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Review on Anthropology and Development and "Evil Twin"

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Review on Anthropology and Development and "Evil Twin" essay
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The essay will look at different works within the discipline to expand on this “evil twin” relationship as we move away from this iconic work to contextualist this debate within current anthropology. The first section will look back at the discourse of development and anthropology as the history of both these fields is essential to form the context of Ferguson’s article as well as the fraught relationship that exists between pure and applied forms of anthropology. The second section will focus on the term “evil twin” as one tries to understand Ferguson’s use of the term evil as one tries to understand the two opposite ends of a development anthropology’s significance in the discipline. The last and probably the most important section questions some of Ferguson’s assumption in the current context of anthropology as one tries to understand if development is indeed “uninvited” or “unwanted” in today’s context.

Anthropology and Development

While the modern understanding of development may have become popular in the 19th and 20th century, the ideology it perpetuates is one that has been prevalent since the period of enlightenment, in the eighteenth century in northern Europe (Lewis 2005: 4). There was a rise in industrial capitalism which would then go on to promote a universal history that is backed by concepts of enlightenment of theories by philosophers such as Hegel. Although, the thing that distinguishes this from modern notions of development is the fact that it was just an idea to understand world history. It was not used as a “rationale for acting upon that history” (Cooper and Packard 1997: 7). This would change with the 20th century after the Bretton Woods conference Truman’s speech and the rise of supranational institutions like the world bank and the IMF. In fact, the idea of a modern notion of development is often attributed to the aftermath of World War 2, when the 33rd President of the United States of America, Harry Truman, declared the “southern hemisphere as ‘underdeveloped areas’ ”(Sachs 1997: 15, Esteva 1993:7, Cooper and Packard 1997). Development, after this, became a process “to pave the way for the replication” of the “conditions that were supposed to characterize the more economically advanced nations” in most of Asia, Africa and Latin America (Escobar 1997: 497). It became a marker for people to explain the “social and cultural difference on a global scale” (Venkatesan, Yarrow 2012: 1) This is to argue that it has become a form of discourse where the argument is that underdeveloped countries must strive towards development through the means of an economic growth. This would lead to some popular paradigms of development theory such as the modernization theory, which argues that development is a “progressive movement towards technologically more complex and integrated forms of “modern” society” that would then replace the traditional forms of society (Long 1992: 18, cf. Gardner, Lewis 2015).

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While the modernization theory is still popular among some development economists, the definition of development will undergo some changes as the factors that define development will move beyond the idea of just being understood through economic growth. This is to say that the “well-being of an economy may form a precondition for development” but one needs to also consider factors like human rights and social welfare to truly mark development (Lewis 2005: 3). This approach was marked by the birth of a Human Development Index. Although, economic development was still the primary goal as the focus did centre around an aim to reduce and eradicate poverty (Gardner, Lewis 2015) It alludes to the fact that economics is still the dominant discipline within the discourse followed by powerful Development institutions like the World Bank or the IMF (Fine 2009, cf. Mosse 2015 LSE Podcast). I would argue that this is an important point to make note of, within anthropology, as the relationship between anthropology and development will also call upon the study of economics as a discipline. This resonates with Ferguson’s claim that development knowledge is very much related to “the shape of disciplinary knowledge” (1997: 170). This is to claim that anthropology is not the only twin when it comes to development as other disciplines, especially economics, affect its definitions and practices. It would also mean confronting a different kind of relationship for anthropology as a debate does not just exist between applied and the so-called ‘pure’ anthropologists. It also exists between the fields of economics and anthropology.

A history of development was important to traverse, in the context of this essay, as it has a lot to do with the history of anthropology and its long-lasting discomfort with the project of development. Lewis Henry Morgan in his iconic book, Ancient Society, would argue for a theory of cultural evolution which is influenced by the ideas of the enlightenment age. He would claim that the human culture has seven different stages: lower, middle, and upper savagery; lower, middle, and upper barbarism; and civilization (Morgan 1877). Each stage is marked by a form of technological achievement and the end goal for all societies is to reach a form of civilization (ibid.).

