Encountering Development

One of the books commonly cited and recommended in critical development studies circles is Arturo Escobar's Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World (1995). Escobar is a Colombian-American Anthropologist, who interestingly started his academic career in chemical engineering. The award-winning book is typically summarized as reframing 'development' as a tool of control akin to colonialism. As a central idea, however, this was not entirely new: Amin (1976) has waged critiques of this nature, Weber (1976) had done similarly with the history of France, not to mention Scott (1985), Mintz (1985) and Ferguson (1990). The strength of this book, I believe, was not its originality but its bringing together of ideas.

Escobar begins by explaining that Encountering Development "tells the story of this dream and how it progressively turned into a nightmare. For instead of the kingdom of abundance promised by theorists and politicians in the 1950s, the discourse and strategy of development produced its opposite: massive underdevelopment and impoverishment, untold exploitation and oppression. The debt crisis, the Sahelian famine, increasing poverty, malnutrition and violence are only the most pathetic signs of the failure of forty years of development. In this way, this book can be read as a history of the loss of an illusion" (p. 4). Recognizing the book was written in the 1990s, it is interesting to contrast the framing of development presented by Escobar and that of Kenny in his 2011 book Getting Better – not to be contrasted here, but a worthwhile comparison for students of development studies.

"To understand development as a discourse, one must look not at the elements themselves but at the system of relations established among them. It is this system that allows the systematic creation of objects, concepts, and strategies; it determines what can be thought and said. These relations – established between institutions, socioeconomic processes, forms of knowledge, technological factors, and so on – define the conditions under which objects, concepts, theories, and strategies can be incorporated into the discourse. In sum, the system of relations establishes a discursive practice that sets the rules of the game: who can speak, from what points of view, with what authority, and according to what criteria of expertise; it sets the rules that must be followed for this for that problem, theory, or object to emerge and be named, analyzed, and eventually transformed into a policy or a plan." (p. 40-41)

While critiquing the defining of development, Escobar also offers his own definitions, ones that also disfranchises those who experience poverty from contributing their voice. For example, Escobar has a rather romantic vision of life before or outside of market influence (also assuming that all people before capitalism did not engage in market trade), in saying: "it is true that massive poverty in the modern sense appeared only when the spread of the market economy broke down community ties and deprived millions of people from access to land, water, and other resources. With the consolidation of capitalism, systemic pauperization became inevitable" (p. 22). This vision neglect social differentiation within communities, and also the serious challenges faced. This includes, for example, the poverty associated with enslavement and of famine, long pre-dating capitalism. Using Escobar's approach, it ought to be people themselves that define poverty, for their local circumstances, which we unfortunately do not find, and thus some of the critiques Escobar makes of others, also apply to his book (e.g. speaking about and for others).

As with all books, many of the concerns raised within them are time specific. Rather than focus on those that have changed, consider one that all development students, practitioners and academics can reflect on: "The underlying premise of this investigation is that as long as institutions and professionals are successfully reproducing themselves materially, culturally, and ideologically, certain relations of domination will prevail; and to the extent that this is the case, development will continue to be greatly conceptualized by those in power" (p. 106).

On accountability: "If 'the bank' does not have clear answers, nobody else does. Being 'the bank,' however, it can take some risks, and if 'some of the experiments fail,' they will bow to the difficulties of life (in the Third World) and humbly start all over again. Quite a comfortable position, especially if we consider that it is not they who have to suffer the consequences of failure, because the loans are paid back by Third World people" (p. 160-161).

Post-doc: Migration & Health (Singapore)

Asia Research Institute (ARI), National University of Singapore (NUS), invites applications for TWO Postdoctoral Fellows to work on a research project entitled CHILD HEALTH AND MIGRANT PARENTS IN SOUTH-EAST ASIA (CHAMPSEA): WAVE II. Both positions will be based in Singapore.


The successful candidate will be someone who holds a PhD degree (or is awaiting conferment) and has research interests in a relevant area of the social sciences (e.g. Migration Studies, Health Studies, Development Studies, Anthropology, Sociology or Geography). S/he should have research experience in the area of migration, family and health studies, preferably in an Asian context, and will be expected to co-ordinate the qualitative stage of field work in either Indonesia or the Philippines. The candidate will join an international team of researchers at a crucial stage of the project when the first round of data collection has been completed.

