As an anthropologist working at the intersection of anthropology and development studies I sometimes undertake work for development organizations. The kind of work I do does not fall into the category of applied anthropology or the work of cultural translation. Most often I’m asked to provide, in written form, a rapid analytical overview of an issue or situation in relation to a pressing policy objective. What counts as a situation or an issue is determined by the political context and policy framing which makes it relevant at a particular moment.
Such work can be challenging, personally and politically. Current development paradigms which fetishize market forces and the unfettered private sector as an engine for positive social transformation are laying the foundations that consolidate the entrenchment of new kinds of inequalities on an unprecedented scale. At the same time, financial transfers from richer countries to poorer ones provide much needed subsidies for improved public provision of essential basic services. Understanding where policies have traction, and for whom, is a critical part of the contested politics of development practice, within and between development organizations. Continue reading →
The title of this piece comes from a conversation I had with a senior unelected official for the city of Maseru, the capital of Lesotho. As he described the planned sprawling 18-hole golf course in a village on the outskirts of town, I asked him what would happen to the poor people who currently used the land for small-scale agriculture. “The city is no place for poor people!” he told me. His perspective, in direct conflict with discourses of international development, demonstrates a key tension between the objectives of poverty reduction and economic growth.
My dissertation project investigates that tension via the logics and impacts of a major land reform project in Lesotho. My presentation at the AAG meeting in Chicago will focus specifically on the uses of mapping and other technologies in Lesotho’s land reform, while other elements of my work focus on gender and authority. For this piece, however, I want to talk about my project more broadly to investigate what “development” means in the context of Lesotho’s land.
Land Act 2010 is the centerpiece of legislation that sets the rules for land reform in Lesotho. Together with several other laws, the Land Act set out to make land a more legible and exchangeable resource. The biggest element of the law was that it eliminated customary tenure in urban areas and instead mandated leaseholds (de facto titles). As the government minister responsible for the execution of the law phrased it, “The current land reform program in Lesotho is driven by the desire to achieve social growth and development on the one hand and economic growth and development on the other” (Sekatle 2010). The text of Land Act 2010 is nearly identical to its predecessor, but Land Act 1979 failed to successfully disempower customary authorities in land matters.
The reason Land Act 2010 has been successfully implemented is that a $363 million grant from the U.S.’s new development wing, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), provided the funding to measure, map, adjudicate and deliver the leaseholds that the law requires. In 1979 these expensive logistics were left to individual landholders. Together with wording that removes land allocation power from unelected local chiefs, who were seen as potentially capricious and unsanctionable by their constituents, Land Act 2010 successfully moved urban land tenure to the hands of the market. The goal of making Lesotho’s land an engine of economic growth is consistent with other MCC projects and with the MCC motto – “Poverty reduction through economic growth.” How this market-led land reform works toward economic growth is clear. However, its work toward the goal of poverty reduction is murkier.
The questions I have asked about this reform are rooted in a framework of access. In short, vulnerable people have been granted the right to benefit from their land, but have they been granted the ability to benefit? (Ribot & Peluso 2003). What my work demonstrates is that legal frameworks are necessary but insufficient to provide true land access to vulnerable land users. It is the institutions that govern the execution and application of the laws that are most important. They are the ones who can determine who truly benefits. In Lesotho, the beneficiaries of land reform do not appear to be the poor and vulnerable people said to be targeted by the MCC’s development plans.
That leads to a final point: who are the true beneficiaries of Lesotho’s Land Act 2010 if not the vulnerable people ostensibly targeted? In my research village, two real estate developers are reaping the benefits of secure and exchangeable land tenure. One is building the aforementioned par-71 golf course on half of the village’s former agricultural fields, the other is building a 700-home suburban development on the other half of the fields. Two things are notable about this. First, these developers are empowered by bureaucrats, who are able to influence the votes of the elected officials who are supposed to determine land allocation. The bureaucrats are, like the chiefs before them, unelected officials who can be capricious or corrupt with little ability for public sanction. Second, discourses of “development” that privilege economic growth as the driver of poverty reduction need to be more explicit in how poverty reduction will happen. All the good intentions in the world have not kept economic growth at my research site from trampling on the land access of the poor.
