Accepted paper:

'Deflated aspirationalism': attitudes to development in the context of chronic suffering


Emily Graham (Swinburne University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines attitudes to development in a Sri Lankan fishing village. Chronic suffering from multiple hardships, and the experience of assistance not coming when it is needed most, have led to deflated aspirations regarding the ability of development to provide a different future.

Paper long abstract:

This paper examines attitudes to development in a small fishing village on the east coast of Sri Lanka, informed by 7 months of ethnographic fieldwork. The community has experienced multiple significant hardships including poverty, natural disaster (2004 tsunami), and man-made disaster (30 years of civil war). The experience of multiple adversities has 'normalized' long-term suffering. This research engages with the idea of chronic suffering as a context which shapes the way development, social change and the state are imagined. Generally, people in the case study accepted their own suffering, but aspired to give their children and grandchildren a life free from suffering. Most were pessimistic about achieving these aspirations, and did not expect the suffering to end. This view was informed by experiences of the state and NGOs not helping during the hardest times. The village experienced significant disaster relief post-tsunami, and has had many ongoing development projects since 2004. Some of these have made a tangible difference to quality of life, yet faith in development has been deflated. The view persists that while development projects are welcome, they are not a pathway to a different future. Based on the attitudes of people in this case study, conclusions will be drawn about chronic suffering as a context which fosters deflated aspirations for development.

panel P42
Modernization 2.0: new directions in the anthropology of development