Accepted paper:

Humanising Industrialisation? Japanese productivity methods, Ethiopian factories and the changing face of foreign aid


Elsje Fourie (University of Maastricht)

Paper short abstract:

This paper asks whether a middle ground between human development and newer, growth-oriented development approaches can be achieved; it does this by qualitatively analysing the recent widespread transfer of Japanese industrial productivity techniques to factories across Ethiopia.

Paper long abstract:

Foreign development assistance today stands at a critical juncture. Many of social and 'bottom-up' concerns that have for two decades underpinned the human development paradigm remain central, while the more recent rise of China and other new development 'partners' has reintroduced macro-economic and 'top-down' priorities such as industrial policy and economic growth to the agenda. This paper asks whether a middle ground between these two extremes can be achieved through a qualitative analysis of a critical case: the widespread transfer of Japanese industrial productivity techniques to factories and other workplaces across Ethiopia. These techniques (known as kaizen) share with the human development approach an emphasis on grassroots participation and the practical knowledge of ordinary people, but direct these towards more modernist ends such as the application of scientific rationality to the workplace. In this way, I argue, their transfer embodies 'low modernism', a concept that has recently been introduced by historians to contrast with Scott's (1998) seminal 'high modernism'. This allows for a new understanding of how human agents make sense of the contradictions and creative potentials that arise from the merging of two hitherto distinctive ways of approaching development. The examination of African kaizen through a low modernist lens adds nuance both to those theories that view human and economic development as fundamentally irreconcilable, and those that view this policy convergence as wholly unproblematic. Finally it sheds light on the potential of external interventions to support industrialization without sacrificing social development or political empowerment.

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