If a development project is to be truly pro-poor, the poor need to truly be at the forefront of planning and execution. These concerns are hardly academic: the MCC is planning a second grant for Lesotho, and their initial plan identifies “Poor land management and allocation systems” as a “binding constraint to economic growth” in Lesotho. A further U.S.-led redefinition of the social relations that govern land access may lie ahead. Poverty reduction and economic growth are very different things. To truly reduce poverty, institutions and development agencies must target reforms and projects that directly help poor people rather than waiting for the fruits of trickle down to accrue to the poor. Trickle down development like Lesotho’s can create a situation where security of land tenure is for golf courses, not the vulnerable, and the city is truly not a place for poor people.
It’s mid-day in Cabo Pulmo. October, 2012. The heat is well on its way. I just finished a late breakfast at a small local restaurant called “El Caballero.” Huevos rancheros, juice, coffee, beans, tortillas. I’m talking with Lorenzo*, who has lived in Cabo Pulmo for more than a decade. He tells me more about the story of Meri Montaño, as he heard it from one of the primary founding members of the community. According to this elder, Lorenzo tells me, Meri had a massive amount of land, many heads of cattle and lots of money. She was rich. Meri adopted him, the elder explained to Lorenzo, and eventually gave him everything when she died. This story — about Meri giving all of her land to this particular patriarch—is one of the primary versions of history that gets told about Cabo Pulmo. There are other, competing versions of community history as well.
Lorenzo continues with his version. This elder had no idea the land would become valuable one day, so he sold it piece by piece, often without papers. Some also say he gambled it away. According to one anthropologist who worked in the community in the early 2000s (see Weiant 2005), the land was informally sold, traded, gifted, and passed around for decades. These practices led to an incredibly complex and confusing land tenure situation, which worsened in the early 1970s when the Mexican government tried to clarify and formalize land titles in preparation for impending tourism and real estate development. This transformation from informal to formal tenure systems led to decades of conflict. Continue reading →
November 2012. I’m at a community meeting in Cabo Pulmo, Baja California Sur, Mexico. It’s a gathering that includes members of the community of Cabo Pulmo, scientists, economists, planners, representatives from national and international NGOs, residents from surrounding communities, and development experts. The subject: the future of Cabo Pulmo and the East Cape. The problem: mass tourism development is slowly encroaching on the region. While the East Cape remains relatively undeveloped at present, this won’t last for long. Development is coming.
Only a few months before, Cabo Pulmo and its allies celebrated when “Cabo Cortes,” a massive tourism development project that was proposed for the region, was cancelled by former president Felipe Calderon (on national TV no less). Calderon cited environmental concerns as one of the primary reasons why he 86-ed the project (and left the presidency with a nice “green” feather in his cap to boot). The project plans for Cabo Cortes included approximately 30,000 rooms, a marina, residential units, multiple hotels, a separate community for workers, and multiple golf courses. It was, effectively, a plan to build a new tourism city in a region where the largest population is approximately 5,000 people. Cabo Cortes was the epitome of the kind of development that has dominated in Mexico for decades: big, fast, and profitable, with a long tail of problems that nobody wants to deal with over the long haul. Places like Cancun and Los Cabos exemplify this type of rapid, mass-tourism development that looks wonderful from the national level and often disastrous at the local community level (see, for example, M. Bianet Castellanos’s book Return to Servitude). Continue reading →
Afghanistan’s upcoming elections have received a lot of coverage here in the United States, and all over the world. But did you know that one of the leading candidates, Ashraf Ghani, is an anthropologist?
Ryan’s recent post on money and its flows and blocks prompts me to post this, something I wrote a few weeks ago in response to a request from colleagues in Leiden for their ICA magazine, which is published by study association Itiwana of the department of cultural anthropology and development. After my post on brands and the UK riots they thought I could write something about brands. Being in Tanzania which is buzzing with money talk, prompted in part by its new status as a destination for mining and gas companies in the current natural resource rush, I wrote instead about how development is being re-branded.
