New Publication: Seeing Like an Anthropologist

Cochrane, L. (2017) Seeing Like an Anthropologist: Anthropology in Practice. In Cultural Anthropology: An Open Access Textbook, edited by N. Brown, L. Gonzalez, T. McIlwraith, P. Stein and J. Thompson. Society for Anthropology in Community Colleges.

Part of an Open Access textbook for Cultural Anthropology. Full textbook available here:

Chapter Seeing like an Anthropologist: Anthropology in Practice available here.

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Adventures in Aidland

Before picking up David Mosse's "Adventures in Aidland: The Anthropology of Professionals in International Development" (2011), I had read one chapter and had high expectations that it would be an interesting read. I felt the book was torn between two topics that made it less cohesive, and some chapters felt revised to suit a new topic but didn't do either justice in the process. As Mosse notes, many of these chapters originated from a conference panel on "Cosmopolitanism and Development" in 2006, which remained a key theme throughout. At the same time, the book claims to present works wherein "anthropologists write about expertise in the realm of international development" (p. vii). Nonetheless, I do suggest Chapters 3, 7 and 8 for development studies students (and teaching), and Chapter 10 for those interesting in a satirical Alice in Wonderland vision of Aidland (the origin of the book's title).

Chapter 3 is a contribution by Tania Murray Li on "Rendering Society Technical" and in some ways offers a shorter version of her longer works (e.g. The Will to Improve and Land's End) on the topic, making it somewhat more accessible for students. For example, she writes: "Central to government is the practice I call 'rendering technical', a shorthand for what is actually a set of practices concerned with representing 'the domain to be governed as an intelligible field with specifiable limits and particular characteristics'" (p. 57). Further: "Government through community requires that community be rendered technical. It must be 'investigated, mapped, classified, documented, interpreted' (1999: 175)". For those unfamiliar with Li's work, this chapter presents clear examples in a relatively short chapter.

The second recommended portion, Chapter 7, comes from another familiar name on this site: Rosalind Eyben (author of The Making of a Better World and co-editor of The Politics of Evidence). The chapter provides unique insight into donor agency staff experiences – as I mentioned previously Eyben herself made many of the choices being criticized (as also, generally, described by Robert Chambers in 1983). For a world few have lived in, and many wonder about, it is an excellent read. Eyben works to make a minor shift in the donor community within Bolivia to gain more firsthand experience as participant observers.

I also recommend Chapter 8, written by Rajak and Stirrat. It does encounter this two objective problem, resulting in a somewhat lost focus. Nonetheless, it offers some concise and clear summaries of international development and the odd disconnection between international and domestic activity. They describe the field trips development actors make as carefully orchestrated rituals, that development professionals "are of course aware of" and who also play this same ritualistic game for others. On development actors, he explains that even "in their interactions with the 'host community', development professionals tend to be restricted or restrict themselves to certain categories of 'locals'… In general there is relatively little social interaction between development professionals and the host population at the level of friendship" (p. 167-168).

On the cosmopolitan values part, an interesting comment: "Whilst there are some individuals who display an interest in attempts at developing a Buddhist framework for development or who try to develop an Islamic economics, these are few and far between. Furthermore, the flow of funding ensures a certain orthodoxy in the development world, and stepping too far outside the boundaries is to put this funding at risk. The ideas and practices of the development industry can be viewed as parochial in the extreme, involving a rejection of alternatives and an attempt to 'naturalize' and 'universalize' one particular strand of looking at the world" (p. 166).

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Funded PhDs: Energy Ethics

The Department of Social Anthropology at the University of St Andrews (UK) is advertising 2 PhD scholarships (4 years, full time, 100% UK/EU fee waiver with maintenance stipend of approx. £14,296/year (equivalent to a RCUK stipend) and conference/research expenses) to participate in an ERC-funded research project on the ethics of oil. The start date is September 2017. Deadline for application: 16 January 2017

This project entitled "The Ethics of Oil: Finance Moralities and Environmental Politics in the Global Oil Economy (ENERGYETHICS)" offers an exciting opportunity for 2 outstanding graduates to join a major anthropological research project funded by the European Research Council - as part of the conventional track for a PhD in Social Anthropology at University of St Andrews. The project is a comparative study of how people in positions of influence within the global oil economy make financial and ethical valuations of oil. Ethnographic fieldwork will be carried out with oil companies in the US and Norway, energy analysts in the UK and the US, and fossil fuel divestment movements in Germany and the UK. Taking our starting point in people's own perceptions of and direct involvement in the oil economy, we aim to understand the relationship between oil, money and climate change. We will ask: What is the value of oil? How do such valuations, understood as both financial and ethical, intersect and inform the making of the global energy economy in oil? To what extent can oil be an important industrial resource, a profit-yielding investment opportunity and an undesired pollutant that brings about irreversible climate impacts?

