Müjge Küçükkeleş is a researcher, policy consultant, and a doctoral candidate at the University of Kent. In 2021, she authored for GPG our Voices of Female Entrepreneurs publication, the second part of our Voices from Iraq series – the first paper of which, Economic Drivers of Youth Political Discontent in Iraq, she co-authored alongside GPG Associates Sajad Jiyad and Tobias Schillings. Find out more about her in our Author’s Profile:
Describe your area of work. What encouraged you to work in this sector?
I’m a researcher in international development, as well as a PhD candidate in International Studies at the University of Kent. Having completed my master’s degree at the University of Warwick on global development, I knew that I would be working in this field. What interests me about this sector is development’s diverse meanings in different contexts, how as a practice and idea it has always been a seductive arena mobilising societies towards multiple political projects. I’m particularly interested in the operation of international development in developing countries and its complex entanglements with local norms and understandings of development.
Give us a short overview of what you consider to have been a key moment in your career. What brought you where you are today?
Before going back to academia, I worked as a program officer at an international organisation in my native Turkey. During that experience, I saw several problems with the way in which international political work operates in the local context: the mismatch between project design and the actual politics on the ground, highly centralised programming with very little local input, selective objectivity criteria that work as a silencing mechanism, purely quantitative evaluation criteria, and deep power inequalities between the international and local staff were some of those problems. All these factors led me back into academia, and I decided to pursue a PhD. Back then, I might have thought that the problems I found were particular to the context I was in, but having grappled with similar questions during my PhD, I developed an understanding of the structural forces at play.
What one thing about working in your sector do you wish was different?
The bureaucracy. This is certainly not restricted to this field, but international development is particularly affected by it and has become a vehicle for spreading it worldwide. Countless reports and assessments, endless rules and regulations as well as the routine paperwork and administrative tasks take up such a big portion of day that it leaves almost no time and energy for creativity. Most of the things that are said to increase productivity unfortunately end up killing it. I wish there was a way to reduce this constant drive for bureaucratisation in our societies that could help us build a new relationship with our work.
What work have you done with GPG, and what drove you to work with our organisation?
I have been involved in research projects in Iraq and Central Asia. I like the research flexibility that GPG provides its researchers. GPG offers its researchers a comfortable space in which they can enjoy doing research without being subject to onerous administrative workload.
What future do you envisage for your sector after the pandemic?
The field of research was affected by the pandemic, but maybe less so than many other areas of the economy. We continued to do research, but our methodologies had to change: we had to switch to virtual channels. Actually, adjusting to virtual platforms was easier than I anticipated, and GPG was particularly well-positioned to adapt to hybrid ways of doing research and implementing programs in diverse regions. In spite of the smooth transition I’ve experienced at GPG, I still look forward to field visits and face-to-face interactions with people.
Share your thoughts on a recent event or news story that caught your attention.
Recently I listened to BBC Radio 4’s podcast series called The Great Post Office Trial, which involves many of the themes I frequently think about. The trial is about more than 700 postmasters in the UK who were accused by the Post Office, a very powerful institution, of having stolen money through their computer accounting system called “horizon”. It basically boiled down to this huge institution deciding that it was much easier to blame discrepancies on the postmasters rather than question the efficacy of its software. They ended up being wrong, and destroyed many people’s lives. What interested me most was how technology has acquired this God-like character in our times, receiving unquestioned submission of people and institutions to its reliability. It is an amazing podcast series; I suggest it to everyone with an interest on how politics, private and public institutions and technology intersect.