An Anthropological Critique of Development: The Growth of Ignorance

Development is almost a mainstream word is today’s day and age and because of that, there are also negative connotations attached to it. In this book, such aspects of development have been discussed at length and it is edited by Mark Hobart. The subject of western development models has come under intense scrutiny and criticisms in recent times. In fact, western anthropologists have questioned the application of scientific knowledge in processes of development. They argue that despite investing large sums of money, in reality the experience of countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America has been just the opposite. Problems of underdevelopment continue to plague the countries of these regions. Over the last few decades or so, a new paradigm of development has emerged. According to this, local knowledge and very often a ‘bottoms-up’ approach to problem solving are increasingly being advocated and implemented. At the outset, the editor of this collection of essays, Mark Hobart, says that the essays and participants’ voices question the claims of western science to providing solutions to underdevelopment and in understanding the importance of local knowledge and its application.

The 12 contributors to this compendium challenge the Utopian view of western knowledge as the only and successful way in achieving economic and social development. Using ethnographic case studies from Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America, the contributors examine the ways in which local and indigenous knowledges are often more effective than western knowledge and systems in finding solutions to problems. The essays offer a practical approach of using theory and practice for development that economists, sociologists, and political scientists, among others, will find useful.

The book cogently describes the importance of development in the world today. Development means different things to several people. It is considered ‘important’ for developing nations to receive developmental aid. It is big business for banks and industries. Multilateral agencies help super powers by handing out the promise of loans to developing nations. For many advanced nations, through their development agencies, aid is an important arm of their economic diplomacy. Yet others are able to leverage their aid-giving capabilities to creating markets for their multinational corporations and help further their powerful vested interests in the process. The whole process of development is so one-sided and top-down that it has become the idiom of economics, technology and management. As noted earlier, what is ignored are the knowledges of the peoples being developed.

The essays clearly reveal that local and indigenous knowledge can form the basis of sustainable management and development. Use of technology and western scientific knowledge have to be employed prudently and judiciously. The essays show that local knowledge and a common-sense approach go a long way in problem solving. Local wisdom, sometimes going back in time and history, can still find a place in the modern world. In our own country, Gandhian ideals and thoughts, such as in rural development, self-sufficiency, at the local level and indigenous practices will help our rural areas prosper. These and a healthy mix of wisdom imbibed from our forefathers should help take India forward.

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