Claiming and controlling need: who owns development and philanthropy?
Location F
Date and Time 9th December, 2008 at 10:30


Catherine Trundle (Victoria University of Wellignton )
Nayanika Mathur (University of Cambridge)
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Short Abstract

This panel explores development and philanthropy as processes that create relations between objects, persons, institutions and knowledges in particular contexts of 'aid' and 'need.' What new insights can we gain by studying these relations through the lenses of ownership and appropriation?

Long Abstract

Development and philanthropy are complex processes that engender diverse relationships between 'donors' and 'recipients.' Such relationships involve often messy flows of objects, expertise, subjectivities and categories of 'need.' This panel will explore these flows and chart how actors within charity and development projects attempt to own and appropriate objects, entitlement, and the authority to cut or control such flows. Four broad questions will be posed.

Firstly, who owns the material objects of charity and development and how do contests for ownership play out? Of interest are how recipients enter into complex relationships of ownership with the state and international bodies and how development and charity categories such as gender or 'suffering' are creatively re-appropriated by recipients in order to lay claims to owning resources.

Secondly, how are aid and charity objects transformed through development and charity flows? Often the meanings and uses of objects are transformed as they move from donors to recipients, while at other times objects are 'misappropriated' though 'corruption' flows.

Thirdly, we ask what subjectivities donors expect recipients to exemplify in order to 'own' need. Often recipients must also display subjective transformation through the use and appropriation of charity/aid support, by embodying such notions as 'empowerment' or 'incorporation' into economic/market spheres.

Finally we ask how anthropological research has been appropriated into development and charity programmes in both colonial and post-colonial settings, and furthermore, how such research has been used by groups to claim entitlement to, or deny the need for, charity and development.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Anthropology, Resource development and the appropriation of knowledge

Authors: Kathryn Robinson (Australian National University)
Andrew McWilliam (Australian National University)

Short Abstract

This paper discusses ownership and appropriation of anthropological knowledge and practice in applied research around issues of property ownership (land and mineral wealth) and capital intensive resource development. We ask, can we mediate the contradictions between different anthropological ethical discourses to fulfil expectations of local benefit and anthropological praxis.


The history of anthropological practice reveals contradictory and countervailing discourses about the appropriation of knowledge in the exercise of ethnography. Discourses associated with varying historical paradigms continue to circulate and inform debates around ethical anthropological researhc practice. A recent on-line debate conducted on the ASAO listweb is a case in point. An advertisement for a three year Research Fellowship in anthropology at the Australian National University (ANU) funded by mining company Rio-Tinto and directed towards ethnographic 'baseline' social research in preparation for a nickel mine development in Indonesia, prompted a lively and critical discussion over the ethics and limits of such collaboration. Issues ranged from criticisms of working with powerful agents where 'inevitably' anthropological knowledge would be tainted, manipulated or appropriated by the mining company against indigenous interests, through to perspectives that 'applied' anthropology of this kind was now a legitimate aspect of anthropological practice and subject to its own discourses and ethics. This paper discusses ownership and appropriation of anthropological knowledge and practice in the context of research around issues of property ownership (land and mineral wealth) and capital intensive resource development. We ask where anthropological practice fits in the complex intersections that arise between local, indigenous, regional, national and corporate entitlements ands responsibilities.

Owing and disowning aid: Projects, partnerships and patronage on Siquijor Island, Philippines

Author: Hannah Bulloch (Australian National University)

Short Abstract

Recipient ‘ownership’ of development interventions has become a key concept in international development orthodoxy. Focusing on development projects on the province-island of Siquijor in the Philippines, this paper considers some of the contradictions of ownership where international and local development agendas meet.


A certain paradox of partnership is evident on Siquijor. The concept of partnerships between donors and recipients, enabling recipient governments and communities to 'own' development interventions, has become a key component of the international development orthodoxy. According to the governance and participation agendas, by putting local people 'in the driving seat', allowing them to design and manage the development process, a sense of ownership is generated, making interventions more relevant, effective and sustainable. The small province-island of Siquijor in the Central Visayas region of the Philippines has seen an array of international and national development projects operating around the principle of local ownership. But perhaps not surprisingly, reality on Siquijor defies the simplifications of development theory.

