Misc. book reviews by Simon Batterbury – www.simonbatterbury.net
Experimental Agriculture, 2000 (lost by editors so not published – thanks guys!).
Simpson, Brent M. 1999. The Roots of Change:
Human Behaviour and Agricultural Evolution in
Review by Simon Batterbury,
Brent Simpson joins a chorus of voices
supporting greater recognition for the creativity, inventiveness, and adaptive
ability of the African farmer. His study unfolds in the Office de la Haute Vallee du Niger (the OHVN), a
large integrated rural development project in south western
The study, based on PhD research conducted in
the early 1990s, complements the studies of writers including Mike Mortimore
and Camilla Toulmin on village–level agrarian systems in dryland
S.P.J. & S. Redgrave. 2000. Walch, J. In the Net: an internet guide for activists. Times
Literary Supplement (
Jim Walch 2000 In the Net: an internet guide for activists
This book is an“introduction, a handbook, a political treatise, and a history” of the Internet. It is not a “how-to” guide for activists, as its title suggests. Walch begins by discussing the growing power of information technology, the history of hacking, and the need to broaden Net access from its once-privileged base. Like Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, he espouses a vision of freely-available Net technology for everyone; not for “fun and games for youngsters and yuppies, or restricted to ivory tower academic exchanges, or…to moving the shopping mall to our home computer” (p78) but for lobbying, learning, participating in the struggles of others, and permitting effective and timely communication.
For Walch, a ‘telematic utopian’ according to his own typology, the technology is a powerful tool to redress inequalities in information access, and to disseminate democratic ideas and expressive freedoms. Yet he worries whether the slow spread of “computer mediated communication” in Southern countries is really doing much more that reproducing an insidious English-language corporatist “McCulture”. He also highlights the dangers of Internet snobbery by established Net presences like CNN, and contrasts this with several grassroots organisations and justice campaigns who have used the Net effectively to give themselves a global profile. Perhaps, following his arguments, free publication of this book in multiple languages should now occur on the Internet (currently it must be purchased, it is written in English, and it is pitched at those with some understanding of social science and the language of communications research).
For the scholarly readership in particular, this is a helpful volume. Following Chomsky, Walch highlights “the responsibility of writers and intellectuals to tell the truth – not necessarily to the powers that be, for they usually have a pretty good idea of what is happening, but to an informal public that may want to hear the truth and do something about it” (p 101). If the Net is to reach citizens, it is a shame that – as the book shows - a democratic, loosely patrolled World Wide Web has generated a high percentage of poor quality, obtuse, inaccurate, partisan or jargon-ridden writing and trivial advertising. Perhaps this is the true cost of democratic technology. As the Internet’s commercial possibilities are expanded almost daily, Internet commercialism will continue to exist in dynamic tension with its pioneering role in supporting freedoms.
SIMON BATTERBURY and SUE REDGRAVE
Development Studies Institute