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Accepted Paper:

Responsibility, observer / activist dilemmas and the hazards of institutionalisation  
Donald Curtis (University of Birmingham)

Paper short abstract:

Reflections on a journey through 'how does it work' / 'how could it be made to work better' conundrums as anthropologist consultant, finding light in the contrasting methodological approaches of Elinor Ostrom and Mary Douglas, seeking to avoid the despondency of inaction.

Paper long abstract:

'Anthropology at the Margins of Other People's Earnestness'; my alternative title. The need for radical change toward sustainable practices in states, corporations, banks et al is now a given. Anthropology can best contribute, I suspect, in the many places where powerholders, in their interactions, confront ideational gaps and contradictions. I expect no grand theory, but find hope in anthropology's grounded but engaged, empathetic but critical methods, like; 'being there', expecting plural agency, acknowledging 'other' values and understandings, within a holistic perspective.

My paper draws upon a career as an academy-based consultant in Third World 'development'. In this field [as others] responsibility entails morally obliged thinking and action within complex inter-state as well as inter and intra agency institutions. Such institutions, of course, have codes and constructs constituted for purposive social action that become fields of interest politics and power play. It is a field of contradictions - I proffer examples - in which a consultant's interstitial position can provide alternate insights and room for manoeuvre.

Third world development has had an implicit, if not explicit modernisation agenda, in which moral goals [such as MDGs] are set and constrained within a neo-liberal framework that gives priority to capital, market forces and constant growth, with the elusive alure of 'high mass consumption'. It is a failed formula that perpetuates unsustainability. The environmental crisis now puts all peoples and nations 'in the same boat', opening the potential for more equitable visions and strategies but also for blame games and conflicts.

Panel Irre11
Humanitarian and development intervention: ethics and responsibility
  Session 1 Tuesday 30 March, 2021, -