While projects on Siquijor seek more than ever to speak the language of partnership, in reality, they increasingly bypass existing structures of government, perceived as corrupt and lacking capacity. Furthermore, while donors and recipients are portrayed as having shared agendas, it is clear that what recipients are expected to 'own' is donor agendas. But politicians on Siquijor have their own agendas, also deeply concerned with the issue of ownership of projects but to quite different ends. In the context of factional patronage politics, local politicians have an interest in 'branding' projects with their name in order to shore up support. This has seen ownership of projects contested and appropriated by local patrons, but perhaps more unexpectedly, so too has it seen ownership disavowed and projects disowned.

Who directs development? The contested interface of state authority and donor conditionality in Laos

Author: Sarinda Singh (University of Queensland)

Short Abstract

This paper considers negotiations over authority to direct development as experienced by Lao government officials. Significantly, the officials in question work in an agency recently established to fulfil World Bank requirements for a major hydropower project, so they are positioned at the interface of state authority and donor conditionality.


The considerable donor requirements associated with large-scale infrastructure projects support an interpretation of international institutions as wielding authority over development. This paper takes issue with such simplified views of institutional power relations and argues for attention to processes of localisation inherent in development practice. Of particular interest are questions over institutional authority in Laos, one of the most donor-dependent nations in Southeast Asia. I examine these questions in the context of a government agency that was recently established as a condition of the World Bank in order for it to provide loan guarantees for the Nam Theun 2 hydropower project. Significantly, this agency is approached through the experiences of government officials working within it since officials are positioned at a delicate nexus between state authority and donor conditionality, both as agents and as recipients of development.

Whose ministry is it? Owning church charity works

Author: Catherine Trundle (Victoria University of Wellignton )

Short Abstract

This paper explores the debates over the ownership of charitable ministry in an Episcopal Church in Florence, Italy. Engaging with anthropological ideas of the inalienable gift, it argues that volunteers and recipients sought to claim ownership of charity processes rather than charity objects.


This paper explores the philanthropic ministries performed by the American Church of Florence, Italy. These ministries included a weekly food bank, international student dinners, and fund-raising fairs. Focusing on the micro-politics, discourses and daily practices of church volunteers who enacted these 'good works,' this paper uncovers the range of tensions that existed regarding how different actors owned, appropriated or disowned certain ministries. Some volunteers believed the church ministries belonged to God, while others saw the church, as a community and an institution, as the rightful owner. Some believed that hard-working volunteer leaders owned 'their' charity projects, while others saw the recipients of the good works as the true owners. Furthermore, there was much debate and discussion regarding how too few parishioners felt a sense of responsibility and stewardship for the church's ministries, and at times certain volunteers, burnt-out and exhausted, attempted to distance themselves from and disown leadership and responsibility for a charity activity. It is argued that acts and ideas of ownership were seen simultaneously as vital and as dangerous, as inclusive and as exclusive. Engaging with anthropological theories of gift-giving and property, specifically notions of alienability and inalienability, this paper explores how the ownership of charity processes, rather than charity objects, was established and legitimised.

Misappropriations of aid: the case of Italian-NIgerian anti-trafficking projects

Author: Irene Peano (University of Bucharest)

Short Abstract

This paper analyses the ownership and appropriation of aid resources, and of anthropological knowledge, in the context of transnational projects to prevent human trafficking and support its ‘victims'. It presents ethnographic material collected between Benin City, in Nigeria, and the Italian city of Turin, where the projects took place.


This paper analyses the ownership and appropriation of aid resources, and of anthropological knowledge, in the context of transnational projects to prevent human trafficking and support its 'victims'. The ethnographic material presented was collected both in Nigeria - mainly in Benin City - and in the Italian city of Turin, between 2006 and 2008. It concerns a series of projects carried out by a small, EU-funded Italian NGO over the last eight years: appropriations include those of the NGO itself, their local Nigerian partners', and their beneficiaries (usually forcedly repatriated women who were identified as 'victims of trafficking' or young women deemed to be 'vulnerable' to being trafficked), but their dynamics acquire a number of distinct traits specific to the types of exchange relationship that are put in place.

In particular, I explore issues of misappropriation or contended appropriation, corruption, trust and accountability within each of these relationships, and interrogate anthropological models of explanation, in the light of transnational flows which challenge cultural boundaries. Accusations of corruption run through the whole spectrum of exchanges, and travel both ways: from donors to recipients and vice-versa, but they also exceed the aid-project boundaries to involve kin relations and other actors. Cultural analyses are also employed in discourses on trafficking and international aid, which can also be viewed as controversial appropriations of anthropological knowledge and question the position of the ethnographer and the type of insight she can and should produce.

