International Development, Social Analysis…and Anthropology? Applying Anthropology in and to Development
This paper examines the current role of anthropology within the field of social development, an emerging discipline of applied professional practice within international development. Maia Green shows how social development approaches differ from anthropological ones in that the former are determined largely by policy priorities and the need to produce rapid analytical appraisals. In this field there is little scope for ethnography. In the current policy context where the emphasis is on major public sector reform processes and financial transfers between governments the scope for the kinds of cultural analyses of beneficiary communities at one time associated with development anthropology is limited. The widespread adoption of participatory methods and the institutionalisation of team based techniques for involving communities in the development process have also worked against the employment of anthropologists as anthropologists in this field. However, the cultural insights and the kinds of understandings that anthropology offers can equip the social development professional with a policy imagination-that is the ability to envision the kinds of impacts particular interventions may have on particular kinds of social relations and institutions.
Introduction: Social Development and Anthropology
This paper explores some aspects of the current role of social anthropology within the international development sector and the changing context and nature of anthropological input as approaches once associated with anthropology become subsumed within `social development’ as an emergent specialisation within an increasingly professionalised field. Social development approaches and methods have much common with social anthropology, but there are substantial differences. Perhaps the most fundamental of these is the fact that what constitutes social development knowledge is determined by the need to meet policy priorities within what is defined as development rather than the pursuit of knowledge as such (Green 2002). The relation with policy agendas and the need to produce instrumental knowledge that can be make to work, at least in the ideal, in serving a particular policy agenda means that social development knowledge is not so much concerned with the locally specific as with the production of models that can be applied in more than one setting. This is quite unlike anthropology which , in being field based , draws on `an over determined setting for the discovery of difference’ (Gupta & Ferguson 1997:5).
Social development presents itself as a technical discipline based on what are claimed to be core competencies in a development practice which, while acknowledging the importance of process, remains essentially committed to a technocratic and scientistic approach to social analysis as a precondition for social transformation. In this social development adopts the perspectives of social policy and of the sociological tradition which has prioritised understanding society with a view to social improvement. This contrasts with the perspective predominant in anthropology which has, since Durkheim, prioritised the analytical dissection of social and cultural forms, rather than their manipulation (Rabinow 1989: 171). The need to produce knowledge that can be operationalised within the particular institutional settings of development, constrained by budgets on the one hand and, on the other, by expectations about what constitutes technical expertise, has consequences for social development methodologies. Like anthropological methods, these are people focused and based on qualitative techniques. Unlike anthropological methods, premised on extended fieldwork lasting up to several years, social development methodologies are designed to fit into dramatically shortened timeframes. The social development adaptation of social research methods entails a dissembling into simplified components which are then presented as `tools’ accessible to non-specialists and which can be used in short periods of time. Such methods have evident limitations. Notwithstanding the lack of depth to research produced so rapidly the toolkit approach to social analysis tends to either predetermine the imputation of causality or, as in `stakeholder analysis’, a technique for exploring significant social relations in development, be reducible ultimately to a simple pictogram of mono-directional links between what are assumed to be assumed to be significant social categories (Green 2002).
Conventional understandings of anthropologists working in development as translators of culture have been transcended in practice by a range of changes within the structure and practice of international development and within anthropology itself. As anthropology becomes increasingly aware both of its potentialities and its limitations its object of study is revealed as an increasingly self conscious choice made by the anthropologist and facilitated by the institutional context in which he or she works. Anthropology like much of what it critiques, is explicitly political and anthropologists in selecting topics for research are making political choices, even if this fact is underplayed within the discipline (cf Scheper-Hughes 1995). Social development as a framework for the knowledge used to support policy instruments or the choice between them in the drive to achieve development objectives is also explicitly political. However, the institutional location of social development practice within development organisations and within the institutions funded to produce their knowledge means that social development knowledge has to appear less as politically determined than as technical knowledge, and its proponents are less free than their anthropological counterparts to make explicit the political contingencies on which the production of such knowledge frameworks depends.
