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The things we do: why we follow the crowd... and why we don't

Roxanne Bauer's picture

When do we follow the crowd and when do we think independently? Social science research offers some clues, starting with Solomon Asch's famous experiments exploring group conformity.

In 1935, Rudyard Kipling wrote, “The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. To be your own man is a hard business. If you try it, you’ll be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”
 
Line cards used in Asch's experiment on conformityWhile many of us read these words and think, ‘yes, I believe that, too’ we often do not follow through when put to the test.  Imagine yourself in this scenario: as a university student, you sign up to participate in a psychology experiment and on test day you are seated at a table with seven or eight others whom you believe to be fellow subjects.  The experimenter tells you are participating in a study of visual judgment and asks you to compare the length of a line on one card with a set of three lines of varying lengths on another card.  The experimenter asks you and the other test takers to choose which of the three lines on the right card matches the length of the line on the left card.  Several rounds of this are completed.
 
On some rounds the other test takers unanimously choose the wrong line.  It is clear to you they are wrong, what do you do?  Do you go along with the wrong answer to please the majority? Do you begin to doubt your eyes? Or do you trust yourself and select the correct line?
 

Quote of the Week: Milan Kundera

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Milan Kundera in 1980"When the heart speaks, the mind finds it indecent to object."
 
- Milan Kundera, author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being and a recurring nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature. He was born in Czechoslovakia but has been living in exile in France since 1975, as his books were banned by the Communist regime of Czechoslovakia until the downfall of the regime in the Velvet Revolution of 1989.

What happens when historians and campaigners spend a day together discussing how change happens?

Duncan Green's picture

woman offers a flower as a symbol of peace to a Military Police OfficerDuncan Green provides a series of lightbulb moments from a recent conference bringing together historians and campaigners.

Part of the feedback on last month’s post calling for a ‘lessons of history’ programme was, inevitably, that someone is already doing it. So last week I headed off to Kings College, London for a mind expanding conference on ‘Why Change Happens: What we Can Learn from the Past’. The organizers were the History and Policy network and Friends of the Earth, as part of its excellent ‘Big Ideas’ project (why haven’t the development NGOs got anything similar?) About 70 people, a mix of historians and campaigners. Great idea.

The agenda (12 UK-focussed historical case studies on everything from resistance to the industrialization of farming post World War 2 to municipal activism in Victorian Britain to why England (though not Scotland and Ireland) hasn’t had a famine since the 16th Century) was great, as was the format (panels, followed by table discussions, no Q&A).

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture
World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
 

Why don’t voters demand more redistribution?
The Washington Post
If you believe economic inequality is a political problem, these are trying times. As economic inequality increases in many of the world’s wealthy democracies, so does the disproportionate political influence of the rich. As a recent Monkey Cage post explained, even though economic inequality is on the rise, politicians around the world have grown increasingly attentive to the demands of the “1 percent” — and less responsive to the less well-off.  If you believe inequality is a bad thing, this trend is worrisome. The power of the rich to mute everyone else’s political voices could push economic inequality even higher, as the wealthy erect ever-higher barriers to policies that might work to reduce poverty and/or inequality.

Why Technology Hasn’t Delivered More Democracy
Foreign Policy
The current moment confronts us with a paradox. The first fifteen years of this century have been a time of astonishing advances in communications and information technology, including digitalization, mass-accessible video platforms, smart phones, social media, billions of people gaining internet access, and much else. These revolutionary changes all imply a profound empowerment of individuals through exponentially greater access to information, tremendous ease of communication and data-sharing, and formidable tools for networking. Yet despite these changes, democracy — a political system based on the idea of the empowerment of individuals — has in these same years become stagnant in the world.

Media (R)evolutions: How paid, owned, and earned media converge

Roxanne Bauer's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

When the internet first emerged as a medium (and still often today), digital and non-digital communication were separated into different silos within an organization. While this distinction has blurred for many, new distinctions based on revenue have developed: paid, earned, and owned media.

Paid media is often considered to be ‘traditional advertising’ and includes ads, paid search marketing, ‘pay per click’ advertising, and sponsorships. It usually involves targeting specific audiences in order to create brand awareness or develop new customers. Owned media is the content that an organization creates itself and includes an organization's website, blog posts, email newsletters, and social media. It usually involves targeting an organization’s existing community or current customers.

Earned media is the result of public relations and media outreach, ad campaigns, events, and other content that is created through an organization’s owned media. Brands may hire a PR firm to reach out to the media, influencers may pitch or demoralize a brand on TV and social media, and consumers may talk about an organization on social media or in product reviews.

 Paid, Owned, and Earned Media

Stealthy protest: Collective identity and the affordances of social media

CGCS's picture

A computer class is conducted at the Female Experimental High School in HeratCGCS Post-Doctoral Research Fellow Emad Khazraee discusses his research project with Alison Novak on socio-political activism and women’s rights in Iran, featuring My Stealthy Freedom as a case study. Emad and Alison presented their project at the ICA on May 25, 2015. 