The 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals is fast approaching. Few countries in Africa are expected to meet the targets. Income poverty, food insecurity, rising inequality and poor health remain problems for the most of the continent. Despite shifts towards democratic politics in many countries, civil conflict and political instability are entrenched in others as legacies of colonial state building and post independence power struggles. Such conflicts, as in Mali and the Sudans, are fueled by the rising value of resources associated with particular regions within a global market that is revaluing Africa as a potential source of minerals, gas and oil and as a high growth location with an expanding middle class.
Annual growth rates for African economies have averaged six or seven percent for much of the decade. The extent to which growth is a consequence of political stability and sound macroeconomic management is open to question. A more pressing explanation for the recent transformation in Africa’s economic fortune is the global increase in demand for its natural resources enabled by regimes of economic management which are increasingly open to foreign investment and partnerships.
This continental push to promote the commercialization of what can be claimed as `natural’ resources within a context of on-going economic liberalization is legitimating an emerging discourse about the wealth of African nations and the urgent need for investment as the magic bullet which can liberate this capital and create national prosperity. The regionalization agenda which fosters economic integration is aggressively promoted by governments and donors, along with initiatives aimed at strengthening property rights, enabling foreign direct investment and transforming communications infrastructure.
China’s new position as the potential economic savior of a continent signals fundamental shifts in the political ordering of international development. The poverty discourse central to the MDGs and, arguably, to the constitution of countries in sub Saharan Africa as fitting subjects of development intervention is increasingly contested, not only by politicians and media commentators across the continent, but by an authoritative cadre of technical experts promoting market led development. Development is being re-imagined not as a consequence of social sector spending but as an effect of marketization.
States across the continent are seeking to present themselves as entrepreneurial and investment friendly. Tanzania is no exception. Like Uganda, it has practically shifted the orientation of its poverty reduction strategy towards economic growth. The government of President Jakaya Kikwete, now in its second term, is pursuing a policy of Kilimo Kwanza, farming first, seeking to marketize agriculture and to promote `a green revolution’ with the support of major donors including the World Bank. While the country continues to rely on donor support for around thirty percent of its national budget, rationales for intervention are now situated within a discursive package that is market led. Donor funded workshops buzz with talk of value chains and market information.
The more conventional investments in the social infrastructure of schools and health facilities financed by the Tanzania Social Action Fund have been superseded by what are designed to be income generating investments for farmer groups to enhance their own livelihoods. Phase Three of this program, shortly to be implemented, is structured around an assumed transformation from indigence to entrepreneurship, enabling self reliance through savings and micro finance as the poorest get, in a phrase equally at home in US discourses of welfare reform, `a hand up not a hand out’.
The aspirations of private sector advocates, within and outside government, increasingly converge with the policy positions of development partners as development is re-branded globally to occupy a new market position. In Tanzania, as elsewhere, financialization, as means and end, plays a central role in this convergence. International accounting firms fight for market share of development implementation within extended contracting chains that conflate financial and political accountability. Civil society organizations are brought into being to play specific roles in monitoring public expenditure, along with new organizational forms and participatory practices. Public expenditure tracking, known as PETS, has a set of methods into which civil society volunteers must be enrolled through seminars and allowances. Techniques equally at home in the world of market research comprising score cards and surveys come to have political clout as modalities through which dissatisfaction with government can be articulated.
Outside these transient relations held tenuously in place through development funding streams, a range of private institutions are seeking to establish the architecture through which the financialization of Tanzanian social life is possible. The limited reach of existing banking infrastructure and the Savings and Credit Co-operative Societies creates potential opportunities for new kinds of financial institutions. These include private financial institutions providing loans to formal sector workers, specialist microfinance lenders such as Pride, and the money transfer services provided by mobile telephone companies, of which the market leader is Vodacom’s Mpesa. The proliferation of formal and informal financial services, and those which straddle this divide, is staggering.