Social development knowledge, like other kinds of knowledge, including anthropology, is produced and reiterated within institutional environments which both delimit what is recognised as knowledge and the kinds of persons authorised to engage in its production (Douglas 1986; Watts 2001; Cooper & Packard 1997:21). Although I am a professional anthropologist, employed to teach and conduct research in anthropology within an academic department within the formal University sector, I am at least partially recognised by some international development institutions as a social development professional, that is as a person able to practice social development. This positioning allows me a privileged insight to the applied versus academic anthropology divide, as one who practices both social development or applied anthropology and academic anthropology as two distinct and largely unrelated fields of expertise.. It also allows me to turn the anthropological `gaze’ reflexively on my practice within the development sector.
I will argue in this paper that the representation of an applied anthropology as what anthropologists do in development which is distinct from academic or theoretical anthropology is now largely an imagined construct of academic anthropologists, at least in the UK context. Within international development people like myself with anthropology backgrounds, or who have jobs as anthropologists but who nevertheless work in social development, may apply anthropological insights and make use of knowledge gained through studying anthropology, but we work increasingly as planners and managers of processes of social and institutional transformation aligned with global policy templates (Cooper & Packard 1997: 24). Such templates through which development policy is globally effected assume a universality of social architectures as either social facts or as desirable outcomes of the development endeavour. Further, changes in the structure of international development and the ways in which development policy is thought to best operate have reduced the potential entry points for anthropology, even of the `applied’ sort within the official frameworks of international development assistance. Where anthropology, and other social science research, probably contributes most to development is , as Escobar and others have shown, through closely observed accounts of what people do which may challenge previously held truisms in development thinking, that is in the anthropology of development rather than development anthropology (Escobar 1997:498).
International Development: Delimiting the Field
The field of international development to which I refer in this paper is the network of institutions and agencies engaged in the implementation of international development assistance. These include multilateral agencies like the World Bank and the various United Nations bodies, as well as the bi lateral agencies of national governments such as the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, national and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and those agencies in recipient countries which work in `partnership’ with donor institutions for the joint implementation of projects and programmes. Typical partner organisations include national governments, national NGOs and the lower tier community based organisations (CBOs). The institutional context of international development extends far beyond the formal institutions charged with implementing development oriented programmes.
As ideas about development and cultural attitudes informed by development aspirations become increasingly entwined with popular cultures within so called developed and developing country settings, development as a social institution transcends the limitations of what I have referred to elsewhere as ‘project space’, -the space of social action which formal sector development agencies strive to plan as the object of project management techniques (Green 2003). Rural communities in Nepal utilise the category of `developed’ (bikas) as a means of classifying people according to perceived class position and social networks (Pigg 1992:; Shrestha, 1995) . Conversely, relatively wealthy individuals in the USA provide money for communities perceived as ‘poor’ via World Vision’s child sponsorship scheme which emphasises the absence of facilities within entire communities as the epitome of the absence of development that resource transfers can provide (Bornstein 2001).
Anthropological studies have focused on the processes of social transformation, both positive and negative, conventionally associated with development in the popular meaning of the term, as a transition towards directed change, towards modernization, industrialisation, capitalisation and so on, whatever components are associated with the idea of progression at any particular time. More recent critiques of development as modernisation have exposed the cultural origins of this perspective and the absence of a clear relationship between the attributes supposedly constitutive of `development’ and social transformation. They have also pointed to the scale of the asymmetries between developer and developee which characterises the development relationships (Crewe & Harrison 1998) nationally, as when development becomes a new profession for a small educated elite (Sampson 1996:, Pigg 1993), and internationally when rich countries and institutions determine the policy choices and levels of public services of those countries they aim to develop (Moore 2001).
Although the evolutionist concept of progress continues to inform paradigms within international development thought and practice in myriad ways, international development institutions today are not primarily concerned with effecting this kind of transition towards an assumed modernity, nor with the transition to global capitalism, despite what critics of international development attest. International development policy is more complex and more contested than a juggernaut imposition of global forces on poor nations. Many international development agencies are more concerned with protecting people from the full impacts of globalisation and market forces than with wholesale integration, with the establishment of mechanisms for some level of social protection in poor countries and with ensuring that social changes bring some benefits at least to those at the bottom of the social hierarchy. It is not unusual for such agencies, even if they are government departments, to find themselves at odds with the priorities of other sections of their own governments over policies which prioritise interventions assumed to lead to economic growth, but which are also likely to have negative impacts on the poor. Such differences of opinion frequently arise in relation to large scale power projects which may involve dams and population displacement, the sale of arms to poor countries and the spending priorities of poor countries which may benefit growth at the expense of the vulnerable.