It is likely most Facebook users have come across a Facebook page supporting a socio-political cause. The popularity of these pages reinforces the need to better understand their affordances for socio-political activism. In an effort to address this issue, a recent research project I undertook with Alison Novak[1] studied campaign pages on Facebook advocating for women’s rights in relation to the dress code in Iran. One of the pages we analyzed, My Stealthy Freedom, acts as a strong case study. My Stealthy Freedom’s (MSF) page was created in April 2014 by Masih Alinejad, an expat Iranian journalist based in the United Kingdom. In an effort to digitally protest hijab laws that restrict women’s right to choose their own cover, Alinejad first shared a photograph of herself online, riding in a convertible without hijab, and then encouraged women inside Iran to share pictures of their own “stealthy freedom.” Soon women from inside Iran shared their own photos taken in a public space without hijab. These photos were often accompanied by a message providing the background stories, grievances, or opinions of the user. In the weeks that followed, MSF became an internationally recognized page and was followed by 500,000 users on Facebook, resulting in reactions both outside and inside Iran.

5 things you should know about governance as a proposed sustainable development goal

Vinay Bhargava's picture

South Sudanese prepare for independenceVinay Bhargava, the chief technical adviser and a board member at Partnership for Transparency Fund, provides five takeaways on governance and development interactions from a recent panel discussion hosted by the 1818 Society.

On May 27, I had the pleasure of serving as a panelist at an event organized by the Governance Thematic Group of 1818 Society of the World Bank Group (WBG) Alumni.

The panelists were: Mr. Homi Kharas, Senior Fellow and Deputy Director for the Global Economy and Development program at the Brookings Institution; Ms. Heike Gramckow, Acting Practice Manager, Rule of Law and Access to Justice at the Governance Global Practice at the World Bank Group; Mr. Brian Levy, Professor of the Practice, School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University; Mr. Jerome Sauvage, Deputy head of UN Office in Washington DC. Mr. Fredrick Temple, currently Adviser at the Partnership for Transparency Fund, moderated the workshop. 
 
The panel presentations and discussion were hugely informative and insightful. I am pleased to share with you my five takeaways that anyone interested in governance and development interactions ought to know.

Quote of the Week: Arnab Goswami

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Arnab Goswami"I've often said this: that, in a choice between right and wrong, black and white, the facts that stare you in your face, will you not take a side on what is right?" 
 
Arnab Goswami, an Indian journalist and the editor-in-chief of Indian news channel Times Now. He anchors The Newshour, a live debate show that airs weekdays on Times Now and hosts the television programme Frankly Speaking with Arnab.
 

Median impact narratives: Who, why, and how

Heather Lanthorn's picture

​​Storytelling is essential to persuasion. But how do we decide which stories to tell? Heather Lanthorn reviews median impact narratives and explains why they are more than just window dressing.

Way back in January, an interesting conversation took place on the Development Impact blog; I am just catching up on the conversation. The conversation featured a 7 January guest post by Bruce Wydick, who advocated the idea of “median impact narratives,” and subsequent commentary.

In short, Bruce recognizes that even when solid quantitative causal evidence exists,

“A good narrative soundly beats even the best data.  Economists and scientists of all ilks need to digest what for many is an unpleasant fact:  In the battle for hearts and minds of human beings, narrative will consistently outperform data in its ability to influence human thinking and motivate human action.”

Bruce further points out (to take a bit of liberty with his words) that, sadly, Stalin was right about at least one thing (to paraphrase): a single death is a tragedy while a million deaths is a statistic. And people do rather better with making sense of and feeling empathy for a single victim (or success) than for a large number of statistical people and their myriad outcomes (e.g.). This leads Bruce to an important question: how to choose which individuals to highlight? What Bruce’s post gets around to (and as he confirmed with me in a follow-up email, thank you!) is really a question about sampling for qualitative research and placing (and valuing) anecdotes within the context of the study sample and population.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.


ICT Facts and Figures – The world in 2015
ITU
The ITU ICT Facts and Figures – The world in 2015 features end-2015 estimates for key telecommunication/ICT indicators, including on mobile-cellular subscriptions, Internet use, fixed and mobile broadband services, home ICT access, and more. 2015 is the deadline for achievements of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which global leaders agreed upon in the year 2000, and the new data show ICT progress and highlight remaining gaps. 

Focus on Private Sector: New tech shouldn’t mean no jobs
SciDevNet
The development anthropologist James Ferguson published a new book last week: Give a Man a Fish.  Drawing on research conducted across southern Africa, Ferguson argues the world has entered a new economic era in which many people, including able-bodied, working-age people, may not find paid work for large stretches of their lives.  The sources of this are twofold: demographic changes are increasing the number of working-age people in developing countries, while technological advancements that enable automation are shrinking the employment footprint of many sectors.
 

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