Feb 07

Anthropology and Development

I did a little reading last fall about Anthropology and development. I discovered most sources refer to a tension that I imagine exists no matter the practice under investigation. Anthropologists conducting a critique from “within” facilitate development goals by constructing ethnographies of development projects. “Development anthropologists” act as “reformers who, from the inside and through processes of translation and communication, try to make development better” (Crewe & Harrison, 1998, p. 16). Some anthropologists view development anthropology as diverging from the Boasian tradition of American Anthropology that rejected classifying communities as more or less “developed” or “civilized” and opposed interventions. In contrast, “anthropologists of development” investigate development as an ideological discourse and act as “analysts rather than developers” as they comment on the “discourses and practices of the ‘machine” (p. 16).

Anthropologists who analyze development discourse note that initial 20th century development efforts reflected a post-colonial view that “third world” countries had not made progress in comparison to Western countries, a view grounded in “modernization theory (Crewe & Harrison, 1998, pp. 27-29; Escobar, 1991, p. 662). Modernization theory describes a “systematic rationalization of society’s technology, social structure and values” based on the history of the industrialized west (“Modernization,” 2002). It suggests that individual countries engage in the process of modernization as they pass from a traditional (pre-industrial) society to a “modern” society. The strategy employed by development projects assumed that developing regions would eventually “catch-up” with Western countries by using the same communications technology to construct identical communications practices (Waisbord, 2000, p. 1). Today, “Globalization” frequently displaces modernization theory in development discourse (Currie & Thobani, 2003, p. 149).

I was first introduced to the categories of “within” vs “without” when Dr. William Mazzarella gave a talk at UT entitled “Beautiful Balloon: The Digital Divide and the Charisma of New Media in India.” Mazzarella (2009) explains both the “critique from within” and the “critique from without” are necessary yet neither is sufficient when considering ICT for development (ICT4D). Instead, he calls for a more nuanced critique that considers the “performative efficacy” of discourse and what is achieved via the “technological charisma” that surrounds these ICT for development projects.

  • Crewe, Emma, & Harrison, Elizabeth (1998). Whose development? an ethnography of aid. London; New York; New York: Zed Books; Distributed exclusively in the USA by St. Martin’s Press.
  • Currie, Dawn H., & Thobani, Sunera (2003). From Modernization to Globalization: Challenges and Opportunities. Gender, Technology and Development, 7(2), 149-170.
  • Escobar, Arturo (1991). Anthropology and the development encounter: the making and marketing of development anthropology. American Ethnologist, 18(4), 658-682.
  • Mazzarella, William (2009). Beautiful Balloon: The digital divide and the charisma of new media in India. Paper presented at the UT Spring 2010 South Asia Seminar Series: Media and Postcolonial Culture in India. Retrieved August 15, 2010, from http://anthropology.uchicago.edu/pdfs/beautiful_balloon.pdf
  • Modernization Theory. (2002). In Dictionary of the Social Sciences. Oxford University Press. Retrieved October 18, 2010, from http://www.oxfordreference.com/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t104.e1097 (subscription required)
  • Waisbord, Silvio (2000). Family Tree Of Theories, Methodologies And Strategies in Development Communication. New York: The Rockefeller Foundation. Retrieved May 1, 2009 from http://www.comminit.com/pdf/familytree.pdf

Comments & TrackBacks

Comments and trackbacks are closed.

A Few Related Entries

UCD & Agile Development
Processes, Skills & Backgrounds for IA
Design Goals