Stealing from the Victims: State, NGO, and Media Negotiations over Human Rights Coverage in Mexico

Author: Ella McPherson (University of Cambridge)

Short Abstract

Ethnographic research shows that victims of human rights violations are largely marginalized in the process of human rights newsmaking in Mexico, while human rights NGOs battle the state for credibility in the eyes of the media. The end result in this post-authoritarian state is that the government appropriates the majority of the human rights discourse in the media.


Many consider the media instrumental to the fight against human rights violations. Yet, ethnographic research shows that victims of human rights violations are marginalized in the process of human rights newsmaking in Mexico. Initially, victims meet with human rights organizations. If victims' stories suit their missions, these organizations appropriate victims' situations and transmit them to newspapers. Mexican state officials often accuse human rights NGOs of appropriating these stories to attract international donations actually used to fund lavish lifestyles or subversive activities. Newspapers, in turn, are fearful of losing the credibility they have so recently and precariously earned among audiences and advertisers in their transition from financial dependence on the state to the market. As a result, they are loathe to report on stories that have not been vetted by other credible organizations, thereby excluding victims' unmediated voices, as well as on information transmitted by organizations whose credibility is in question, thereby eliminating most human rights NGOs discredited by the state. The end result is that the government appropriates the majority of the human rights discourse in the media, and the institutional secrecy and limited mandate of its National Human Rights Commission restrict human rights-based criticism of the state. This research raises questions about the extent to which the media coverage of human rights does actually assist victims. The government's ability to appropriate one of the most established sectors of state criticism also raises the larger question about the persistence in Mexico of 'authoritarian enclaves' (Lawson, 2000) post-democratic transition.

Appropriating Development, Appropriating Modernity

Author: Aline Taylor (University of Canterbury)

Short Abstract

This paper examines modernity discourses in a US-sponsored development project in Tanzania, managed by Tanzanians and using sport as a tool to ‘develop’ and ‘modernise’ young, uneducated Tanzanian girls. It raises questions of ownership of development projects, the modernities they endorse and for whom


Sports have recently been incorporated into international development agendas in a bid to empower women and foster gender equality. Considered a masculine domain, sports are argued to empower women by challenging the status quo and their 'traditional' positions in societies.

This paper examines the use of sport in a US-sponsored development project located in Arusha, Northern Tanzania's largest urban settlement. The project consists of a Tanzanian-run athletic camp for aspiring female runners which, like other training camps common throughout East Africa, provides financial support for them to live and train full time.

The camp's sponsor aims to empower these young girls to use their sporting talent to further their education, by applying for Athletic Scholarships to American universities. This directly contradicts the coach's goals, however, who deliberately recruits only uneducated girls - ineligible for scholarships - from isolated rural areas. Rather than pushing girls towards education, the coach enacts his own version of development by providing a stable urban environment for them to construct their identities as 'modern' urban women, while earning money from running.

Meanings of 'tradition', 'modernity' and the existence of multiple modernities hold central roles anthropological debates, the relevance of which increases with urbanisation, associated urban lifestyles and modes of consumption. Those involved in the camp all imagine development in terms of movement towards notions of modernity. This paper argues that these imagined modernities do not always coincide, however, thus affecting perceptions of ownership of the camp, of the form of development it endorses and for whom.

Gift and commodity relations in pro-poor private sector development interventions: a case study of rice seed companies in Cambodia

Author: Maylee Thavat (Australian National University)

Short Abstract

Where previous structural adjustment programs once assumed that with the right market structures in place development would occur, current pro-poor development discourses emphasise the need to actively assist people take advantage of newly emerging trade opportunities. This paper will examine one example of this, the establishment of private rice seed companies in Cambodia.


It is often asserted that aid exists to incorporate peasants into commodity relations. But perhaps the reverse is also true, namely that peasants exist to incorporate aid into gift relations. The first sentence bestows on development activities a type of hegemony and coherence that belies the general befuddlement surrounding development aid implementation, especially in the area of private sector development. This paper will illustrate that far from rationalising subsistence communities, their production and trade, towards the single end of commodity relations, private sector oriented development projects often reinforce and/or transform a range of different gift and commodity relations within the recipient country, strengthen some above others and often with perverse outcomes. Using the case study of private rice seed companies set up by AusAID in Cambodia, this paper will demonstrate how the dual aims of commercially successful rice companies and poverty alleviation resulted in both direct sales and indirect gifts of seed to farmers, both of which undermined the commercial viability of the seed companies yet ultimately bypassed the subsistence farmers the project set out to help. This outcome then precipitated the need for more donor aid to the private companies in the name of poverty alleviation of subsistence farmers.