  • Good project management, team-building skills and aptitude for working in a Southeast Asian context.
  • The ability to speak and understand at least one of the following Southeast Asian languages – Indonesian or Tagalog – is necessary.
  • A willingness to play a co-ordinating role in the collection of qualitative data from the study country.
  • Some experience in using qualitative data analysis software such as NVivo


For millions of families across Asia, international labour migration has become a part of a household livelihood strategy that is motivated by a desire to improve the life chances of the next generation. Yet, there has been relatively little research on transnational householding and the impacts of parental migration on children who stay behind. In this context, the research team first set out in 2008 to collect survey data from around 1,000 households in four study countries (Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam) as part of an investigation into 'Child Health and Migrant Parents in South-East Asia' (CHAMPSEA). The findings, using children in non-migrant households as a comparison group, have enhanced knowledge and understanding of the impact of parental (and increasingly mothers') absence on the health and well-being of (a) pre-school children aged 3, 4 and 5 years and (b) children in middle childhood aged 9, 10 and 11 years left in sending communities.

CHAMPSEA II will now investigate the longer-term impacts of parental absence on the CHAMPSEA children in Indonesia and the Philippines. Using a mixed-methods research design that capitalizes on the complementary strengths of quantitative and qualitative methods, this project will collect primary data using carefully designed survey instruments in order to create a unique longitudinal data set that will allow the investigation of multiple dimensions of children's health and well-being. The longitudinal data set will include anthropometric measures (height, weight, age), measures of psychological well-being (Self-Reporting Questionnaire [SRQ20]; Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire), and a range of information (including parental migration histories) on selected households in Indonesia and the Philippines. The follow-up survey will interview members of the same CHAMPSEA households and the younger children in the baseline samples, who will now be 11, 12 and 13. As the older children (who were then 9, 10 and 11) will now be 17, 18 and 19, it is likely that many will have left home. A structured survey will be conducted with those still in the household and/or contactable, and a brief proxy interview with a parent or other adult on those who are uncontactable.

Anchored by an international research team with years of collaborative research experience, CHAMPSEA II will be the first mixed-method longitudinal study on the health and well-being of left-behind children in the region. Its findings will not only contribute to the academic literature but also help families, communities and government to understand better any vulnerabilities and risks that must be weighed against any material benefits of parental migration.

More details.

PhD Studentships: Anthropology (Oslo)

Faculty of Social Sciences Department of Social Anthropology

Job Description

The Department of Social Anthropology invites candidates to apply for 2 Ph.D. Research Fellowships, with starting date in January 2017.

The Department wishes to recruit two Ph.D. candidates with excellent research qualifications within Social Anthropology. Applicants should relate to one or more of the Department's core research areas. Information about the core areas can be found on the Department's website http://www.sv.uio.no/sai/. The successful candidates are expected to strengthen the research area(s) they relate to, and to contribute to and participate in research activities at the Department. Each position is for four years and will include 25% teaching, supervision and examination.


Applicants must have at least five years higher education including a two-year research based master's degree (or equivalent) in social anthropology. The successful candidates must participate in the research training organised by the Faculty of Social Sciences (the PhD programme) and undertake research that will lead to the award of a PhD in social anthropology. Applicants are referred to the Guidelines for appointment as a PhD candidate at a university or university college. The candidates who are offered the phd positions will automatically be accepted for the PhD programme.

Applicants must have good spoken and written command of a Scandinavian language and/or English.

Applicants must provide a detailed project description outlining the work to be undertaken for their proposed project (recommended total length, including the list of references: 7-10 pages; 10 pages is an absolute maximum). The project description must include the theme of the project, issues to be examined, the chosen theoretical and methodological approach and a progress plan. The successful candidates are expected to complete their projects before expiry of the PhD position.

More details.

Post-doc: Mobility & Political Authority

​Under the auspices of the South African Research Chair for Mobility & the Politics of Difference, the African Centre for Migration & Society at Wits University seeks applications for a 1-2 year post-doctoral fellowship. This position is a response to unprecedented levels of urbanisation and mobility across the African continent. Driven by conflict, ambition, and respatialising economies, such movements are generating novel and theoretically challenging socio-political formations. We welcome applicants from across the social sciences interested in how human movements are transforming modes of social engagement, authority, and political representation in sub-Saharan cities. 

Starting during the first half of 2017, the successful applicant will join an interdisciplinary team of scholars aiming to reshape global social theory and academic conversations on mobility, cities and political authority and ethics. Such work is intended to open new scholarly frontiers and while informing and enhancing sub-Saharan Africa's visibility in both academic and policy debates. With a home base in Johannesburg, scholars will be encouraged to develop and participate in projects across the region. 

Applications are due December 1, 2016. For more information, contact Loren B Landau: loren@migration.org.za

Health Research Awards

Various start dates, requirements and durations:



General outline here.