Savings and loan groups are rapidly proliferating in both urban and rural areas, notably those organized on the Village Savings and Loan model promoted by the NGO Care International. These groups consisting of around thirty members are a fascinating organizational form, using strategies of ritualization and formalization to ensure regularity of savings and financial transparency in a group structure where all transactions take place at weekly meetings and hence in public. Group members buy weekly shares up to a limit of five intended to ensure that large profits cannot be made and to restrict the exploitative potential of the better off making money from lending to their poorer neighbors. Savers lend to members of the group at a rate of interest designed to increase the value of the savings share.
Groups operate on an annual cycle after which accumulated interest is divided among members according the value of their purchased shares.These `care groups’ as they have come to be known in some districts are wildly popular because they allow people to borrow money at limited rates of interest, particularly useful in helping meet big expenses such as school fees, funeral contributions and hospital costs. They also provide a predictable return on savings, depending on the extent of borrowing within the group. An additional weekly contribution functions as a kind of social insurance for group members who are paid a sum of money should they fall sick or lose a close family member.
These kinds of groups are heralded by promoters as a locally available form of micro financial institution serving the previously excluded, a social institution for the promotion of fiscal responsibility and the discipline of saving not so much as an end in itself but as the precursor to enterprise. Savings groups thus conceived may indeed be foundational to a new culture of economic change. They also enable a range of distinct practices which support radically different cultures of economic practice, cultures which simultaneously promote and obstruct the aspirations of Tanzania’s economic transformation.
In Ulanga district, Southern Tanzania, where I have been doing some fieldwork, a large number of `care groups’ have been established over the past two years, with the majority now entering their second savings and loans cycle. Despite the core organizational template which specifies numbers of members and the management structure, the practice of groups varies widely, even within the same geographical area. In addition to variations in the value of shares purchased and the timing and duration of loans, some groups insist on compulsory borrowing as well as saving as a condition of membership as a means of increasing the value of savings for all the members of the group. Many groups also insist that members purchase necessities like laundry soap from the group at a price which is the same as or higher than market prices in order to increase group profit and hence the value of the shares which are divided at the end of the cycle.
Borrowing is socially construed as an emergency response to hardship but valued as the means of increasing savings. In this enactment of savings and loans the group itself is the enterprise and saving framed as entrepreneurial activity which generates a return for individual members. The income generating strategies of group members focus on gathering sufficient cash to make savings, in actuality purchasing regular shares, because this is likely to accumulate more value than alternative forms of enterprise, including agricultural investment. Participating in `care groups’, for people with cash to make regular contributions, is fast becoming a recognized means of making money make money. Consequently, traders and middle income people in the villages close to the district capital are joining multiple groups, allowing them to them to escape the limitation on share purchase within a single group and to access the kinds of loan amounts which can yield profitable returns.
That money generates money though such practices does not equate to the kind of financialization envisaged by the architects of Tanzania’s new development order, a world premised on depersonalized economic action within a market frame. `Care groups’ in performing the social relations through which money begets money, via shares invested by group members and the interest they pay on loans , permit individual profit so long as costs are shared to some extent by members of the group. Organized around distrust rather than trust groups rely on the visibility of transactions made in public and the simple technology of the specially constructed cash with three separate locks for which separate keys are distributed among ordinary members. Such practices make explicit the social labor required to make money do savings work and the essential embedding of money within social relations. It is this embedding which accounts for the success of mobile money services in much of Africa rather than mobile banking- what people are interested in is the capacity to transfer money between situated persons not the potential of investing money in abstract institutions.
Political emphasis on accountability dovetails with cultural preoccupations around relations and money , articulated as concerns with the illicit appropriation and consumption of public resources which are highly personalized. The organizational structure of `care groups’ taps into fundamental cultural concerns about groups and individuals, collective responsibility, equity and enrichment in ways that permit adaptation to support core ideals. As anthropology consistently demonstrates, values rather than value are foundational to understanding economic practice in any context. This is not a matter of resistance to global capitalism or neo-liberal economics so much as an assertion of what values count.
