EASA2012: Uncertainty and disquiet

Nanterre University, France, 10/07/2012 – 13/07/2012


Anthropology and development: an irrevocably awkward relationship?

Location V303
Date and Start Time 12 Jul, 2012 at 14:30


Chandana Mathur (National University of Ireland, Maynooth) email
Ida Susser (CUNY) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

The relationship between academic anthropology and the development establishment is widely seen as awkward, if not profoundly uncertain and disquieting. This panel seeks to investigate whether and how critical anthropology could reconsider engaging with development thinking and interventions.

Long Abstract

Development discourse, development thinking, development interventions and development institutions are an inescapable part of the landscape in the contemporary Global South. Anthropologists concerned with Asia, Africa and Latin America run into the development establishment at every turn, and this is an encounter that usually provokes lingering feelings of uncertainty and disquiet. Should anthropologists concentrate on the task of critique and rigidly maintain our distance from the development community? Given that development is a key concern for the people and the movements we are involved with, this does not always seem to be a viable option. At the other extreme, must we fashion ourselves into bespoke producers of policy-relevant research on demand? Also, in our pedagogic practice, as we train students hoping to make a difference in the world, should we be warning them away from the siren-call of the development establishment? Or are there forms of engagement that can bring critique and practice closer to each other?

This panel seeks to discuss whether it is possible, and if so, how it is possible for critical anthropology to reconsider its engagement with development.

Chair: Jonathan Friedman
Discussant: Laetitia Atlani-Duault, David Nugent

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.


Development and anthropology in the Peruvian Amazon: exploring paths of engagement

Author: Peter Bille Larsen  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

The Amazon has a long history as an emblematic site of development theory and practice. This paper presents ethnographic material on the historical engagement of anthropology on development matters in Peru with a particular focus on the Peruvian Amazon.

Long Abstract

The Amazon has a long history as an emblematic site of development theory and practice. This paper presents ethnographic material on the historical engagement of anthropology on development matters in Peru with a particular focus on the Peruvian Amazon. On the one hand, the Amazon presents a distinct locus and constellation to think about development. On the other hand, the Amazon has for decades been a terrain of anthropological development engagement. The paper brings the two dimensions together suggesting how can learn about the variety of anthropological engagements not as disciplinary givens, but through locally anchored traditions and practices. Anthropologists in the Peruvian Amazon have for decades played central roles in shaping development discourse and practice. In the Amazon, this includes emblematic development concerns as the big vs. the small and the national vs. the local. The paper will seek to draw broader lessons learned for our disciplinary engagement with the development field based on the Peruvian material.

Conceptual uncertainty between development anthropology and rural development aid

Author: Carlos Couto (ISCTE - University Institute of Lisbon)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

Refusing the externalist view, linear and deterministic social change, development anthropology moves away from the paradigm of "modernization," taking the peasant communities as complex systems that manage its own transformation by successive creative adaptations that characterize its historical dynamic

Long Abstract

Rural development aid, which has its own cognitive structures and their own channels of communication( Bierschenk et all 1993; Bierschenk 1998; Le Naelou 1995) develops a homogenizing practice ( Amselle 1988).This practice makes the creative adaptations and self-processing of the target communities as "contingencies" not preview in the linear models, "repaired" with purely technological solutions, and yet ineffective. The economic restructuring based on the logic of globalization tends to systematically sterilize local modes of subsistence based on principles of autonomy and self-production. This dialectic between "globalization" and "localization" in the economies of self-production (not based exclusively on peasant agriculture) covers the needs of the community in essential commodities (material and symbolic) through livelihood very little dependent on the organization of the market. These survival strategies or "modes of existence" are poorly understood and valued in the capitalist point of view but are nevertheless of crucial importance to peasant societies development. What is "development" and "progress" in the co-evolution process?

