Democratising the development discourse

By | October 2, 2010

From a commentary on Owen Barder’s comment on Bob Zoellick’s speech on development discourse:

… if we really want to democratise the development discourse we should also publish, say, the minutes of Bank board meetings and other relevant internal documents to understand how ideas and statistics are translated into ‘reality’ through powerful interlocutors like the Bank and its staff. In other words, ‘democratising development’ is too important to be left to economists and large aid organisations alone; critical sociological and ethnographic research on the ‘life of numbers’ is needed as well.

If you knew where the commentator, Tobias Denksus, whose blog I just discovered today, is coming from, you would understand his desire for a discourse that aims to unpack black boxes like ‘development data’. This is from the summary of a PhD dissertation he is currently finishing:

Secular rituals in peace research, policy-making, consultancy and project management have lead to what Knottnerus describes as the ‘formation, reproduction and transformation of social structure’ away from critical aims of transforming societies through peaceful means to ritualised economy around virtual knowledge products. This growing industry, intertwined with the broader development industry has fostered the emergence and maintenance of ritualized spaces. Studying these rituals in workshops, meetings and conferences and complementing it by other ethnographic research helps us to understand better the micro-dynamics of what happens when the peacebuilding discourse or the peace industry come to a place like post-conflict Kathmandu or work around knowledge management in German development agencies. In Germany rituals and performances are often employed to maintain the perception of grounding in the peace movement of the 20th century and to maintain corporatistic ties between civil society, academia and policy-makers, de facto ignoring the global debates and local realities.

You definitely should check out his blog. Reminds me of a book titled The Paternalism of Partnership, by Maria Eriksson Baaz.