Donor develop thyself

Or what is development?

This piece is probably as full of inaccuracies as I am full of imperfections. Any tips, comments or critique I’m happy to hear.

This post starts where I usually end. I’d like to add to the above statement the following:

What I wrote in my last post about what anthropology is, is exactly that. What I think anthropology should be about.
In reality, Anthropology is very confused, bi-curious if you will.

Are you ready for a soap-opera?

Can you guess which sibling James Ferguson is talking about in his essay: “Anthropology and it’s Evil Twin”?

…..drum roll


Time for another history lesson:

One of the founding fathers of anthropology made the following statement:

We own our present condition, with its multiplied means of safety and happiness to the struggles, the sufferings, the heroic exertions and the patient toil of our barbarous, and more remotely, of our savage ancestors. Their labors, their trials and their successes were a part of the plan of the Supreme Intelligence to develop a barbarian out of a savage, and a civilized man out of this savage“. Lewis Henry Morgan 1877

Another founding father E.B.B. Tylor could simply refer to this social evolutionist theory as Development.
According to this theory, other cultures, could teach us about a lesser evolutionary stage of our own.

As you could read in my last post these ideas we’re actually very common among enlightenment thinkers.
Sadly, it took some time for this idea to lose it’s shine, but at the end of the 19th century this idea was refuted, finally, by Frans Boas amongst others. Right?

As it turns out, there is a difference between what people say and what they practice. Academic rigor turns out to be something quite similar to a new-years resolution:

“Next year I’ll really stop drinking”

“Next century, We’ll really achieve equality and respect among all beings”

Ideas may change but the reality that spawned these ideas, usually takes a lot longer to change. Just ask your female friends how much they make compared to their male counterparts.

Fast forward, end of colonialism:

We must embark on a bold new program for making the benefits of our scientific advances and industrial progress available for the improvement and growth of underdeveloped areas. The old imperialism – exploitation for foreign profit – has no place in our plans. What we envisage is a program of development based on the concept of democratic fair dealing.—Harry S. Truman, 1949

States must be built, democracy must be instated in order to be developed?

Yeah you heard it, they must be developed.

Now, I don’t think that these developers, held the same prejudices or ideas about development as the founders of anthropology.
Also, I’ve managed to drink a lot less this year.

However, many of the same mechanisms, that produced colonialism were still in place.
Mechanisms of thought and practice, some of which are still in place.

I don’t believe history is a  straight progression from a savage past to some shining future. I think we are perfectly capable of being savage today. I long for the shining future, I dream about it daily. But I don’t know if we’ll get there, and how it will look when we do.

I believe history goes in cycles, a newtons cradle if you will where each force produces an almost equally strong counter-force.

This example already proves how much my thinking is fused, with what I’ve learned in the past. I believe in cause and effect, have been taught elementary physics, this causes me in turn to apply this idea to history. My thinking is shaped by my reality and in turn shapes reality.

This is part of the reason certain ideas keep rearing their ugly heads. In fact after 60 years, of relatively failed development through aid. Development is now supposed to be delivered to us by the market. Neo-liberal approaches are taking over development.

In many poor countries aid is dwarfed by both Foreign Direct investment and remittances. All three of which are usually dwarfed by capital and cheap resource exports flowing out.

Truman wanted to deliver wealth to the poor through democracy. Neo-liberalism and its non-democratic institutions (you know who you are! ugh ugh IMF, WTO, World bank) expect wealth/trade to deliver democracy.
Democracy is supposed to trickle down in the same way, that wealth is supposed to trickle down.

Reality check: inequality is on the rise, democracy is under serious pressure and the earth is considering pulling the plug on humans. Maybe we need some rehab democracy, instead of a drip-feed oil profit.

The anthropologist doing development, is in the schizophrenic position of asking questions about development while doing it. Making up the rules while playing the game. To the point where I’m starting to think we should stop playing games altogether, and maybe get real serious about a committed relationship. It’s nice to fool around, but we all want to be loved.

Our success as a society is currently seen to rely on abstraction, those who are the best at abstract reasoning are awarded the highest status. Abstraction is the ability to judge, to generalize. As such it is the opposite of love. Love is this very particular moment, people, person or eyes whose being ever so gently, passionately or even soul-wrenchingly brushes up against your being. Confirming your existence or leaving it in tatters.

Neo-liberalism is based on abstraction, it provides a model of a market and our society-as-market, where rational self-interested individuals each acting with complete knowledge of the market and its actors somehow provide the greatest good for all. I don’t know if you know any purely rational self-interested individuals, I don’t think I would want to.

Knowledge is unevenly distributed, knowledge is power, and knowledge is produced in the power centers of the world. You have to pay to posses this knowledge even when public money produced it. This holds true in academic publishing, and when it comes to harmful industries like the aluminum industry, it are exorbitant amounts. There is a battle just to know what is wrong or right with the world, let alone changing it.

The western type of knowledge production was also implanted on other cultures, extending domination to the intellectual and cultural realms. Leading to some anthropologists being told by local tribes: “Ah, you’ve come to civilize us!”

Imagine for a moment being a person of color, often being approached as a stereotype. Or imagine being the average person, near constantly being told: produce, consume, enhance yourself. We are all in the schizophrenic position of the anthropologists, contributing to a system, which is telling us and those around, that our value can be expressed by the amount of money we posses.


To set free those who are oppressed. First the blinds must be sighted.
Perhaps history is not a cycle but a spiral, and it is all of us that decide whether it is downward or upward.


Anthropology and it’s Evil Twin – James Ferguson

Cultivating development – David Mosse

Anthropology and Development: Culture, Morality and Politics in a Globalised world – Emme Crewe and Richard Axelby