Provoking uncertainty, engaging disquiet: working against the grain as a "development anthropologist"

Author: Andrea Cornwall (University of Sussex)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

Anthropological engagement with the development industry tends to consist of critique or collaboration. This paper suggests other possibilities. It draws on twenty years of working against the grain within and at the interface of development, and argues for an activist role for anthropology in provoking uncertainty and engaging disquiet.

Long Abstract

Anthropological engagement with development has tended to consist either of critique or collaboration. This paper suggests that there are other possibilities of interaction with the development industry. It draws on twenty years of working against the grain as an anthropologist within and at the interface of development to argue for the role of anthropology in engaging disquiet - with the assumptions, orthodoxies, conventions and comfort zones of the industry - and using this to provoke critical reflection, if not also to bring about change.

The paper will draw on a series of interventions with/in the development industry, telling a story about a form of anthropological activism that seeks to make uncertain and provoke disquiet. It will range from methodological experiments to encounters with the beast of bureaucracy in a bilateral aid agency to using a donor-funded programme of research on one of the most slippery of development buzzwords as an avenue for bringing into radical question development agencies ways of doing and ways of viewing.

Anthropology of development: debating good life and desired changes

Author: Sarah Lunaček (University of Ljubljana)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

Anthropology of development is crutial in order to understand what is going on in local development arenas and how this is connected with wider political contexts. This can enable us to think of and inact new kinds of cooperation towards disired changes.

Long Abstract

My staring point is the understanding of relationship between anthropology and development where development configuration presents a privileged research field. Anthropology provides insights in how development configuration works locally and this can optionally be a basis for proposals for more satisfactory development projects (Olivier de Sardin 2005). The following example illustrates it is necessary to consider also wider neoliberal political context.

Part of my research in Niger dealt with experiences of Tuareg with development projects. Huge development programs from the past that were successfully building basic infrastructure and provided paid jobs were preferred to more recent participation paradigm that was seen as imposed. Numerous small projects based on personal connections and with sensibility for specific local circumstances were seen as more efficient. To certain Tuareg employed in development it became clear that development projects are filling in the function of (social) state. In this perspective recent claims of rebellion and civil society movements could be understood as demanding state to fulfil its function. Since state is bound to meet the interest of international corporations (as most African states), negotiations would be tense even if state would care about its minorities.

In order to understand aspirations of local people in uncertain situations what seems to be missing and where anthropologist can engage is discussing notions of desired changes and of good life with individuals and specific social groups (e.g. according to gender, generation, urban and nomadic way of life, schooling) and their experiences of possibilities and obstacles.

Rethinking "Policy"

Author: Akhil Gupta (UCLA)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

This paper reconsiders the distinction between "policy" and "critique" in development. It is widely assumed that expert involvement in policy is necessarily of the form of "advice to the prince" and that its role is critical to the formulation of plans. Once policy is made, then it can either be implemented well or poorly, and failures are often laid at the door of "poor implementation" rather than "poor planning."

Long Abstract

For people interested in development critique, "policy work" is either seen as intellectually second-rate or politically compromised. I argue in this paper that this is the result of seeing involvement in "policy" as a variant of "advice to the prince." Experts who are involved in development policy see their role as advising "governments" or multilateral agencies about what "should" be done in a particular case. Experts help governments figure out which programs should be adopted, how they should be planned, and what is the best way to implement them. In all cases, "policy" is about top-down, technocratic planning that is temporally prior to implementation.

What if we were to think of policy differently, as something that was not decided prior to implementation, but as unfolding in the process of doing, and of being shaped by different agents, including its recipients and bureaucratic agents down the hierarchy? A different notion of policy, I argue, opens up spaces where a critical anthropology can meet development practice, and make a difference to the object of critique. There is a space for a politically engaged anthropology to make a difference to development programs, but that space can only be created by re-envisioning "policy" itself, and the role of expert knowledge in the process.