Human development is no longer assumed to be an automatic concomitant of economic development. Development in practice must be defined not as ran undefined set of outcomes around social and economic change but in policy terms, as what the institutions charged with its implementation claim they are setting out to do (Green 2001). The project of development, and hence development projects and the programmes within which they are embedded, is essentially concerned with achieving these policy objectives through the large scale transfer of resources between donor and recipient institution. As a transfer of resources, financial, human and technical, oriented toward the achievement of specific outcomes development as an institution is as much concerned with the practice of management as with the specialised kinds of knowledge that may or may not pertain to achieving development policy objectives (Green 2003). This relation between development and management has implications for the kinds of knowledge that development needs in order to operate. In the current institutional configuration of development practice knowledge is perceived as a means of achieving policy objectives and hence as a management tool (Mehta 2001)..
For much of the past decade the major Western agencies and multi lateral organisations have interpreted development at its most basic in terms of the elimination of poverty. Poverty, defined in relation to the presence or absence of basic services and in income terms (less than one dollar a day) , comes to be a proxy for the absence of development, and a justification for intervention. Development is thus cdefined in negative terms, not so much as the presence of something as the elimination of an unacceptable state. Poverty and development are measured by indicators and targets, some global, others national, which become a highly politicised part of the international development framework (Apthorpe 1997). Institutional mechanisms for the measurement and assessment of poverty now form part of the international development architecture. More fundamentally, the equation of poverty with undevelopment and by extension the absence of material things with backwardness informs the conceptualisations of the beneficiaries of development, the poor themselves, as lacking in the material wherewithal to participate in progress (Shreshtra 1995; Pigg 1993; Green 2000). Similarly, representations of poverty shared by developer and developee as an attribute of particular social categories- women, children and indigenous peoples and of the places in which they live owe much to these kinds of representations (Jackson 1996).
As the elimination of poverty is the goal of the international development effort so poverty must be measured and assessed as an index of development’s functioning. National poverty assessments and indicators are now standard devices for development implementation in poor countries. The focus on poverty does not necessarily imply that poor people are more involved in the development planning process than previously. The Participatory Poverty Assessment (PPA) , a scaled up version of the Participatory Rural Appraisal , with scaled up limitations, as the institutional mechanism for listening to the poor on developers terms allows for the limited articulation of key concerns that conform with the policy priories of development institutions. The poor, like Marx’s peasants , `cannot represent themselves, they must be represented’ (Marx 1987: 332). The anthropologist David Mosse has shown how participatory research methodologies used in development may operate to exclude certain social categories and issues from the research remit, and paradoxically obscure the exposition of social issues (2001) , the very issues which constitute poverty not so much as an absolute condition as characterised by international development, but as a social relation.. If poverty assessments are a scaling up of small scale and micro oriented approaches to development research, development interventions have undergone a parallel scaling upwards through the shift from projects to programmes and more recently to national strategies for poverty reduction through which sector programmes, national policy and other interventions are combined in a unified programme oriented towards a common goal. Both `scaling up’ and participatory methodologies have consequences for the role of anthropology in development and for social development practice.
Anthropology in Development
If international development agencies define development practically in terms of their policy objectives, social anthropology has not necessarily shared this vision, tending to view development in the same kind of evolutionist terms as the processes it has set to critique (Sahlins 1995: ii) . Suspicion of change which could broach the integrity of cultures has lead anthropology in the UK and the US to be sceptical of `development’ in general, and to operate in a heightened state of awareness of culture loss and culture change. The anthropologist Marshal Sahlins has argued that such assumptions rest on unfounded notions about history and culture which, despite anthropological claims to having transcended the ahistoricism of functionalism and the purported break between `hot’ and `cold’ societies, or West and other, misses the essential point about the very cultures which anthropology has sought to describe and protect, namely that culture is human practice. Culture is not an arbitrary attribute which people `have’ but, a project which people work to produce. As such it is continually being changed by people as they make history . In a globalized world this ongoing process of cultural construction is itself influenced by anthropological representations in the context of ethnic differentiation and within discourses of heritage and authenticity (Sahlins 1995: x). In any case, change does not necessarily mean loss. It can mean gain or intensification. And what change means is determined by the people whose societies and situations change, rather than by the judgements of anthropologist observers. For example, despite the claims of evolutionist influenced anthropology in the 1970’s that hunters and gatherers would transform into wage labourers and lose their `culture’, a significant proportion of hunting communities continue to make their living through hunting and continue to culturally prioritise these modes of livelihood not so much through isolation from the global economy as integration within it. In the case of Inuit peoples of North America, adoption of hunting technologies and modern forms of transport allow for the intensification of hunting, at the same time as integration into the national welfare state subsidises this mode of subsistence(Sahlins 1995: vi-ix). Equally, the mode of livelihood associated with Southern African hunter gatherer communities was arguably not an inherent expression of culture associated with a particular population as much as a response to wider economic and social transformation contingent on integration into world markets and the development of the cattle economies of communities like Herero (Wilmsen 1990).
