite also would hold true of nodes affecting each other – if a state does not hold another country as a high priority, financial institutions are less likely to fund projects and therefore many NGOs either must seek funding elsewhere or move on to another region. Cuba is a good example of this. Because of the U.S. embargo on most goods, services and travel, financial institutions would not consider funding projects by NGOs, who are not allowed to operate within the country.

Given the interdependence, the question becomes how to use the global network for good. States and financial institutions do hold much of the power, and this can be a problem if NGOs are beholden to politics and at the mercy of institutions with an agenda. Decades of top-down World Bank development projects show this is usually spectacularly unsuccessful and may be ruinous to local populations.

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May 26 2009

Pace and Place

by at 1:53 pm

Scott Storper and Michael Storper explore the ways in which a node can be affected by its geographical place in the world. The externalities that can occur from neighboring nations’ networks can affect a country’s economic and social status. This may be one more reason that Collier’s theory about the precarious situation of land-locked countries has validity. Scott Storper asserts that agglomeration based on the role of the “region” allows for positive effects of urbanization. He speaks directly to complexity theory in that the more tightly-drawn the network, the better chance of connectivity through weak links to a greater market.

As an example of the node/language of a network, I found that the professional networking site “LinkedIn” has their own “Network Statistics” tab, in which they show “Your Network of Trusted Professionals.” Continue Reading »

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May 26 2009

Which nodes create successful networks?

by at 10:56 am

Nodes in a network often reveal the network’s infrastructure and focus. Globalization seeks to restructure social, political and economic relationships between individuals, businesses and even states. Depending upon where the focus lies, the results and system’s structure can look very different. These factors (politics, economic relationships, and social foundations) can change the perception of the actors involved in the network and drive the network to success or failure. Globalization means these networks at their very roots are changing while at the same time they are being redeveloped.

Globalization is highly dependent on the interactions of states and other political systems.

For example, states often have control over the development of cities through restrictions and policies. Allen J. Scott and Michael Storper point this out in their essay, Regions, Globalization and Development when they talk about the benefits and sacrifices of urbanization (pg. 5). Scott and Storper identify the problem with “countries that urbanize too much and too fast, generating “macrocephalic” urban systems consisting of a few abnormally large cities in each country” which in turn put too much strain on the economy and the developmental network (pg. 5).

Macrocephaly is an abnormal largeness of the head. Something with a head too big for its body can loose its balance and result in a less manageable climate. All parts of a body must have equal function.

Thumbtack Press

Thumbtack Press

However in most cases the “nodes” are arranged by economic institutions. They often “entail the formation of routines of economic behavior that potentiate and shape activities such as production, entrepreneurship and innovation” (Scott and Storper, pg. 23). Because economic institutions are often external and are not tied to one area they have little connection to the community in which they have landed or its infrastructure. There is no link from one to another. In fact often countries are chosen because of their proximity to other countries and the number of workers available. Money drives this network. Continue Reading »

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