- Richard Vokes (University of Western Australia) email
- Jonathan Fox (University of Adelaide) email
- Gertrude Atukunda (National Agricultural Research Organisation) email
Development is always and everywhere an aspirational process. Against an image of development as a gradual process come increasingly extravagant ideas about what development may achieve, and how quickly. This panel explores the origins and effects of 'inflated aspirationalism' in everyday lives.
Development is always and everywhere an aspirational process. However, in recent years, it has become increasingly marked by an 'inflated aspirationalism'. Against a long-standing image of development as a process of incremental, and gradual change, official bodies are increasingly perceiving it as a mechanism for achieving radical economic, social and even political transformations, over ever-tighter timeframes. The drivers of this new aspirationalism are various, but include the vast amounts of new soft loans, and other 'cheap debt', that now enable governments, particularly throughout the developing world, to embark upon major programmes of investment in education, health, housing, industry, and (especially) infrastructure - all of which more or less explicitly aim to achieve rapid economic 'take-off', accelerated social 'uplift', and sometimes even instant political 'disruption'. At the same time, and serving to further raise expectations over what these programmes might achieve, are the offerings by these same governments, of futuristic - at times fantastical - images within all manner of political advertising (from billboards to brochures, and newspaper advertising). The aim of this panel is to explore - through detailed ethnographic studies, from all over the world - both the origins and effects of this inflated aspirationalism. We are particularly interested in how ordinary people relate to it, and what effects it has on their engagement with the state, their perceptions of social change, and their imaginaries of the future.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Roads to the future: infrastructure and development in south-western Uganda
Recently, the Government of Uganda has embarked a major road building programme, as part of its wider economic aspirations. For people living alongside these construction projects, imaginaries of utopian futures must be squared with their experiences of social, political and demographic disruptions.
Recently, the Government of Uganda has embarked on the largest road building programme in the country's history. Among the 8000km of new highways being constructed is the world's most expensive road: the Kampala-Entebbe expressway. For the government, this public works programme is justified in terms of its wider economic aspirations for Uganda to achieve middle-income status by 2020, and to eventually become 'the Dubai of Africa'. Following a major programme of political advertising, such economic aspirationalism has become almost infectious among the population. However, as our multi-year ethnographic study of one of the country's largest highway projects - the Mbarara-Kabale Road (MKR), in South-western Uganda - shows, for people living alongside these construction projects, their experiences are more often characterised by social, political, and demographic disruptions. For these people, official aspirationalism may be also tempered by social memory. After all, it was along the very thoroughfare on which the new MKR sits that in the past: criminal gangs have mobilized; armies have marched and met in battle; and the HIV/AIDS epidemic travelled to the rest of East Africa. The main aim of this paper is to explore how people work out these contradictions. It will show that one response has been for people to form collectives to build their own 'roads'. The practices of these collectives in some ways mirror those of the national highway schemes. Yet in other respects, they organize economic, social and political relations, and engage social memory, on their own terms.
Engaging Africa's infrastructure boom
This paper engages Africa's infrastructure boom as not simply an object of critical analysis, but instead involved in shaping the production of its own literature.
This paper seeks to critically engage Africa's infrastructure boom as not simply an object of critical analysis, but instead involved in shaping the production of its own literature. Focusing on the ostensive political and material conditions that surround infrastructure projects, this paper provides a first-pass categorisation of those ostensive conditions which are influencing what gets written about Africa's infrastructure boom. It considers the way in which infrastructure works favour access to certain types of data at the expense of others, the difficulties in conducting research over long distances and across sovereign borders, and some of the institutional challenges which come from more familiar spaces, such as research institutions, funding bodies and permit offices. The ability of infrastructure projects to transgress multiple boundaries, brings sharply into focus some of the blunter edges of our approaches to projects of new scale and complexity. The aim of this paper is to make explicit some of these factors, and to approach them anew; no longer simply getting in the way of our access to the real "subject at hand", but instead, intrinsically part of the parcel of contemporary infrastructure works and therefore in need of focused and critical attention.
Inflated aspirations: innovation as development and new articulations of entrepreneurialism
Innovation is emerging as a new development paradigm, indexing Silicon Valley start ups and disruptive technologies. Innovation is imprecise and experimental. It lacks the routine practices of prior entrepreneurial models like microfinance. This paper explores the dawn of innovation in the Pacific.
"Innovation" is emerging as a new development "buzzword" (Cornwall and Eade 2010), indexing Silicon Valley "start ups" and particular technologies, like Blockchain. Looking to capitalise on "disruptive" visions of the future, development as "innovation" is imprecise and experimental. It lacks the routine programmable practices of earlier entrepreneurial paradigms such as microfinance, even as it shares the ethic of entrepreneurialism and the attendant practices of self-making. Here, however, kin, community and other personal connections are not turned into "social collateral" (Schuster 2015) but the would-be entrepreneur is introduced to a network of innovation that is global in its orientation and focused on technological problem solving, or simply the deployment of high-tech motifs.
The state's role in fostering innovation is more that of a venture capitalist than the classic neoliberal regulator of enabling conditions and guardian of property rights. This paper explores the introduction of "innovation" as a new development paradigm in the Pacific region, drawing on preliminary observations of development programming and Australian aid and other government, university and NGO policy documents.
The flip side of development aspiration: deficit discourse in Australian Indigenous policy
This paper explores the dialectic between deficit discourse and development aspiration in the Australian Indigenous policy arena.
A language of lack - deficit, absence, problems - pervades the policy environment of Australian Indigenous development. Such discourse is always produced in relation to aspiration - aspirations state institutions hold for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, and aspirations such institutions assume Indigenous people ought to nurture for themselves. But what relationship do either have to aspirations Indigenous Australians actually hold? With particular reference to the education section, this paper probes the relationship between deficit discourse and development aspiration: how they co-produce one another, the extent to which they provide leeway for varied cultural perspectives of the good life, and how they resonate with, and contribute to shaping, Indigenous understandings of self.
Industrialization and the making of 'modern' Bangladesh: history and future
The 'global capital', which started come to Bangladesh through garment industries during 1980s, initiated a process of 'accumulation by dispossession'. However, the workers, which disproportionately include women and migrants, continuously navigate their livelihood options for a 'imagined future'.
The garment industry in Bangladesh has created massive employment opportunities and more than 4 million workers are working in about 4500 garment factories (national and multinational). Since mid-1980s, Bangladesh has been trying to develop 'a good business climate' to foster step towards 'modernity'. Hence, government policies informed by notions of 'neoliberalism', 'globalization', 'modernity' (shaped by World Bank and IMF) has been influential for the significant growth of export-oriented industrialization through garment sector during the past decades. The success and rapid growth of the Ready-made Garment (RMG) industry is exemplified from the fact that apparel was 4 percent of the total merchandise exported in 1983-84 whereas it was almost 80 percent in 2015-16. From the perspective of the industrial workers, I have explored the role of garment industries to the development of wage labour and reveal socio-economic effects that 'modern industry work' has had on the workers. Based on ethnographic information, I argue that the 'geographical mobility of capital' at the global level, which started come to Bangladesh during 1980s, initiated a process of 'accumulation by dispossession'. Besides, oligarchic business corporations use and override state and international polices to exploit the labour. I hold that the process of accumulation, working class formation and proletarianization have created an 'inside-outside' dialectic in the existing form of neoliberal capitalism in Bangladesh. However, amidst rapid change and rupture of existing social systems, the workers of the export oriented garment factories, which disproportionately include women and migrants, continuously navigate their livelihood options for an 'imagined future'.
'Deflated aspirationalism': attitudes to development in the context of chronic suffering
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.
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.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.