Post-doc: Gender & Fishing Livelihoods

Fish is a critical source of nutrition and livelihoods in low-income countries such as Bangladesh. WorldFish has played a key role in increasing the supply and availability of fish in low-income contexts through the Livestock & Fish CGIAR Research Program. This impact-oriented research will be the foundation for continuing innovation in fish breeding in the upcoming Fish Agri-foods CGIAR Research Program (FISH CRP). A major challenge for sustainable nutrition and livelihoods security is the development of robust strains of fish that meet the specific needs of poor women and men engaging in smallholder aquaculture. Currently, there are pressing gaps in knowledge regarding gendered preferences and outcomes. In particular, evidence is required as to whether, to what extent, and why the focus and results of fish genetic breeding programs have different outcomes for men and women. This includes the extent to which improved strains meet different needs that women and men may have, and in what way, such technologies may reinforce or shift gender roles, relations, and equity of outcomes. Addressing this gap is the primary focus of this Postdoctoral Fellow (PDF) position.

The PDF will tackle the overarching research question: How do the intended gender-equitable outcomes of the fish breeding program compare with the empirical gendered preferences and impacts, and what are the lessons for breeding program design, implementation and fish seed distribution? The PDF will do so through undertaking a systematic literature review and in depth, mixed methods empirical studies in Bangladesh in relation to the FISH CRP/WorldFish's tilapia and carp breeding program.

Additionally, the PDF will also play a key role in identifying, refining, and communicating to researchers across a range of FISH CRP countries insights into best practice and cutting-edge gender methods and strategies appropriate to different types and phases of aquaculture and fisheries research.

More details.

Ibrahim Leadership Fellowships

The application process for the 2017 Ibrahim Leadership Fellowships Programme is now open.

Through this annual fellowship programme, we seek to deepen and broaden our growing network which continues to contribute its skills and learning to a better Africa. The Fellowships offer the opportunity to work in the executive offices of either the African Development Bank (Abidjan), the UN Economic Commission for Africa (Addis Ababa) or the International Trade Centre (Geneva).

Application process

  • Process opens 12 August 2016
  • applications due 14 October 2016
  • successful candidate notified January 2017
  • press announcement of Fellows 3 February 2017
  • Fellows start date May 2017.

Eligibility criteria

  • National of an African country
  • 7-10 years of relevant work experience
  • master's degree
  • under the age of 40, or 45 for women with children
  • any additional criteria as set by the host.

Envisioning Power

Anthropologist Eric Wolf (1923-1999) last book, Envisioning Power: Ideologies of Dominance and Power (1999) is not his most well-known work, but is a book that should be read by those seeking to understand how anthropological studies, and comparative cultural studies, can contribute to our understand of power and politics and their relation to ideas and ideology. Wolf's most well-known book, Europe and the People Without History (1982), will be covered in a future post. The book Envisioning Power offers three in-depth case studies (Kwakiult, Aztec and National Socialists of Germany), and a brief conclusion that summarizes his main conclusions. For those not interested in the detailed case studies, the first two chapters (Introduction and Contested Concepts) as well as the concluding chapter are worthwhile reads. I will not draw upon the case study content, at it is detailed and requires significant context.

As many voices had done during the 80s and 90s, the limitations of disciplinary silos was addressed by Wolf in this work, at a time when interdisciplinary work and programs were becoming more common practice: "I write these lines as an anthropologist, albeit as one who see his discipline as a link in the more encompassing effort of the human sciences to understand and explicate the multiple human conditions" (p. 19). And, later in the book stating that the "anthropologist's task should be neither to exalt nor to condone but to explain" (p. 134). While Wolf's approach tends to take an academic-as-authority approach that has been criticized, such faults do not make the book one not worth reading. Consider reflections on the power of ideas:

  • "One must not forget to ask who is using reason, rationality, logic, and emotional neutrality to do what to whom. As states and enterprises around the worked incorporated Enlightenment appeal to reason to enhance their managerial efficiency, the application of instrumental logic often exacted an exorbitant price… Those charged with dispensing reason can readily tag others as opponents of progress. Down to the present, the protagonists of reason have seen themselves as apostles of modernity. They have advocated industrialization, specialization, secularization, and rational bureaucratic allocation as reasoned options superior to unreasoned reliance on tradition." (p. 25)

And, on the nature of power more explicitly:

  • "Thinking of power in relational terms, rather than as a concentrated "power-pack," has the further advantage that it allows one to see power as an aspect of many kinds of relations. Power works differently in interpersonal relations, in institutional arenas, and on the level of whole societies." (p. 5)
  • "structural power. By this I mean the power manifest in relationships that not only operates within settings and domains but also organizes and orchestrates the settings themselves, and that specifies the direction and distribution of energy flows. In Marxian terms, this refers to the power to deploy and allocate social labor. It is also the modality of power addressed by Michel Foucault when he spoke of "governance," to mean the exercise of "action upon action" (1984, 427-28). These relations of power constitute structure power." (p. 5)

In the concluding remarks Wolf writes:

  • "The three case studies presented in this book revealed societies under increasing stress, facing multiplicity of tensions posed by ecological, social, political, or psychological crises. In each case the response entailed the development of an ideology that Kroeber would have characterized as an "extreme expression." These ideologies, carried forward by elites, were fashioned out of pre-existing cultural materials, but they are not to be understood as disembodied cultural schemata. They addressed the very character of power in society, specifically the power that structured the differentiation, mobilization, and deployment of social labor, and they rooted that power in the nature of the cosmos." (p. 274)

World Bank: Africa Fellowship Program

The Africa Region of the World Bank Group (WBG) is relaunching its fellowship program for Ph.D. students who are Sub-Saharan nationals. The program will increase the diverse workforce that is a priority for the Bank and its clients.