If anthropology has conventionally been suspicious of unplanned changes, perhaps even of history, it has been particularly distrustful of directed change and of the international development project which has had directed change as its objective (Escobar 1991) The ambivalent relationship between anthropology and development has its origins in the colonial administrative project of governance and, coterminous with this, the projects of social improvement which comprised the new deal in the United States and informed the emergence of what became the sub discipline of applied anthropology (Gupta & Ferguson 1997: 22). While British anthropology under strove to make anthropology useful to the ‘practical men’ of colonial administration as the discipline consolidated itself in the 1930’s through accessing public funds, its eventual institutionalisation lead ultimately to the separation of applied and academic fields, paralleling a new division of labour in the colonial service between administrators as `men of power’ over colonial populations and anthropologists as `men of knowledge’ about them (de L’Estoile 1997:346).
Despite the protestations of Kuper (1973: 116) that anthropologists played a minimal role in the encounter between British colonialism and indigenous populations, anthropological knowledge was fundamental to the institutionalisation of ethnicities on which indirect rule was premised. In this sense , `the connection between the development of anthropological knowledge and the colonial venture was thus not accidental or external, but indeed structuring ‘(de L’Estoile 1997:347 ). The relationship between anthropological knowledge and colonial governance was strong also in France where van Gennep, amongst others, argued for the integration of the anthropological project into the colonial endeavour as `better science was the means to better colonial government’ (Rabinow 1997: 165). This particular history of implication has contributed to the critical perspectives with which so called applied anthropology has often been viewed within and outside the discipline, and to the suspicion with which anthropology is still viewed in many countries which have a fairly recent history of colonial domination.
The involvement of anthropology in development did not end with the dawning of the post colonial era. Not only was anthropological knowledge central to the imagination of the new subjects of international development, the formal inclusion of the discipline within the institutional structures of international development gathered pace from the late 1970’s reaching an apex in the 1990’s when a limited number of anthropological positions were institutionalised within a number of key bi and multilateral agencies, including the World Bank (Cernea 1995 :340-1). These positions should be differentiated from the employment of `anthropologists’ within such institutions. As Little and Painter make clear, the majority of those with anthropological training working within international development do not work as anthropologists and are not employed to do so, but as managers, civil servants and administrators of the large scale resource transfers which comprise the development enterprise (1995:603). As in the colonial context where, despite their discipline’s contribution to the representations which gave colonial governance its specific character the direct engagement of anthropologists in governance was limited, the involvement of anthropologists within development institutions has tended to be muted, even marginal. Horowitz goes so far as to suggest that social science within development institutions, including anthropology, has tended to ghettoise itself, acceding power to the dominant economistic paradigms which drive agency agendas( 1996: 14 (1&2), 1-11).
This new role for anthropologists within development agencies in the 1980’s and 1990’s coincided with a new people oriented discourse in international development and a renewed consideration to issues of social exclusion and marginality. Cultural brokerage and understanding the poor and the cultural dispositions which seemed to work against the goals of modernisation became central to the project of international assistance, a project which changed in emphasis as new insights were adopted from social research and from activist professionals such as Robert Chambers whose combination of Freirean action learning and social analysis lead to the promotion of `bottom up’ perspectives and what have come to be known as ‘participatory approaches’ to development (Green 2000). But anthropologists working in such agencies remained largely concerned with cultural issues, interpreting practices around areas difficult for others to access and which seemed mystifying for those without detailed comparative knowledge of social organisation: gender, kinship, transhumance, common property resources. Moreover, anthropological input was confined to restricted points in a project cycle, at the initial appraisal stage and at the end, analysing why planned outcomes had not transpired.
