ASA14: Anthropology and Enlightenment

(P29)

Rituals of development: the magic of a modernising project

Location Appleton Tower, Lecture Theatre 4
Date and Start Time 21 June, 2014 at 09:00

Convenor

Will Rollason (Brunel University London) email
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Summary

This panel examines the magical or ritual aspects of development: the reduction of social complexity to striking images; the performance of progress or participation, and so on. Does development show the Enlightenment project of modernisation itself to be a kind of magic, a ritual to be performed?

Long Abstract

International development is easy to characterise as a modernising project, descended from the Enlightenment. Seeking myriad technical solutions to identified problems of social and economic life in the Third World, at a discursive level, development presents itself as rational, a-political and - at least in principle - driven by a universal humanism. Yet in certain contexts development practice appears to undo its own rationalising schemes by promoting itself in the media of magic and ritual broadly understood: through the reduction of social complexity to striking images of change, performances of progress or demonstrations of participation, engagement and integration. As a panel we will explore such ritual aspects of development practice. In doing so, we will attempt to extend critiques of development planning and management, which expose the dissonance between the inner workings of development projects and their stated aims, in order to engage the front-line politics of ritual, magic and image as development seduces its audiences and compels its subjects. Our objective should be to consider the extent to which development reveals the Enlightenment project of modernisation itself to be a kind of magic, a ritual to be performed.

Chair: Will Rollason

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Perspectives on climate change: ontological wars in Amazonia

Author: Evan Killick (University of Sussex)  email

Summary

Drawing on research with both indigenous people and academic and policy workers this paper examines understandings of forest conservation and climate change mitigation strategies in contemporary Amazonia.

Long Abstract

Drawing on research with both indigenous people and academic and policy workers this paper examines understandings of forest conservation and climate change mitigation strategies in contemporary Amazonia. It begins by considering both indigenous conceptions of and physical interactions with the environment. Through this focus the paper interrogates ideas of perspectivism and what they may or may not suggest about notions of forest conservation. It also considers the relative utility of academic understandings of indigenous ontologies. The paper then goes on with a similar analysis of contemporary, non-indigenous notions of climate change and climate-change mitigation policies, examining both their practical outcomes as well as their ontological underpinnings. Through this broadly parallel analysis of emic and etic approaches to the Amazonian environment the paper seeks to consider the opportunities and limitations of the latest technical solutions being offered in the arena of International Development. The paper ends by considering the ethical issues surrounding the fact that climate change is itself an outcome of the broader process of development.

The European Commission in Pygmyland: ritualized accountability and the appearance of development

Author: Stan Frankland (St. Andrews University)  email

Summary

A resettlement project and the role of public performances of development.

Long Abstract

The Sua Pygmies of the Semliki Forest in Western Uganda have a long history of well-meaning intervention from external agencies. Over the years, there have been various attempts there to 'resettle' them away from the forest and to uplift and empower them. This paper looks at certain performances and spectacles of development that have taken place during the wave of post-civil war redevelopment that came to the Semliki Valley in the aftermath of the Allied Democratic Forces insurgency into the area. In 2007, the Sua were the recipients of resettlement project, run by a 'consortium' of 'local' organisations and funded by the European Commission to Uganda. Certain key events became central to the process of the project's development and the way in which it was monitored. These ritualized and repetitive spectacles were key in creating an appearance of development and they were also a critical element in the process of corruption that finally led to the end of the project.

Magic in practice: an investigation of the seduction of audiences of an evaluation report

Author: Tjitske Holtrop (AISSR- University of Amsterdam)  email

Summary

This paper will juxtapose different presentations of a development evaluation report to investigate what goes into these rituals of accountability and how the seduction of its audiences succeeds or fails.

