ASA14: Anthropology and Enlightenment

(P06)

Reflections on moral sentiments within the anthropology of development

Location Quincentenary Building, Tausend Room
Date and Start Time 21 June, 2014 at 14:00

Convenor

Tanya Jakimow (UNSW Australia) email
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Summary

This panel considers how the anthropology of development can contribute to understanding contemporary moral sensibilities, and what anthropological theories of morality can contribute towards reclaiming development as a practice of good intent.

Long Abstract

The core rationale of development (understood as a set of practices, institutions and discourses), is a recognition of humanity, and the extension of sympathy towards the plight of disadvantaged people at a distance. This panel considers how the anthropology of development can contribute to understanding contemporary moral sensibilities, and what anthropological theories of morality can contribute towards reclaiming development as a practice of good intent.

Papers are invited that explore how a lens of moral sensibility can extend and go beyond the established preoccupations of an anthropology of development. What can discursive critiques reveal about the validity of claims to a universal morality? How do moral discourses establish development objectives and practices through unequal relations? Ethnographic attention to development as a part of the texture and complicity of social life, gives further insights into the processes of change and the reconfiguring of relations in contemporary societies (Olivier de Sardan 2005). A focus on morality prompts questions such as: How can empirical attention to the interfaces (Long 2000) of developers and 'developees' offer insights into the institutionalisation of (and challenge to) norms of social interaction between unequal parties? How does the performance of sympathy towards the generalised distant 'other' contribute to the making of the 'modern subject' (Chakrabarty 2000) and contemporary identities? Finally, panellists are invited to consider new contributions of anthropology to development as a political ethical project. How can anthropology inform debates as to the morality of development interventions versus non-interference, and the future possibilities for a reimagined development.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Aid work as moral labour

Author: Anne-Meike Fechter (University of Sussex)  email

Summary

This paper, based on ethnographic research with international aid workers in Cambodia, considers the possibility that aid work can, at least partially, be understood as a form of 'moral labour'.

Long Abstract

This paper takes as its starting point the observation that even though stress and sometimes fragile wellbeing among international aid workers are anecdotally documented, there is comparatively little effort in research, policy or practice to further investigate or address this. This contrasts with attention given to care workers in the 'Global North', such as nurses, whose work-related stress is recognised and whose resilience strategies are systematically supported. While some of aid workers' stress may result from witnessing extreme violence, I suggest that a significant source is their facing everyday inequality and injustice, without necessarily being able to address them. The paper argues that the apparent reluctance to 'care for the carer' in an overseas aid context can be partially explained by understanding aid work as a form of moral labour. This would mean that 'holding the dilemma' constitutes an implicit and unwritten part of the aid worker's contract, whose discomfort does not need to be alleviated, but rather is part of, and perhaps enhances, the value of their work. Drawing on material from ethnographic research with international aid workers in Cambodia, the paper considers the contexts as well as possible implications of this understanding.

The becoming of self through the development of others: creative self-making and urban decentralisation in Indonesia

Author: Tanya Jakimow (UNSW Australia)  email

Summary

This paper examines moral motivations for engaging in an urban development program in Medan, Indonesia, as a way of revealing people's self-understandings and their perceptions of state-society relations.

Long Abstract

Development, with its injunctions to act for and on behalf of other people, is a critical juncture in which moral dispositions are displayed, evoked, and reinforced. This paper examines moral motivations for engaging in development work as a way of revealing people's self-understandings and perceptions of state-society and intra-societal relations. A decentralisation program in Indonesia Program National Pemberdayaan Masyarakat (PNPM—National Program for Community Empowerment) in urban areas has enlisted local residents to become members of the Badan Keswadayaan Masyarakat (BKM - Agency of Community Self-Reliance) that manages and implements local level development programs. Morality is ever-present in people's description of why they became BKM members, as well as their understanding of their role within society. Involvement is often presented as a means through which the self is 'cultivated' according to religious and non-religious mores. Concurrently, practices particular to the PNPM (including a high level of supervision from government employees and demands of documentation and procedural accountability) saturate their descriptions of their work, and significantly, their accounts of self in relation to others.

This paper draws upon ethnographic observation and participants' accounts to reveal the understandings of self made possible through the development encounter—as a moral being and an actor for development. How do people's prevailing ethical orientations shape development practice? How does creative self-making occur through and in relation to discourses and practices of 'development'? How does the cultivation of 'self' through development activities influence relations within an urban locality?

Frictions of equity and gratitude in Nicaraguan humanitarian healthcare

Author: Elysee Nouvet (McMaster University)  email

Summary

This paper probes the significance of gratitude as a dominant affective connector between North American providers of medical aid and Nicaraguan recipients of this aid.

Long Abstract

Poverty is a critical determinant of poor health. Medical humanitarian missions set up clinics and operating theatres for the poorest throughout the world with the intention of alleviating their health needs in the absence of adequate or affordable local health services and medicines. A core principle of humanitarianism, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross, is to alleviate suffering as part of a broader commitment to protect the dignity of every person. While ideally about affirming a shared humanity and a right to health, humanitarian healthcare's moral affirmation can grow blurry on the ground through the prevalence of gratitude amongst patients of medical missions. In this paper, I explore sentiments of gratitude dominating Nicaraguan patients', physicians', and nurses' ethical evaluations of North American surgical and primary care missions working in their communities drawing on 52 interviews (2013). As queer affect theorists have shown, it is often the most banal sentiments that are the most effective at normalizing structures of inequality and practices of exclusion (Ahmed 2010). I am particularly concerned that aid intended by mission volunteers and organizational commitments to translate ideals of global health equity into action, gets reconstituted through gratitude in Nicaragua as divine intervention and private ethics instead. While gratitude may not be entirely out of place in aid relationships, as a dominant affective connector between providers and recipients of medical aid, this sentiment may seriously undermine re-imaginings of healthcare as a right and national/global responsibility.

Hi tech state in rural India: a study of limited impact of the State's development schemes

Author: Smita Yadav (University of Sussex)  email

Summary

The paper is on the conflicting moralities and technologies of the poor and the State in rural India. Despite sophisticated means to identify the poor, there is distrust amongst the poor against the State. The poor bypass the State to meet their basic needs despite intervention by the State.

Long Abstract

This paper is on the moralities of the Gonds as landless and marginal peasants who are at the receiving end of Indian State's rural development schemes. These moralities help the Gonds to bypass the modernizing State in their everyday struggle against poverty. Ethnographic fieldwork during May 2011 to May 2012 in central India revealed the various technologies by the rural State to move the Gonds out of poverty had very limited impact on the lives of the Gond. The Gonds, instead prefer to create their own forms of social protection and safety nets from unpredictable vulnerabilities and economic shocks. Gonds are categorized as the Scheduled Tribes (STs) by the Indian constitution. They are originally forest dwellers but since 1994, the forest department has restricted their access to the forests by imposing fines including imprisonment. Their livelihoods are in the form of unskilled wage labour and migration within the state of Madhya Pradesh as well to the major cities of India has intensified since 2011. Through an intra-household study of the Gonds households, I show how the State's various technologies including mobile banking, and accessing State benefits online has very little impact Gonds social lives. The State's technologies of targeting and empowering are no match for the Gonds's own technologies and moralities of social protection and sense of security through labouring and waging.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.