Alongside this expansion in the international sector, what was now called `applied anthropology’ was growing within the United States as a specialisation which used cultural knowledge to inform the planning of public interventions for groups whose needs were perceived to be somehow culturally opaque- at least to the White American policy maker. Anthropology in the US and in South America was associated with cultural brokerage between indigenous groups and national governments, and between indigenous groups and private companies, often those associated with natural resource extraction The anthropologist as advocate position continues to characterise much applied anthropology in Papua New Guinea and Australia. Such positionalities not only raise ethical dilemmas and point to contestations about the what counts as knowledge and the obligations of anthropologists, as recent Australian court cases demonstrate (Mardiros 1997; Brutti 2001; Strathern & Stewart 2001), but contribute to the perpetuation of a perception that when anthropologists work in `development’ or with `local’ people that what they are doing is brokerage, advocacy or cultural translation work. It also contributes to the essentialisation of what anthropologists think anthropologists do , can or should or do which seems to hinge on an obligation to represent the interests of fieldwork populations, as if these were unitary and unproblematic. Arguments within the discipline about the roles and obligations of anthropologists conducting so called applied work hinge on an assumption that doing anthropology or being an anthropologists are clearly delimited fields of activity with coterminous moral sensibilities that seemingly oblige the anthropologist to adopt certain positions (Scheper-Hughes 1995; Gow 1993).
These views depend on an unrealistic notion that one can delimit anthropology as a practice and as a profession, and conflict with claims made within the discipline that fieldwork based research must generate knowledge which is based on research findings, rather than on predetermined obligations to represent certain kinds of truths for certain social categories of persons (Mardiros 1997). In practice, neither position is tenable. Accepted critiques within the social sciences and within anthropology have exposed the fallacy of seeking and trying to represent objective truth and the false promise of scientism, while explicit alliance with certain political positions equally compromises any claims to, if not truth, an honest presentation of research findings. In actuality, anthropology has no more moral credibility than the other social sciences with which it must struggle for survival in an increasingly interdisciplinary universe. Its boundaries are permeable and weak. In a discipline which has minimal presence outside the ivory towers of established universities the majority of those identified as anthropologists or who identify themselves as such are part of a tiny group of academics employed within an elite university sector. Such individuals continue to practice what those established in the profession recognise as anthropology: occasional if extended periods of field based research and the production of articles and books oriented towards a community of specialists pursuing questions of theoretical interest to anthropologists. These questions mostly hinge on issues of cultural comparison and translation. However, not all anthropologists confine themselves to this kind of anthropology. These same individuals also do other kinds of social research work and for different audiences. Whether this is `anthropology’ or not is less significant than the fact that different kinds of social research and analysis work can be done by people with a similar background, whether or not they are `anthropologists’.
Changing Contexts of Anthropological Input
Anthropologists today do highly diversified kinds of work for governments, international agencies and the private sector, and the work they do is changing. Just as the field of anthropological enquiry has changed within the academic sector and what constitutes anthropological knowledge has broadened, it is now accepted that what anthropologists can do in other sectors extends beyond the project of cultural translation . That very project, dependant as it is on a particular kind of relationship between subject and translator is now open to question, not only within a more self aware anthropology sensitive to post colonial critiques but within the new institutional frameworks of doing development which create the possibility of allowing, albeit formally, the subaltern to speak.
By the 1990’s the old role of anthropology as cultural brokerage was beginning to change, in the international development sector at least , where participatory approaches institutionalised through PRA ( Participatory Rural Appraisal)and RRA (Rapid Rural Appraisal) had become expected, if not the norm. Specialist social researchers and consultants certified in these fields facilitated the kinds of studies which anthropologists may have been commissioned to undertake previously. Such surveys became not merely opportunities for the generation of knowledge but fora where critical understandings about relations between so called beneficiaries and policy makers could be negotiated (Mosse 2001). At the same time a new cadre of professional social researchers from within developing countries was beginning to emerge. The `local’ consultant, assumed to have more intimate access to local populations as well as local knowledge and expertise, came to be a required part of project appraisals and scoping studies, in the process assuming the mediating role of translator between recipient community and donor agency. Participatory approaches to development and the utilisation of local experts where possible have limitations, but do to an extent obviate the need for an outside `expert’ to explain the other when the new frameworks allow the others to begin to explain themselves.
