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This panel will bring together researchers who are engaging with questions of power and agency in development practice, in order to promote scholarly exchange about the different methodological, conceptual and analytical approaches that can be applied in research of this kind.
There has been extensive research on how aid and development practices can be harmful to local institutions and decision-making processes, as well as increasing calls to 'localise' development and shift power to local actors. There has been less rigorous examination of how problematic power differentials in development might be overcome, in order to enhance 'local agency'. In the studies and policy responses that do exist, there are also multiple views on what constitutes 'local agency', and how it can be measured. For instance, the 'partnership' agenda, which arose in the late 1990s, has been widely critiqued for its narrow and technocratic interpretation of 'ownership'. This has led to increasing efforts to understand the political dimensions of ownership expressed, for instance, in concepts of 'developmental leadership' and 'politically smart, locally led' aid.
This panel welcomes papers that explore questions of power and agency in donor funded programmes and development practice more broadly. It will address:
1) different approaches to conceptualising and theorising power and agency in research on development practice;
2) questions of language and discourse (e.g. what is the role of language in outcomes of relative power?)
3) whose perspectives do we encounter, or risk prioritising, when we make decisions about methods and approaches (e.g. data collection; units of analysis)?
4) the role of the researcher: how does the researcher encounter and affect power relations in the practice of development research?
The panel will aim to strengthen efforts to explore how local agency can be understood, facilitated and advanced in development thinking and practice.