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).

111 Hits

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.

96 Hits

Funded PhDs (3): Anthropology; Islam in Asia

​The Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology is one of the leading centres for research in social anthropology. Common to all research projects at the Max Planck Institute is the comparative analysis of social change; it is primarily in this domain that its researchers contribute to anthropological theory, though many programmes also have applied significance and political topicality. The DFG Emmy Noether Junior Research Group: 'The Bureaucratization of Islam and its Socio-Legal Dimensions in Southeast Asia', led by Dr. Dominik M. Müller, is offering 3 PhD positions starting 1 April 2017.

Following the popular waves of Islamic resurgence, state-sponsored Islamic bureaucracies have become influential societal actors in Southeast Asia, particularly in countries where Muslim populations play a significant political role. The governments of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore have in diverse ways empowered 'administrative' bodies to guide Islamic discourse. Although their approaches, motivations and spheres of influence differ widely, they share the intention to formalize classificatory schemes of Islam and create binding rules for engaging in public communication about it. The Junior Research Group will investigate the bureaucratization of Islam and its socio-legal dimensions from an anthropological perspective, with a particular focus on the state's exercise of 'classificatory power' and its actual workings on the micro-level. The project argues that the bureaucratization of Islam far transcends the boundaries of its institutions. Focusing on diverse empirical contexts, the group will scrutinize how the imposition of formalized schemes of Islam – a transformation of Islam into the codes and procedures of bureaucracy – has socio-legal consequences that penetrate deeply into public discourse and the everyday lives of various affected social actors. The project also asks how the bureaucracies' classificatory practices and micro-politics of power resonate with social realities among the wider population and how social actors actively react to them, always with the intention of going beyond unidirectional 'cause–effect models' that overstate the power of official policies. Conceptually, the project treats the bureaucratization of Islam not just descriptively as an empirical fact, but as a larger analytic phenomenon to be theorized in comparative perspective. Grounded in long-term fieldwork, focusing on actors' perspectives and positioned in anthropological debates, the project intends to generate a new, ethnographically grounded understanding of contemporary Islamic discourse in the context of state power in Southeast Asia, with implications beyond the region.

More details.

116 Hits

Funded MA: Environmental Anthropology

Funding is available for an MA student in environmental anthropology at the University of Saskatchewan, beginning in September, 2017. Prof. Clint Westman is leading a community-engaged research project focusing on the resource extraction sector's impacts and processes with respect to Aboriginal people in northern Alberta. The project provides an opportunity for MA students to undertake ethnographic fieldwork in a northern community. Funding is available to support fieldwork and to provide at least $15,000 to the successful student, who will work as a research assistant in year one of the MA program. Similar funding may be provided in year two of the MA program subject to satisfactory performance and available funds. Students may also be eligible for an admission award. Application deadline is January 15, 2017. For further information see

135 Hits

Logan Cochrane

LinkedIn Profile  Academia Profile