SOAS University of London

What's the use of anthropology to international development?

Professor David Mosse

Date: 18 January 2008Time: 5:30 PM

Finishes: 18 January 2008Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery Room: Lecture Theatre

Type of Event: Inaugural Lecture

Chair: Professor John Harriss, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver

Professor Paul Webley, Director and Principal of SOAS, will preside.

In his inaugural lecture Professor David Mosse will discuss the use of anthropology to international development.

Anthropologists have a reputation for being sceptical of the claims of international development agencies to improve the conditions of other peoples. Some even believe that claims to improve actually disguise governmental ambitions (national or international) to discipline, control and incorporate ‘dangerous borderlands’ into global capitalism. Many at least consider that ‘the position of critic and programmer are properly distinct’ (Li 2007). Departing from this sceptical view, the lecture aims to rehabilitate anthropology in development, not so much as an expert field building social or indigenous knowledge into policy prescription, but as a certain way of constructing and analysing problems and reflecting on the wider social and cultural context of development, critically engaging with the dilemmas of power and knowledge that shape the aid system (Eyben 2007), and placing both programmes and policy making back into fields of social relations. What this offers is not just research knowledge on development problems, new policy recommendations or a better tracking of results, but an understanding of the very uncertain link between intention and outcome; and a better understanding within development agencies of how they think and what their action does. In other words, anthropology can open up a reflexive capacity that is essential to international aid organisations’ effectiveness in achieving their goals of poverty reduction or greater social justice. As in most anthropological practice, insights come from combining the experience of insider participation with the detachment of an outsider; from crossing and re-crossing boundaries between insider operation and outsider researcher positions. But the lecture will also explain the problems that arise between anthropology as a descriptive-interpretive discipline and the policy worlds with which it engages, and will conclude that there is a very real tension (if not a direct contradiction) between the knowledge and critical insights that anthropologists can offer, and the manner in which the discipline is currently institutionalised within development agencies.

The event will be followed by a reception.

Organiser: SOAS

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