The modalities for international development assistance were also changing. While development had always been concerned with resource transfers on a massive scale through financial aid, direct government to government loans and transfers, this less visible aspect of development has always received less attention in anthropology than small scale projects and programmes, despite the fact that the former has always accounted for the bulk of development spending. Structural adjustment and the conditionalities associated with financial aid attracted much negative attention from activists and academics concerned about the negative impact on the poor as governments forced to control spending cut back on social sectors. Previously protected prices and subsidies for certain interest groups were eroded. Development agencies in the orbit of the World Bank began to rethink the delivery of aid and to attempt to refine the instruments they used to implement development policy. The result, worked out over the 1990’s, was an attempt to make the delivery of aid more effective and efficient, reducing the fragmentation of numerous projects and striving to ensure that a greater proportion of the benefits brought about through resource transfer would benefit the poor as the ultimate targets of development policy. Moves to promote efficiency oriented reforms in government services in poor countries aimed to compensate for public spending cuts by making services work better. New management techniques, user participation and cost sharing were widely promoted as common strands in a reform template implemented from to Antigua to Zambia , and which is still in process. The World Bank itself recognised the complex environments in which development policy was supposed to operate and had failed. A modified policy discourse spoke of the need to include local populations in development planning, of the potential role of civil society, of the importance of local social networks and of partnerships as the defining attribute of relationships between donor organisations and their poor country counterparts (World Bank 1999).
Effective policies and programmes were not merely concerned with impact as the great unknown of the international development effort. Another side of effectiveness was efficiency, reducing the inputs of money and personnel required to achieve outputs. This was to be attained through scaling up, reducing the costs of the development transaction by applying the same effort to fewer larger initiatives, and through working more closely with other donors, allowing efforts to be concentrated in a unified way on particular areas of activity. Sector programmes paved the way for an additional tier in macro management in the form of the national poverty eradication strategies, initially as a UNDP initiative which became globally significant as the key instrument of the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) programme of debt relief in return for country anti- poverty strategies. National poverty reduction strategy papers (PRSPs) created through collaborative negotiations with government, donors and various interest groups (including national and international NGOs) form the basis of the country assistance strategies which legitimate and prioritise donor focus and spend in the countries in which they operate, as well as, in theory, the policies and priorities of national governments.
Applying Anthropology to Development
These modalities for the management and institutionalisation of development assistance and the political influence which accompanies it are fairly recent. Not much is known about the extent to which such mechanisms represent a real opportunity for governments and donors to work on effective strategies for reducing poverty or achieving development objectives in particular countries, nor even what it means and for whom to eradicate poverty in countries like Tanzania or Nepal. This is partly because the bulk of research examining the PRSP process or poverty as a development category is conducted well within the borders of the development federation, the informal alliance of agencies, universities and research institutes supported by and working within international development that help shape what is recognized as development research and development knowledge ( Goldman 2001: 205) . Those outside this federation have limited access to these processes and within affected countries, few remain outside it for long as academics and consultants get drawn into the new institutional relationships around the poverty reduction process.
Whatever the longer term impacts of the new anti poverty architecture on poverty, politics and the countries where such mechanisms are effected, the shift in international development towards scaling upwards and institutional reform has altered the entry points for anthropology and transformed the nature of social development itself. Previously the category of the social had referred in practice to particular social categories as the targets of development. Social development expertise in this context was oriented towards accessing these targets, hence the consolidation of knowledge about social categories such as the poor, women, children, indigenous peoples and those with disabilities. In the new perspective what constitutes the social in development is shifting from the specific to the general, from the minority to the majority and from a focus on specific groups to efforts to address poverty as a state in which substantial proportions of populations in so called developing countries live. This perspective fits in with the scaling up ideology. Projects previously aimed at social groups are superseded by programmes which aim to address poverty as absolute condition by raising incomes or improving access to services. A social proportion rather than a social category becomes the target of development assistance and, under the poverty reduction strategy framework, of the activities of national governments.