Long Abstract

This paper is about the presentation of a report about the Dutch military and development intervention in Afghanistan in 2010. This report was commissioned by the Dutch government to communicate the effects of four years of military and developmental presence in the Southern Afghan province of Uruzgan to its constituencies. The research was done by an Afghan research organization. The two Afghan directors came to the Netherlands to present the report, favored over the German lead of the research because of their charm, knowledge and also, because they were Afghan. Over the four days that the directors were in the Netherlands for the presentation of the report, they spoke about Uruzgan and Afghanistan to many different people ranging from the parliament, academic and civil society partners, task force Uruzgan, the head of International Cooperation of the Ministry, the Ministry of Defense, and the Australian Embassy. Each context demanded a different emphasis of the different conclusions and recommendations, producing different narratives, anecdotes, progress and failures. This paper will juxtapose these different presentations to investigate what goes into these rituals of accountability and how the seduction of its audiences succeeds or fails.

Illegible livelihoods: Rwandan motari and the state rituals of development

Author: Will Rollason (Brunel University London)  email

Summary

Motorcycle taxi drivers in Kigali, Rwanda are successful in escaping poverty but do not constitute an instance of development defined as poverty reduction. Development it seem must take specific ritual forms to be valid, an observation we could apply more widely to the enlightenment project of economics.

Long Abstract

Around 10,500 motorcycle taxi drivers work in Kigali, Rwanda's capital. Within the context of a city marked by high rates of urbanisation, youth vulnerability and immiserisation, these young men are remarkably successful in making livelihoods. Yet paradoxically for a state committed to poverty reduction, their work is nowhere recognised as a positive force for development in the city. Rather, they are excluded and victimised by the city authorities, who are committed to the development of Rwanda through the spectacular modernisation of the capital. Despite the sector's success in raising vulnerable youth out of poverty, motorcycle taxis are invisible as agents of development, something which, it seems, must be enacted in rather specific ways to achieve visibility.

We already know that for funders, development projects must take certain 'magic' forms to correspond to favoured strategies, a pattern which is usually understood in discursive terms. In Kigali, however, development appears to be compelled from the population as a practical, ritual demonstration of state success and legitimacy — an activity which simultaneously excludes and delegitimises heterodox praxis. A performative, rather than a strictly discursive interpretation — one focusing on the ritual act rather than the scriptural content of development appears most appropriate.

This analysis has wider possibilities. Inasmuch as 'development' and economic policy (through totalising agendas of poverty reduction) coincide throughout much of the developing world, can we therefore likewise speak of contemporary economic policy as an exercise in performance? Could Adam Smith's quintessentially 'enlightenment' project be nothing more than a manual for ritual?

The enchanted HIV/AIDS response in Pakistan

Author: Ayaz Qureshi (SOAS)  email

Summary

Bringing together the seeming diverse worlds of HIV bureaucrats and enchanting hijrae in Pakistan, this paper challenges the hubris of impersonal bureaucratic rationality and neoliberal efficiency, touted as global best practices in development.

Long Abstract

Pakistan's HIV/AIDS response was significantly reoriented under the World Bank financed Enhanced HIV and AIDS Control Programme by reshuffling top officials in the government's AIDS bureaucracy, replacing them with experts from outside the government, filling key positions with 'market-based' donor funded employees, hiring a management consultancy firm to teach the government principles of business management, public-private partnership with NGOs, and shelving the government's bureaucratic rule and procedures in the name of achieving greater 'efficiency' for delivering targets. Under the new flexible work culture of this 'hybrid' bureaucracy, the international donor money turned government employees into entrepreneurs of the self, turning their offices into derae, like in the hijra world (South Asian transgenders), and them into guru and chalae. As opposed to the 'disenchanted' bureaucracy of the state and the development sector, or the neoliberal 'efficiency' pushed by the World Bank, relations of patron-clientism and affect were central to the day-to-day life and work at the AIDS Control Programme where I conducted fifteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in 2010-11. Nevertheless, the spell of donor money did not last very long. As the grand performance of the Enhance Programme approached an untimely end, the entrepreneurial abilities of these HIV/AIDS officials were tested. With the World Bank's withdrawal, the enterprise of enhanced HIV response started to crumble as if the Bank was a daad-guru (grandfather-guru) whose demise had left these fictive kin in disarray.

Rituals of 'capacity building' in the Bolivian Chaco

Author: Veronika Groke  email

Summary

This paper focuses on the idiom of 'capacity building' within the ritualised institution of the workshop in the context of NGO development project implementation in Bolivian Guarani communities.

