Thinking through aid objects to open up development [paper]

Astrid Jamar (The Open University )
Stephanie Hobbis (Wageningen University)
Interrogating development through stories and experiences
Library, Seminar Room 1
Wednesday 19 June, 17:30-19:00

Short abstract:

This panel critically thinks through the role of aid objects such as billboards, pamphlets, policy documents, humanitarian kits or medicines in development and asks how an analytical focus on aid objects allows for rethinking knowledge hierarchies and power differentials.

Long abstract:

Building on recent trends in anthropological theory that emphasize the analytical benefits of Thinking through Things (Henare, Holbraad and Wastell 2006; also Latour 1992; Escobar 2018) this panel seeks to think through "aid objects" to open up new perspectives on development. This artefact-oriented approach highlights how interactions between humans and non-humans shape development and, crucially, how gaps are created between the envisioned (imagined) and eventual performance of aid objects and associated programmes. Lisa Smirl and others already demonstrated how this approach reveals the unintended effects of "hidden aid objects" (e.g. hotels and SUVs) that primarily serve to facilitate the work of development professionals. In comparison, we are especially (but not solely) interested in "hyper-visible aid objects" such as billboards, pamphlets, posters, policy documents, humanitarian kits, tents and even seeds and medicines, artefacts that are explicitly designed to achieve development goals and/or to advertise the contributions of donors. Despite, or perhaps because of, their hyper-visible omnipresence, the material turn in development has largely overlooked these artefacts. We invite papers that (1) take these aid objects seriously by examining "how they present themselves, rather than immediate assuming that they signify, represent, or stand for something else" (Henare, Holbraad and Wastell 2006, 3), that (2) address processes through which development professionals and/or alleged 'beneficiaries' envision and uses these objects; (3) that discuss what this means for knowledge production, dissemination and hierarchies in development. How can thinking through aid objects open up new venues for de-colonizing and addressing power inequalities in development theory and practice?