Accepted paper:

Studying a rural development project in Ethiopia in the 1990s and early 2000s: the value of historical methods


Justin Williams (University of Birmingham)

Paper short abstract:

This paper will present ongoing research into a large rural development project implemented by a German NGO in Ethiopia from 1992-2007. It will seek to outline the particular contribution that historical methods can make towards a better understanding of development projects and their consequences.

Paper long abstract:

Enquiries into the afterlife of development projects have the potential to contribute, on the one hand, to critical scholarly debates on development and its hegemonising effects, and on the other, to development agencies' interest in the long term 'impact' and 'sustainability' of their work. But there is little consensus on the best methodology(ies) for studying projects in the recent past. There appears to be a gulf between aid evaluators' methods, which foreground supposedly 'objective', often quantitative data, and critical scholarly approaches, which emphasise particular theoretical frameworks of interpretation and the subjective understandings of individual actors. This paper will engage with these debates in presenting ongoing research into a single development intervention: the Merhabete Integrated Rural Development Project, implemented by the German NGO Menschen für Menschen in one woreda (district) of Amhara Region, Ethiopia, between 1992 and 2007. The paper will make a case for historical methods which can integrate critical theoretical insights and subjective understandings into a broadly empirical account. Careful use of archives, combined with oral history material gathered from different actors - NGO staff, drivers, security guards, migrants, government officials, and the range of men and women who lived in the woreda during project implementation - have the potential to provide a rich, textured and detailed picture of a development project, and the different understandings of its long-term consequences.

panel Econ03
The afterlife of development