This shift has consequences for the kinds of knowledge about the social that development requires . Whereas the social was previously perceived as a category of development activity and expertise in much the same way as the health sector or natural resources , the new approach allows the social to be fore grounded in every aspect of development activity. This is obviously important but as the social becomes generalised so does the expertise required to address it. In DFID for example, the UK agency for international development assistance , the social development division is in the process of being downsized as staff are moved into general development management and policy positions. Requests for social development specialists with expertise in participation, gender or poverty have been superseded by requests for specialists in the new processes of PPA (participatory poverty assessment), engaging civil society and the preparation of Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers. A recent list of required competencies for social development specialists within DFID highlighted the latter attributes, above skills in social analysis, knowledge of so called developing countries or sociological or anthropological knowledge.
This background of a dynamic development sector requiring a limited competencies which it defines, frames the kind of work which I have done in international development. Although it was work done by an anthropologist, it cannot really be described as applied anthropology and was not intended to be. I was not asked to conduct the work because I was an anthropologist but because I was seen to have some of the `competencies’ that would allow the work to be successfully completed. These `competencies’ in practice centre on an understanding of the policy process and the ways in which programme documents can be used to further its objectives. My work has entailed producing programme documentation to meet policy purposes, and on the production of the analytical frameworks which will justify or amend policy determined interventions. This is not simply a matter of producing documents to policy guidelines. It necessitates a kind of social analysis of the situations which the proposed intervention will be designed to address. But unlike academic analysis, the parameters of the analysis, the issues to consider, are constrained by the policy environment in which the proposed intervention is to occur. This is not merely a matter of perspective or field of vision, the limitations as it were of the social development `gaze’. Such a position is explicitly set out in the design of the social analytical input at the point of contracting knowledge via the terms of reference (TORs) which define and delimit the parameters of the work and which explicitly situate the `outputs’ of the analysis (report, conclusions, findings) within the interlocking spirals of the policy cascade.
The analysis must contribute to the identification of the possible workable parameters of a particular social setting so that policy objectives can be achieved. This operates at two levels, firstly that of fitting activities into the framework of policy acceptability regarding such issues as legitimate beneficiaries, the kinds of organisations with whom it is acceptable to work and whether the intervention will reduce ‘poverty’ as defined in the current indicators and targets towards which both government and donors are working. Second, the analysis must also operate at the level of reality, asking basic questions regarding viability, practicality, whether indeed the problem as represented by policy presents itself in such a way, if at all, as to be potentially addressed through the kinds of interventions currently deemed to be effective. Such parameters necessarily constrain the kind and scope of knowledge generated through such efforts, as well as reiterating the kinds of activities and content that counts as authoritative knowledge (Goldman 2001).
From an anthropological perspective, this kind of work is essentially one of representation, of matching two representations of reality together in such a s way that one might be influenced by an input of something else, cash, people, structures. This is not to suggest that social development works solely with abstractions or with the creation of representations of reality. As anthropologists have shown since the beginnings of the discipline, cultural representations, the classificatory systems through which the social imagination is possible, constitute the domains of social action through the structuring of social institutions and of social order (Durkheim & Mauss 1963; Douglas 1966). In Geertz’ memorable phrase such representations are both a `model of’ and a `model for’ reality (1973:93). Cultural representations are not abstract models, but structure social practice and make it meaningful (Bourdieu 1977). Development representations through project documentation and the social analyses that are fed into projects and programmes are similarly concrete in their implications because of the role of reporting within the development framework is constituted within a matrix of social and institutional relations in which projects become social institutions, a matrix not merely of cause and effect relations between inputs and outputs but of the social relations an individual project brings into being (Green 2003).
Unlike an anthropology predisposed to emphasise the locally specific and the uniqueness of situations, social representation in development needs to work with the generalisable, where possible making local specificities adapt to the generalisable models of the global policy templates. This does not mean overriding difference, but rather trying to find viable entry points for policy within particular settings. This need to generalise is the key weakness of representing the social in development, in that it becomes all to easy to lose track of what is historically specific and local about a particular context. In my work this has not been a problem. Most of what the work I have done has been in areas I know well and where I have the linguistic competence . I am able to differentiate between the local and the general, between the reality of the context into which policy will engage ad the vision of reality invoked by policy. These differences may matter less to non anthropologists to and to those who are not area specialists. It is not uncommon for people who do this kind of work to work across several continents. Indeed, the competency is viewed by agencies in terms of process it transcends locality. It is thus not unusual to get targeted information about work or invitations to bid for opportunities in countries where the consultant has no prior expertise and minimal knowledge, but where they may have previously worked on what are deemed to be similar policy processes such as say PRSPs or local government reform. Of course, from an anthropological viewpoint, such processes could not be viewed as similar if taking place in completely disparate social settings.