We are seeking prospective candidates with an existing interest in fields such as economic life, morality and ethics, energy and climate change, corporations and organisations. Applicants are encouraged to contribute their own provisional research ideas in the form of a proposal as part of their application. Projects will have ethnographic fieldwork at their core, but may also draw on other methodologies, including archival and visual media work.

Successful candidate 1 will explore convergences of oil production with national welfare agendas and climate change concerns in Norway. The research will involve 15 months of fieldwork and the candidate must be able to/willing to learn Norwegian. Successful candidate 2 will examine how divestment projects in Germany and the UK intersect with oil industry vulnerability and visions for the future. The research will involve 15 months of fieldwork and the candidate must be able to/willing to learn German.

Prospective candidates are encouraged to contact the Principal Investigator Dr Mette M. High.

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Pathologies of Power

Paul Farmer's (2005) "Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor" is a "physician-anthropologist's effort to reveal the ways in which the most basic right – the right to survive – is trampled in an age of great affluence" (p. 6). However, Farmer covers much more than the right to survive, this book "is about the struggle for social and economic rights, the neglected stepchildren of the human rights movement. Because social and economic rights include the right to health care, housing, clean water, and education, they are sometimes called the "the rights of the poor."' (p. xxiv). It is highly recommended for academics and practitioners, and I also highly recommend Farmer's book Infections and Inequalities.

For those new to development studies, academics who assume development practitioners are non-reflexive positivists, and for practitioners looking to be more critical of the processes within international development, Farmer's books are essential reads. In the opening pages he sets the tone: "It was not the silence that rankled. It seemed to us that the exercise was demeaning – the participants, having survived genocide and displacement, were now being treated like children. They were being asked to respond to an agenda imported from capital cities, from do-gooder organizations like ours, from U.S. universities with the "right" answers to their every question. No harm done, perhaps, and the topic was important – but how helpful was this exercise, with its aim of changing the mentality of the locals, who were, after all, the victims of the previous decades of violence? A change in mentality was needed, certainly, but it was needed in the hearts and minds of those with power – and they were not here" (p. 3-4).

It is not just the 'others' with power; as a physician, Farmer writes that many "physicians are uncomfortable acknowledging these harsh facts of life and death. To do so, one must admit that the majority of premature deaths are, as the Haitians would say, "stupid deaths." They are completely preventable with the tools already available to the fortunate few" (p. 144). Yet, it is not simply more "development" that is required: "Developmentalism not only erases the historical creation of poverty but also implies that development is necessarily a linear process: progress will inevitably occur if the right steps are followed. Yet any critical assessment of the impact of such approaches must acknowledge their failure to help the poor" (p. 155)

Weaved throughout the book, Farmer expresses his concern with a changing set of norms and values: from rights, respect and dignity to costs and value for money. He writes: "many of the concepts currently in vogue in public health – from "cost-effectiveness" to "sustainability" and "replicability" - are likely to be perverted unless social justice remains central to public health and medicine. A human rights approach to health economics and health policy helps to bring into relief the ill effects of the efficacy-equity trade-off" (p. 18). This view is not just challenged as an opinion, but as an affront to the practice of health care: "the flabby moral relativism of our times would have us believe that we may now choose from a broad menu of approaches to delivering effective health care services to the poor. This is simply not true. Whether you are sitting in a clinic in rural Haiti, and this witness to stupid deaths from infection, or sitting in an emergency room in a U.S. city, and this the provider of first resort for forty million uninsured, you must acknowledge that the commodification of medicine invariably punishes the vulnerable" (p. 152). This book was published in 2005, and parts published earlier, and Farmer foresaw a challenge that has grown (while also shifting names from cost-effectiveness to value for money, to assessments of quality-adjusted life years, and as metrics in results and impact reporting): "As international health experts come under the sway of the bankers and their curiously bounded utilitarianism, we can expect more and more of our services to be declared "cost-ineffective" and more of our patients to be erased. In declaring health and health care to be a human right, we join forces with those who have long labored to protect the rights and dignity of the poor" (p. 159).

For those who work with marginalized and vulnerable people, who voices are excluded, it is challenging to convey experiences to others. In Farmer's earlier book Infections and Inequalities he used vignettes of people's lives as an attempt. In this end, however, "the experience of suffering, it's often noted, is not effectively conveyed by statistics or graphs. In fact, the suffering of the world's poor intrudes only rarely into the consciousness of the affluent, even when our affluence may be shown to have direct relation to their suffering. This is true even when spectacular human rights violations are at issue, and it is even more true when the topic at hand is the everyday violation of social and economic rights" (p. 31). It is both a depressing conclusion – the reality of a lack of concern – and a call to action. The systems that create and entrench poverty, as well as those that ignore suffering when plan to see, will continue lest things change, and change necessitates informed, critical engagement.

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Logan Cochrane

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