The crisis in Nyae Nyae: an experiment in anthropology and indigenous survival in southern Africa

Author: Richard Lee (University of Toronto)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

In the years 1980-2012, the Ju/’hoansi of Namibia underwent traumatic changes, including low-intensity warfare, and threats to their land base. During this period, anthropologists played key roles in helping the Ju/’hoansi. This paper documents their intervention, its successes and failures, and attempts to draw up a balance sheet.

Long Abstract

The Ju/'hoansi-San of Namibia and Botswana have a long history in Anthropology as a favourite case study of authors of introductory textbooks. Studies and filmed representations of their lives as hunter-gatherers, --sharing, foraging, dancing, arguing,-- have enlivened classrooms for generations.

Less well-documented are the current realities of their lives in a globalizing world of commodified labour, ethnic tensions, and mass communications. This paper focuses on the Nyae Nyae Ju/'hoansi as they enter the third decade of life in post-Apartheid Namibia, where their long history of relative self-reliance and local autonomy has been supplanted by incorporation into and domination by the structures of the bureaucratic state and capitalism.

Through the 1980s the Ju/'hoansi attempted to cope with Apartheid's attempts to cling to power through counter-insurgency warfare. Then when South Africa was finally defeated and Independence for Namibia was proclaimed in 1990 under SWAPO, they faced rapid immersion in the cold bath of neo-colonial capitalist relations of production.

Through this period, seeing the desperate circumstances the Ju/'hoansi faced, an ad hoc group of anthropologists became reluctantly involved as change agents. The late John Marshall, Megan Biesele, Pauline Wiessner, and Robert Hitchcock are four of the major figures in this drama of redemption. Despite mistakes and reversals, the Ju have survived. Did their scholar-activist interlocuters help them avert more dire outcomes?

The collaborating anthropologist: a lesson studied by an anthropologist patron

Author: Esther Hertzog (Beit Berl Academic College)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

My paper is based on my work as a gender consultant in Rural Nepal, which I documented and analyzed (Hertzog 2011). I shall examine how anthropologists are handling personal as well as professional discontent with regard to their problematic role in the "development industry".

Long Abstract

My paper is based on my work as a gender consultant for an irrigation company in Rural Nepal, which I documented and analyzed (Hertzog 2011). Becoming aware of my own patronizing position I have adopted a self-critical stance which served me well to purify my shame and to calm down the growing awareness of my compliance with the hierarchical-patriarchal system and with the inevitable ethnocentric position I assumed.

Being one of the numerous anthropologists (and many other social science scholars) who studied development in the "third world" I shall argue in my paper that as much as we, anthropologists, are reflective, moral, human, sensitive to human suffering and injustice, committed to social change, we still are closest to our own interests. Thus, our academic "mission" inherently and inadvertently involves patronizing, manipulation and instrumentalization of our "informants". This situation involves built-in social distance and ethnocentricity that is contained in any researcher-researched relationships. Yet, these are accentuated by far in the encounters of the highly educated scholars from the "West" who come to investigate the "less-developed" in the "East".

In my presentation I shall examine some of the critical anthropological, sociological and feminist literature on development context, that has expanded rapidly since the 1980s. I shall illustrate and elaborate on the manipulative ways in which we, anthropologists and other scholars, are handling personal as well as professional reservations and discontent with regard to our problematic role in the "development industry".

Writing development

Author: Bengt G. Karlsson (Stockholm University)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

The modalities of writing differ greatly between ethnographers and

development practitioners. From a point of view of an anthropological

epistemology the paper explores the textual production, circulation and

reception/consumption within the industry of international aid.

Long Abstract

Within anthropology there is a common assumption that development

interventions would benefit from the intellectual as well as technical

rigour of ethnography. While many anthropologists have strong positions

within the world of development, the aid industry at large seems rather

indifferent to the anthropological expertise and to its products. In this

paper I will explore the writing styles of development, its policy briefs,

project outlines and evaluations, and tease out their differenses from

anthropological modes of writing.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.