Places all around the world are being transformed, restructured, and reinvented to appeal to the international tourism market. Developers, politicians, bankers, investors, hoteliers, and entrepreneurs contribute to reformulating places according to the wants, needs, expectations, desires, and hopes of a global mass of travelers who have the time (and money) to hop scotch around the planet in search of experiences. The question, though, is this: Who benefits from all these changes? Do these new tourist places really only benefit powerful politicians, developers, and investors? Or do they serve society* in some larger sense? Continue reading →
I have always been pretty fascinated by the life histories of tourism destinations. Thinking about touristic spaces in a kind of archaeological sense–that is, over greater periods of time–is endlessly fascinating. I often wonder about the future of places like Las Vegas, Cancun, and Nakheel, especially since many international organizations (like the UNWTO) promote tourism development as a sustainable, surefire solution for socio-economic development. What will Vegas–or Cancun–look like in 100 years? What purpose will these places serve, and how sustainable will they actually be in the long run?
Many countries around the world continue to promote and finance ever more tourism development, in hopes that these investments will create long-lasting social and economic benefits. At least, that’s how the narrative goes. But what kinds of social spaces and places are being created under the guise of tourism, and what futures do these places face? What are the lasting social, political, and economic effects of these spaces? For a little insight, I am going to discuss a few tourist destinations that I have read about recently: Elmina, Ghana, Prora, Germany, and finally Acapulco, Mexico. Continue reading →
Via the Global Poverty blog (where you’ll see our own Dustin Wax has left the first comment), comes news of Worldwise development, a website which “aims to facilitate collaboration between development practitioners and anthropologists.” As they explain:
We believe that anthropologists have a lot to contribute to development work, but that their knowledge and skills are still underrepresented within the industry. The demand for anthropological expertise is growing, but links between the two fields are still weak. While an informal network faciliates collaboration between a small number of anthropologists and development practitioners, most anthropologists are still out of the reach of development agencies, especially academics and those currently conducting field research.
We aim to address these issues with two tools; an interactive map and a discussion forum. We envisage that the interactive map will formalise collaboration between anthropologists and development practitioners. Meanwhile the discussion forum will provide space for both anthropologists and development practitioners to debate the role of anthropology in development. By joining worldwise development you can be involved in shaping how anthropologists collaborate with development practitioners.
Seems like a great idea! I hope it succeeds in its goal. (NOTE: The website is not yet fully active. Right now it is just an announcement of what they plan to do after launch.) But even more than that, this is exactly the kind of thing I have long been arguing the AAA should be doing on-and-off the web…
With Seeing Culture Everywhere behind us and Joana busy with Betterplace, we have been working together less than usual, but we do have plans. The shared denominator of our current interests is “development,” obviously a key term in Joana’s work with Betterplace and one that has been of increasing interest to Pal as Chinese migrants overseas — a subject he has been working on for nearly two decades — are increasingly involved in massive infrastructural projects or are otherwise transforming livelihoods and aspirations in poor countries.
A few years ago we already did some very modest research on the absence of development: why a road is not being built to link China and Russia across the Altai, despite all economic rationality. Now Pal wants to do some more substantial fieldwork in one of the numerous places — from Laos to Peru — that are being changed by Chinese-built roads or dams,Chinese traders, casinos, clinics, or factories. Despite all the hype that surrounds China’s “development export,” there is very little understanding of how it is actually impacts people’s lives and ways of thinking. Yet, as we wrote in an earlier post, both the capital and the faith in development that Chinese migrants bring to these places is already changing aspirations in ways that both agencies like the World Bank (whose lending portfolio is already smaller than that of China’s Eximbank) and participatory-development NGOs find hard to ignore. In one of the first ethnographies of the subject, Antonella Diana has shown how highland farmers in northern Laos, whose lives have long revolved around the German development organization GTZ, have converted to the prosperity gospel of Chinese rubber planters.
