The Anthropology of Development What is it?

Development refers to strategies that aim to transfer resources and assistance from the world’s economically wealthiest nations to the poorest nations. This transfer can occur directly (known as bilateral aid, for example, the UK Government’s Department for International Development) or indirectly (known as multilateral aid, for example, various UN agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organization ). Development is a somewhat sad notion because it implies improvement, which is not always the experience of those subject to economic development programs. Anthropologists have shown how technological and economic innovations invariably bring other changes to their train, which may not be perceived by all those caught up in them, in the short term at least, as desirable or in their interests. The distressing social consequences of development can more than cancel material benefits. The disturbance and bewilderment experienced by people when changes proceed rapidly have been well documented by anthropologists.

The realization that development programs have been responsible for undesirable and unsustainable changes, often involving a considerable waste of resources, has prompted a fundamental reassessment of the very idea of ​​development. Previously, governments and international agencies imposed interventions on the so-called ignorant poor who were thought to demand modernization. Economists, technocrats, and policy makers dominated this process, and anthropology had little more to play than play criticism of the sometimes devastating consequences. The field of applied anthropology was marginal for the realization of these programs. Today, Development agencies are increasingly interested in facilitating initiatives that promote the participation of the poor and, with the help of anthropologists, pay more attention to indigenous knowledge and understanding systems. Non-governmental organizations have played a prominent role in promoting this grassroots perspective. It is a perspective that offers anthropology a central role in development practice.

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