“What economists obsess about is equality of opportunity… What they miss is equality of agency. How do we make equality of agency happen? How do we bridge those discriminatory boundaries that exist in the world? … That’s where anthropologists can contribute: by thinking through those issues in a creative way.”
Vijayendra Rao (http://www.vijayendrarao.org/), lead economist at the World Bank, talks to our own Ian Pollock about how anthropology could help poor or disempowered people engage with powerful institutions; his frustration with a discipline that only critiques, and won’t commit to promoting the development project; and the cultures of development itself: the faddishness of ideas, the reliance on scale and quantification, the bureaucratic inertia, and the ways that the the cultures, struggles, and aspirations of ordinary people can be missing from the picture.
Dr Rao also gave a talk at ANU’s Development Policy Centre, on the World Bank Social Observatory: “integrating the social sciences for adaptive practice.” Listen here: https://soundcloud.com/devpolicy/the-social-observatory-integrating-the-social-sciences-for-adaptive-practice
“Creating goals for change, creating processes to achieve those goals... how do you make that change happen, how do you make it happen over the long term? That requires, in my mind, a process of co-production. It’s a process of dialogue. How do you bring dialogue into interventions, is really what I think our goal should be as development practitioners, and development researchers even. Which is not yet the common practice.”
“The notion of a ‘best practice’ is the most unhealthy thing in development.”
“The big difference between colonialism and development should be that ‘beneficiaries’ are being facilitated to have a voice in how they are being ‘helped.’ And I think how you do that, where you do that from, how all that comes in, how you change processes to make that happen, how you institute change to make that happen, that’s where anthropologists could play a very important role. And they’re not doing so.”
Appadurai, A. (2004) “The Capacity to Aspire.” In Rao, V., & Walton, M. (2004). Culture and public action. Stanford, Calif: Stanford Social Sciences.
Freire, P. (1996;2001;). Pedagogy of the oppressed (Rev. ed.). London: Penguin.
Gupta, A. (2012). Red tape: Bureaucracy, structural violence, and poverty in india. Durham: Duke University Press.
Hirschman, A. O. (1967). Development projects observed. Washington: Brookings Institution.
Mansuri, G., & Rao, V. (2013;2012;). Localizing development: Does participation work?. US: World Bank Publications
Open access link: https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/11859
Mosse, D. (2005;2004;). Cultivating development: An ethnography of aid policy and practice. London;Ann Arbor, MI;: Pluto Press.
Rao, V., Ananthpur, K., & Malik, K. (2017). The anatomy of failure: An ethnography of a randomized trial to deepen democracy in rural India. World Development, 99, 481-497.
Rao, V., & Walton, M. (2004). Culture and public action. Stanford, Calif: Stanford Social Sciences.
Srinivas, M. N. (1962). Caste in modern india: And other essays. New York;Bombay;: Asia Pub. House.
The Jeevika project: http://www.jeevika.org.uk/
On Indonesia’s KDP program: http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/501751468041102531/Crises-and-contradictions-understanding-the-origins-of-a-community-development-project-in-Indonesia
Li, T. (2007). The will to improve: Governmentality, development, and the practice of politics. Durham: Duke University Press.
This anthropology podcast is supported by the Australian Anthropological Society, the schools of Culture, History, and Language and Archaeology and Anthropology at Australian National University, and the Australian Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, and is produced in collaboration with the American Anthropological Association.
Music by Pete Dabro: dabro1.bandcamp.com