That the anthropological perspective would opt for comparison rather than equivalence brings us to the ultimate incommensurability of the two ways of working and of seeing, unless of course one takes a more interdisciplinary and fluid perspective on the applications of knowledge than is espoused within some quarters of anthropology at least. Indeed it is an anthropological perspective which allows me as a social development practitioner to see that the boundaries between the two fields are socially imposed categories and refer less to real differences in the content of knowledge than to the parameters each discipline imposes. This perspective allows me to apply my own knowledge gained from anthropology to social development practice and to development institutions. While the work I do in, rather than on, development would not be recognised as anthropology it is informed by anthropological knowledge about local institutions, cultural practices and social relations, by research skills gained through fieldwork and library study as well as by professional practices honed within the pedagogic settings of academic anthropology. The latter skills allow me to work effectively to the tight deadlines of days or weeks demanded within development settings. The former enables me to imagine the kinds of consequences that various policy visions could have in particular settings and to interpret policy intentions in relation to local contexts with a view , in my case I hope, to trying to ensure that it is the intended beneficiaries who derive some benefit from the development spend.
Conclusions: Applying Development and Anthropology
My own practice as both anthropologist -ethnographer and social development professional demonstrates that being an anthropologist does not constrain in what other fields I apply my knowledge or acquire new competencies. As an anthropologist I can perceive the limitations of both anthropology and of social development, and comprehend the institutional structures and discourses within which each is located and the points of contact and separation. What I do in both is consciously thought out and self aware. Indeed, while some from the anthropology community will doubtless criticise my engagement in development as working for governments or making knowledge instrumental, as anthropologists we must also acknowledge that there is no anthropology outside politicised institutional settings and that what we do as ethnographers and as anthropologists is always part of some sort of political agenda, even if this rather uncomfortable fact is often unacknowledged within anthropology as within the social sciences more generally. Michel de Certeau states this position explicitly: ` The Bororos of Brazil sink slowly into their collective death, and Levi-Strauss takes his seat in the French Academy. Even if this injustice disturbs him, the facts remain unchanged. This story is ours as much as his. In this one respect (which is an index of others that are more important) , the intellectuals are still borne on the backs of the common people’ (1984: 25). There is no doubt that this injustice did disturb Levi Strauss, whose Tristes Tropiques, an account of the tragedy of what would now be called the developing world, makes his feelings plain (1973), but it drove him in a direction away from instrumental knowledge, towards an anthropology of the abstract symbolic structures and representations (Ferguson 1997: 156) . This was not an escape into pure knowledge. The kinds of cultural anthropology which privileges symbolic logics over socially determined practice itself contributed to pervasive representations about the Other as the object of Orientalist fallacies, traditional, lacking historical agency and preoccupied with the irrational as the antithesis of progress (Fabian 1983; Said 1978).
Anthropology has since moved onwards. By shifting the object of study, `scaling up’ in development speak, anthropology has come to apply its own insights to the institutional context of its production. The new anthropology and the ethnography which informs it is changing understandings of how social processes happens and the constitution of agency if different settings. It is also increasingly oriented towards an understanding of the historical production of specific forms of `Western’ knowledge. Studies of development are increasingly viewing development as a historically determined social institution as opposed to the outcome of historical process. The field of knowledge in an anthropology of development (Escobar 1991) is growing at the same time as development anthropology, for reasons outlined above, is shrinking. Although development anthropologists had argued for more engagement in policy as the means to influence in development (Gow 1993:392; Cernea 1995:348), the transformation of development into a policy machine leaves less scope for a (development) anthropology still focused on traditional anthropological issues and approaches. This is not to say there is no clear future for anthropology in development, just that as anthropology it is more likely to be as a perspective informing practice rather than as applied to development objectives.
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