Development anthropology

Development anthropology

Development anthropology refers to the application of anthropological perspectives to the multidisciplinary branch of development studies. It takes international development and international aid as primary objects. In this branch of anthropology, the term development refers to the social action made by different agents (institutions, business, enterprise, states, independent volunteers) who are trying to modify the economic, technical, political or/and social life of a given place in the world, especially in developing nations.

For development anthropology, development is neither a goal, an ideal nor a failure. It is an object of study. (Reader's note: many development anthropologists would reject this idea, citing an explicit commitment to simultaneously critique and contribute to development. While some theorists distinguish between the 'anthropology of development' (in which development is the object of study) and development anthropology (as an applied practice), this distinction is increasingly thought of as obsolete (see Escobar, 1997, in Edelman and Haugerud, 2005:40). With researches on the field, the anthropologist can describe, analyze and understand the different actions of development that took and take place in a given place. The various impacts on the local population, environment, social and economic life are to be examined.


Development Criticism

Most development anthropologists severely criticize what had been done before in development effort since 1960. They blame the different agents for having only considered a small aspect of the local people's lives without analyzing broader consequences. Again, international development is often seen in anthropology as an extension of the colonialism era or as post-colonialism. Some authors, such as Arturo Escobar[1] even see international development as a means for the occident to keep control over the resources of former colonies. In fact, between 1945 and 1960, the former colonies were going through the decolonization era, and the development plan helped to maintain the third world's dependency on the old metropole. This point of view is largely supported by dependency theory. Mainly, the development project is seen as an effort of modernization and an eradication of the indigenous culture. Many anthropologists also point out how development efforts often attempt to de-politicize change by a focus on instrumental assistance (like a school building) but not on the objective conditions that led to the development failure, nor the content of what the school might or might not teach. In this sense, international development efforts by states are perceived as band-aids that address symptoms but not causes.

Applied anthropology in development

On the other side, some anthropologist contribute directly in the field to development projects. They'll put in use their perspective of development. This method differs from economists in some areas in which this is evaluated. Economists look at aggregate measures like gross national product and per capita income, as well as measures of income distribution and inequality in a society. Anthropology can provide a more fine-grained analysis of the qualitative information behind these numbers, such as the nature of the social groups involved and the social significance of the composition of income. Thus, development anthropologists often deal with assessing the important qualitative aspects of development sometimes ignored by an economic approach.

See also


  1. ^ Arturo Escobar, 1995, Encountering Development, the making and unmaking of the Third World, Princeton: Princeton University Press, p.34.

Further reading

  • Arturo Escobar, 1995, Encountering Development, the making and unmaking of the Third World, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Gardner, Katy and David Lewis, 1996, Anthropology, Development and the Post-Modern Challenge, Chicago, IL: Pluto Press.
  • Isbister, John, 1998, Promise Not Kept: The Betrayal of Social Change in the third World. Fourth Edition. West Hartford, CT: Kumarian Press.
  • Olivier de Sardan J.-P. 1995, Anthropologie et développement : essai en socio-anthropologie du changement social. Paris, Karthala.
  • Schuurman, F.J., 1993, Beyond the Impasse. New Direction in Development Theory. Zed Books, London.

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