Long Abstract

This paper focuses on the idiom of 'capacity building' and the institution of the workshop in the context of NGO development project implementation in Bolivian Guarani communities. In this context, 'capacity building' is seen as a way of educating people into independence from the point of view of the organisations, whereas for the communities' inhabitants it is seen as yet another service that comes attached to the organisations' various projects. While each party involved in the projects thus attaches different meanings and expectations to the term, the shared idiom of 'capacity building' nonetheless functions to bring NGO workers and Guarani leaders together in the highly ritualised setting of the workshop, thereby assuring the continuation of projects.

Educational mobility in modernising India: ethnographic insights from rural Chhattisgarh

Author: Peggy Froerer (Brunel University)  email

Summary

Drawing on ethnographic research in India, this paper examines how young people’s engagement with education is underscored by a deep-rooted ambivalence about the processes of ‘modernity’ and development that correspond with it.

Long Abstract

In India, as elsewhere, dominant perspectives on education within academic and popular discourse are underpinned by assumptions that schooling provides the kind of skills and 'know-how' deemed necessary to provide 'substantive benefits', such as employment, particularly for the disadvantages. Such discourses are also fundamentally mobility oriented. Accompanied by the promise of economic gain, education serves as a 'link to elsewhere', creating the possibility of movement outside of the village. This 'mobility imperative' is connected to wider projects of modernity and development, and to aspirations for participation in non-agricultural employment, located in (usually) urban-based labour markets. Education thus becomes a kind of 'mobility capital', something associated with migration that can be deployed in the pursuit of substantive benefits related to social mobility and development.

But how are the putative benefits associated with education supposed to be obtained? And how are these then translated into viable strategies for social mobility? Drawing on research in Chhattisgarh, India, this paper considers how the discourse surrounding the transformative potential of schooling governs the varying aspirations and mobility orientations of marginalised rural youth. The paper also examines the divergent ways that young people engage with this discourse, which sees aspirations for mobility outside of the village pitted against a desire to avoid the risks and uncertainties of urban anonymity. The paper, finally, looks at how this engagement is underscored by a deep-rooted ambivalence about the value and potential returns of education - and about the processes of 'modernity' and development that correspond with it.

New knowledge meets old problems: exploring disconnects in environmental research and policy in the Himalayas

Authors: Ritu Verma (Royal Thimphu College, Royal University of Bhutan)  email
Piers Blaikie (University of East Anglia)  email

Summary

The “theory of Himalayan degradation” and “gender mainstreaming” continue to hold sway in development, despite being debunked by scholars. Rituals of modernity, relations of power and disconnects between knowledge, research, policy shed explanatory insights to long shelf-lives of malfunctioning theories.

Long Abstract

Two major policy issues are of concern in the Himalayas, namely, environment and gender. They cross cut and overlap with one another other in important ways, inseparable from indigenous knowledge, environmental management and justice, and rapid cultural and climate change. This paper places these issues distinctly within a political ecology framework, thereby allowing an analysis of relations between power and knowledge, and they way struggles over material resources are simultaneously struggles over cultural and gendered meanings. Within such a framing, it is possible to trace relations of power and knowledge within different cultural and political sites of contestation, including what qualifies as "science", "fact" and "development" by whom and for what audiences. Although a great deal of new knowledge is generated that should inform and facilitate policy reform, this is not necessarily the case. Out-dated theories such as "gender mainstreaming" and the "theory of Himalayan degradation" (THED) continue to hold sway in development - despite being debunked by scholars - are examined to reflect on disconnects between knowledge, research and policy. The paper argues that policy processes are often complex and contradictory, and cannot be disembodied from rituals of modernization and power relations that shape their articulation, advocacy, implementation, and resistance. To the extent that multiple disconnects exist between research and policy, a political and discursive lens sheds important explanatory insights to the long shelf-life of malfunctioning theories, while modernization projects affect realities on the ground, for worse or better. Some practical suggestions to palliate these disconnects are suggested.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.