Anthropology and Development

In recent decades international development has grown into a world-shaping industry. But how do aid agencies work and what do they achieve? How does aid appear to the adults and children who receive it? And why has there been so little improvement in the position of the poor?

These are the questions which Emma Crewe and I set out to investigate in our book ‘Anthropology and Development: Culture, Morality and Politics in a Globalised World’ (Cambridge University Press 2013). Exploring the spaces between policy and practice, success and failure, the future and the past, the book offers an anthropological guide to the world of international development. In it we explore anthropology’s varied engagement with and understandings of the institutions and social groups that constitute the development sector. Employing  a series of anthropological perspectives we outline the value judgements and social practices that link international donors to government officials, development professionals to project beneficiaries, and policy makers to peasant farmers.

This book is designed to appeal to two main audiences. First, it was written for students of anthropology and of international development wishing to engage critically with the subject. Secondly, we wanted it to be accessible to development professionals who may find an anthropological approach useful and interesting. Our aim when writing was to make anthropology simpler and development more complex. Rather than closing problems down anthropology seeks to open them up; it highlights deficiencies in standard practice to suggest alternative perspectives and ways of working; it opens up questions instead of trying to force answers onto ill fitting and diverse realities.  It encourages us to think about our own assumptions, and to be alive to different ways of seeing.

crewe axelby cover

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