(University of East London/ Independent researcher)
Paper Short Abstract:
Transcending the altruism-egotism binary, a psychosocial approach allows for the interrogation of both social relations and the emotional investments at stake. This paper illuminates the 'structures of feeling' at play as development workers negotiate the complexities inherent in their work.
Paper long abstract:
Previous research on the personnel of development has revealed a host of ethical, moral and political dilemmas, contradictions and paradoxes associated with aid work, although the literature has been disproportionately focused on experience of workers from the global North.
My psychosocial, life-history research with 24 English-speaking Bangladeshi development workers, sought to understand how 'national' professionals negotiate the complex demands of working for progressive social change and the resources they draw upon to do so. This psychosocial approach, informed by psychoanalysis, transcends the usual altruism-egotism binary to better understand human actions, impulses and influences; and allows for the interrogation of both social relations and the emotional investments at stake, illuminating the 'structures of feeling' at play.
The study found a stratum of reflexive and highly committed workers and social activists who drew heavily on biographical resources and narratives of personal development to help manage the everyday dilemmas and contradictions, albeit at some cost. In the context of constraining classed and gendered subjective identities and objective structures of governance, the women in particular were struggling for empowerment and opportunity both inside and outside the workplace; operating within an 'affective patriarchal bargain' despite the equalities discourse espoused by their NGO employers.
I argue that the significance of family and kin, and wider identifications, compete with the individualized, rational-choice framings of a neo-liberal development paradigm; and suggest that a social relations-based model of development governed by an 'ethic of care' can serve as an alternative to the dominant three-sector development paradigm.
National development experts and professionals: under-researched yet important actors in development