Introduction to my development research


This website started as a record of my publications since converting  into a scholar activist  in 2002 towards the end of a professional life in development practice. My research focused on power and relations in international aid.  The ‘books’ page provides details of the books I’ve edited or sole-authored.  Or just download stuff  from the articles and papers page.

Between 2006 and 2011 I was a member of the Pathways of Women’s Empowerment Research Programme Consortium with a particular interest in global policy institutions, actors and discourses in relation to gender equality. This included a project with feminist bureaucrats who are working in international development agencies and this is the subject of a recently published book, co-edited with Laura Turquet Feminists in Development Organizations. More recently I became interested in how and why development policy invisibilizes unpaid care work.

When still working for DFID I had already argued for studying donors as subjects in their own right – making myself such a subject for study when in Bolivia (2000-2002) – and have since then contributed to ‘aidnography’ following on from my participation in a 2003 seminar organised by David Mosse and David Lewis where I gave a paper with Rosaio León that became a chapter in (2005) The Aid Effect. This was part of a body of work analysing different aspects of power and aid relations in Bolivia, concluding in Mosse’s edited collection Adventures in Aidland (2011). Researching donors poses methodological issues and in my own research I position the anthropologist as a reflexive auto-ethnographer, retaining empathy for the insider’s position while sufficiently distanced to cultivate a critical faculty. My most recent work on donors concerns the impact on the international aid system of the emerging powers.

My interest in knowledge, power and practice has led to my taking the international aid system as an entry point to enquiring more generally into institutions that have a declared normative commitment to progressive social change. I have recently been working with NGOs including in Vietnam, Scandinavia, Switzerland and the Netherlands, as well as the UK, to help them bring theories of social change to bear on practical and institutional questions in a manner that allows practitioners to explore their assumptions and identify alternative modes of action. This emphasis on reflexive practice is explored in depth in my book International Aid and the Making of a Better World.

Investigating how we understand how change happens has led to a concern about the current obsession in official aid agencies for measuring effectiveness in a manner that assumes all problems are bounded/simple to be solved through linear cause-effect logical planning. Power, relations, the partiality of knowledge and complexity are all ignored in current approaches to performance measurement, as are surprises and positive and negative unplanned consequences. I co-convened the Big Push Forward (2011-2013) that linked practitioners to identify and share strategies and approaches for fair assessments for a fairer world.  From the 2013 conference of the Big Push Forward, Chris Roche,  Irene Guijt, Cathy Shutt and I  co-edited a book, The Politics of Evidence and Results based on  some of the background papers and case studies discussed at the Conference.


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