Accepted paper:

Preventing 'partnership', perpetuating dependence: The detrimental effects of knowledge hierarchies on international cooperation


Susanne Koch (Technical University of Munich)

Paper short abstract:

Persisting knowledge hierarchies reinforce existing power asymmetries in international cooperation. The hierarchical classification of expertise fostered by the aid industry hampers partnership at eye-level and, ultimately, keeps developing countries in a perpetual cycle of dependence.

Paper long abstract:

The rise of the 'partnership' paradigm in the global aid discourse has brought about a significant shift in terminology: Declarations such as the 2030 Agenda no longer speak of 'donors' and 'recipients', but of 'partners' who aim to 'share knowledge, expertise, technology and financial resources' in order to attain 'sustainable development'. The new rhetoric, however, merely masks that international cooperation continues to be characterised by asymmetric power relations. The unequal setting caused by one-sided dependency is reinforced through the perpetuation of knowledge hierarchies which place 'international' (i.e., Northern) over 'local' (i.e., Southern) expertise. This is confirmed by empirical research carried out in two countries that are often used as prime examples of the 'partnership' approach: South Africa and Tanzania. The proposed paper seeks to shed light on the persisting inequality of 'partners' in aid related to discursive power. Presenting findings from a qualitative study based on 73 expert interviews and comprehensive document analysis, it reveals that contrary to donor claims which emphasise the importance of local knowledge, the latter is systematically devalued and its credibility deflated. Drawing on postcolonial theory, the paper highlights the epistemic dimension of power imbalance inherent in international cooperation. The hierarchical classification of knowledge is one explanation why after decades of aid developing countries continue to rely on external assistance. Rather than being empowered through 'partnership', they are kept in a perpetual cycle of dependence.

panel P68
Partnerships and power in the 2030 Agenda