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Accepted Paper:

Development at work – a theoretical approach to international development  
Caspar Swinkels (Leiden University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper proposes a renewed theoretical approach to study development from workers’ perspectives, rather than teleological ones. It argues that work and workers produce the contingencies that make development happen. It is based on a literature review on theory and ethnography of development.

Paper long abstract:

Many scholars have defined development in terms of ideologies, freedom, modernization, economic growth, quality of life, or other qualitative and quantitative aspects. Others have looked at the mechanisms and processes of development, through ethnography of development, practice theory, theories of change, macro- or micro-economic modelling, or follow the current gold standard – impact research and Randomized Control Trials. To renew ethnographic approaches and to complement these perspectives on development, this paper proposes a qualitative study of development as work and from workers’ perspectives. The goal of this approach is to understand the decisions, motivations, contingencies that define development in an everyday sense. In doing so, it attempts to counter grand narratives and the weight of ideology in development with a firm grounding in realities of workers – a world that has so far been largely overlooked.

This paper places ‘development’ in the daily work of each worker and their own experiences, decisions, as well as embeddedness in, collaboration with, and orders received from organisational layers in development projects. It adds to ethnography of aid and development, interfaces and practice theory. This allows for questions about organisational boundaries and it includes those who do work but risk to be overlooked as part of the organisation. It is based on ethnographic research with two development organisations in Uganda and it forms the theoretical foundation for an ongoing PhD project. This project uses ethnography of development, interviews and solicited diaries as a methodology.

Panel Anth36
African futures and the new boundaries of the anthropology of development and social change
  Session 2 Wednesday 31 May, 2023, -