Started in 2013 by World Bank Africa Vice President Makhtar Diop, the World Bank Group Africa Fellowship Program aims to build a pipeline of Sub-Saharan African researchers and professionals, particularly women, who are interested in working in the development field at home or abroad, and in starting careers with the WBG. From the first class of fellows, several have joined the World Bank Group, and others have gone on to pursue promising development careers.

About the Fellowship

Fellows will spend a minimum of six months at the World Bank offices in Washington, D.C. or in a Sub-Saharan country, getting hands-on experience in development work. This includes knowledge generation and dissemination, design of global and country policies and the building of institutions to achieve inclusive growth in developing countries. While benefitting from research and innovation in multiple sectors, fellows will also work on economic policy, technical assistance, and lending for eliminating poverty and increasing shared prosperity. Special attention will be given to work with Fragile and Conflict-Affected States.

Fellows will be expected to complete a research project and prepare a research paper to present to staff. High-standard papers may be published internally.

Specifically, selected participants will:

  • Gain a better understanding of the World Bank Group's mission and operations
  • Access quality data for their research work
  • Interact with seasoned experts in their field of development
  • Contribute to the World Bank Group's mission

Who Should Apply

Sub-Saharan nationals who are recent Ph.D. graduates, or current doctoral students within one or two years of completing or graduating from a Ph.D. program in the following fields: Economics, Demography, Applied Statistics and Econometrics, Impact Evaluation, Education, Health, Energy, Agriculture, and Infrastructure. Candidates must:

  • Be a recent graduate or be enrolled in an academic institution and returning to university after the fellowship
  • Be 32 years of age or below
  • Have an excellent command of English, both written and verbal
  • Possess strong quantitative and analytical skills

Post-doc: Water Scarcity (South Africa)

​Future Water, a recently formed interdisciplinary research institute based at UCT, is looking for four dynamic and motivated post-doctoral fellows to join a diverse multi-disciplinary team focused on alleviating water scarcity. Research within the Future Water institute focuses on four major themes: 'New Taps' – new water resources; 'Blue-Green Infrastructure' – water sensitive design and management; 'Adapting to Change' – building resilience / governance and policy; and 'Maximising Value' – maximising value from minimal and shrinking resources. The Institute promotes an interdisciplinary approach combining aspects of social anthropology, social science and political and public-policy studies, engineering, environmental and biological sciences, public health, law, sustainability science, the built environment including architecture, and economics. It is anticipated that one new postdoctoral fellow will be appointed to each of the above four research themes and that, collectively, the postdoctoral fellows will span a range of disciplines.

These postdoctoral fellowships provide an opportunity for novel integration of research focused on the challenges of water scarcity and on water sensitive design across the above-mentioned disciplines in order to address the key themes of Future Water.

Suitable candidates must have, within the past five years, graduated, or shortly expect to graduate, with a PhD in an appropriate discipline, but they may not have held any prior permanent professional or academic posts. They must have a keen interest in team-based, interdisciplinary research which focuses centrally on the challenges faced in attempts to alleviate water scarcity, and on means to address those challenges, as well as on socio-political challenges that arise from attempting to implement those means. Candidates for the postdoctoral fellowship will be expected to demonstrate significant research experience and/or be in the process of generating a peer-reviewed publication record.

The Future Water institute provides excellent skills development and mentorship opportunities for researchers intending to pursue an academic or research career, and encourages postdoctoral fellows to become involved in project initiation and development, and the supervision of post-graduate students. The fellowship is tenable for one year in the first instance, with start dates negotiable between 1 September 2016 and 1 January 2017. Renewal for a second year is contingent on satisfactory academic progress and funding availability. The value of each fellowship will be commensurate with the applicant's qualifications and experience; and in compliance with SARS policy, will be exempt from taxation. The successful candidates will be required to register as Postdoctoral Fellows (PDRF) at the University of Cape Town and to comply with the university's policies and practices of the PDRF sector.

To apply, candidates are invited to send a CV, including research experience, a list of research outputs and the contact details of two appropriate referees by e-mail to FutureWater@UCT.ac.za by no later than 5 September 2016. Selection of eligible candidates will be made by the Director of Future Water and a sub-committee drawn from academics in the Institute. More information about Future Water is available at http://wsud.co.za/futurewater/.

Logan Cochrane


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