The subject is so interesting because it connects shifting local understandings of “the good life” in African villages to changes in World Bank decisions as well as to changing modes of sovereignty, as evidenced by the rise of modern-day concessions — large rented territories run by foreign (Chinese or other) investors who promise the local government to build model zones of development in exchange for a degree of what in essence is extraterritoriality. And while Chinese “development export” has a lot to do with the state, of no smaller interest is the sudden emergence of private donors and volunteers in China — people who adopt form of action familiar from Western “civil society” but who may have quite different (or, on the other hand, similar) ideas of what kind of lives their help should facilitate.
This is, of course, where Joana’s interests come in. Our next joint project is comparing Chinese reactions to the uses of aid after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake to Western debates about the efficiency of aid to Haiti these days. We hope to use the analysis of these (mostly online) discussions to uncover to what extent ideas of aid and of individual-state interaction differ, but if we find Chinese donors for betterplace.org in the process, Joana won’t mind.
This was supposed to be the title of one of the chapters in Seeing Culture Everywhere, except in the final proof it somehow got reduced to just “Culture,” which in a way is a more striking title. The chapter describes two types of “culture talk” in the world of development professionals: one, exemplified by Lawrence Harrison’s Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress, that sees certain national cultures as development-prone and others as development-resistant, and another, reflected in Vijayendra Rao and Michael Walton’s excellent Culture and Public Action, that takes a bottom-up ethnographic approach and emphasizes the need for understanding local cultural mechanisms while refraining from general statements. The former is a close relative of Samuel Huntington’s views, except that where Huntington is consistent (cultures cannot be changed so don’t tamper with them) Harrison is not (cultures cannot be changed, but sometimes they can, so keep trying). Of course, this tension between the idea of a national culture and the idea of individual self-realisation in spite of it goes all the back to the Enlightenment.
Exporting Paternalism A few weeks ago Kerim blogged about David Brooks’ New York Times opinion piece on Haiti, which is squarely in the Harrisonian mold: we need to go in and change their culture so they can develop. He (erroneously, we think) quotes Huntington in his support, but at least, contrary to Huntington’s infamous comparison between South Korea and Ghana (they were at the same level of development in 1960), Brooks’ argument compares Haiti to places like Barbados and the Dominican Republic, which means he operates with more specific cultural categories (which implicitly include political and social history) than Huntington’s “civilizations”.
it’s time to promote locally led paternalism. In this country, we first tried to tackle poverty by throwing money at it, just as we did abroad. Then we tried microcommunity efforts, just as we did abroad. But the programs that really work involve intrusive paternalism.
These programs, like the Harlem Children’s Zone and the No Excuses schools, are led by people who figure they don’t understand all the factors that have contributed to poverty, but they don’t care. They are going to replace parts of the local culture with a highly demanding, highly intensive culture of achievement — involving everything from new child-rearing practices to stricter schools to better job performance. It’s time to take that approach abroad, too.
Wait a minute. Sure, Brooks is a conservative commentator, but still – what? A piece in the New York Times advocating promoting locally led paternalism and exporting paternalism abroad?
China’s emergence in the development/aid field – its Eximbank is now a larger lender than the World Bank – is beginning to impact approaches in the whole field. In China, there is little patience for the kind of participatory development approach that has recently been so popular in the West (but is widely criticised as failed) and endless faith in ‘60s-style, highly interventionist development projects that combine large-scale infrastructural development with instilling a “modern work culture,” bodily discipline and all. (China is often described as differing from the West in its lack of a missionary agenda, but this is hardly true for Chinese investors; they are very like so many Henry Fords.) And this approach has appeal. People, at least some people, in Africa and Southeast Asia feel like the hopes for development that existed in the ‘60s and ‘70s have been given back to them.
So where does that leave “culture” in development? Our hunch is that its place has already shifted since we wrote Seeing Culture Everywhere. On the one hand, there is China and David Brooks. On the other, there is a new trend in “development thinking” around the World Bank and elsewhere (like Narayan. Pritchett and Kapoor’s Moving out of Poverty and Jessica Cohen and William Easterly’s What Works in Development) that seem to abandon the term altogether and focus on micro-scale interventions – rightly, we believe.