This would go on to become a very influential text within anthropology and the reason I bring this up is to show the enlightenment heritage of anthropology. While one might argue that this idea of the social evolution was refuted in the early twentieth century, as Ferguson in his essay would point out, “the break with evolutionism was less complete than it is often made to appear” (1997: 142). This idea of the evolution is what is primarily critiqued in Edward Said’s seminal book titled Orientalism. He claims that the “Orient was almost a European invention”(1978: 1). He elaborates on this by stating that the westerners produced or imagined an oriental other so as to demean it and justify its colonial rule. Talal Asad in his iconic book, Anthropology and the Colonial Encounter, adds on to this narrative as the discipline of anthropology itself played an important role in the colonial encounter. He argued in his book that anthropology is ideologically a part and parcel of the project of colonialism. He claims that “Anthropologists before independence were ‘apologists for colonialism’ and subtle agents of colonial supremacy” (1973, 15). Both Said and Asad’s work, along with other anthropologists put the discipline in crisis as anthropologists did feel guilty for the discipline’s history. While it did indeed lead to a “crises of representation,”I would argue that it also propagated and fueled the tension between pure and applied forms of anthropology.

This is not to claim that it originated out of this guilt but I do believe that it did play a role in distancing some anthropologists from applied forms of work into a more theoretical framework. One can see this when scholars like Escobar would use Asad’s argument to compare the “development encounter” with the colonial one, wherein they argue that an anthropology of development will resonate with the discipline’s relationship with colonialism (1995: 14). I believe that James Ferguson, as a post-development scholar like Escobar, would have a similar point of view as he describes the development and its anthropological study as the “evil twin”.

Deconstructing the “Evil Twin”

The introduction of this essay saw a quote from Ferguson’s article which established that the evil twin in the essay title referred to development anthropology rather than development itself. This section will look closely at the term “evil twin” as it tries to understand the implications of a choice of language while providing a possible alternative in the form of a “moral twin”. The relationship between the pure and applied forms of the discipline has always been one of conflict, wherein the former “ views the latter as second-rate, both intellectually and morally, while the latter views the formal as irrelevant, both theoretically and politically” (Gow 2002: 299, cf. Ferguson 1997).

This has been a matter of debate since Malinowski argued for a more practical anthropology through its contribution to policy while Evans Pritchard would argue for an opposite approach and distance himself from this applied anthropology (Lewis 2005: 1, cf. Grillo 2002). Ferguson would describe this debate as a “Jekyll and Hyde conflict,” wherein the academic side is the good doctor while the applied aspect refers to its evil counterpart (1997: 170). In fact, he would argue that this is specific to anthropology since other disciplines like Sociology and Political Science pose this problem as an “issue not so much for applied researchers as for ‘area studies’ or ‘international’ specialists — a distinction that has little force in anthropology, where everyone is an area studies specialist” (1997: 150).

Although, this metaphor of the Jekyll and Hyde along with the use of the term “evil” to describe the applied mode of anthropology is enough to assume his stance in the debate. He argues that it is evil since “ it conflicts with the most basic theoretical and political commitments of its own discipline” (ibid.). Although, they are also twins since they also share the field’s distinctive specialization, “that is always concerned with the ‘less,’ the ‘under,’ the ‘not-yet’ . . . developed” (ibid.) These characteristics are what make them the “unwanted ghost” or the “uninvited relative” that haunt the discipline with its presence (ibid.).

David Gow would challenge the above-held view of the evil twin as he would argue that the anthropology of development is, in fact, a moral twin. Gow claims that Ferguson, with his use of the term evil, is questioning development anthropology in moral terms. He argues that the problem with the applied side of the discipline lies in its failure to transform development into something that is not morally problematic(Gow 2002). He takes this point and expands on it by arguing that a way for us to better understand development anthropology would be to try and do a “critical analysis of the values, specifically the ethics, underlying this subfield” (Gow 2002: 300) This would help turn this into a moral project, rather than an evil one. He would reference the works of Robert Chambers, Amartya Sen, and Martha C Nussbaum to claim that the focus needs to be on the moral narrative. He argues that anthropology needs to define and specify its moral values as the stress of any project should be on the “quality of the lives that will result from the achievement of these rights and needs” (2002: 309).

One could escape the “ tyranny of ideology, academic discipline, and political fashion” by structuring the development values around the moral question, in contrast to an economic or political question. While this argument is fairly convincing and proposes a more optimistic future for the anthropology of development, there is an instance within his work which is perplexing in nature. It is puzzling especially in the context of his moral narrative as the statement he quotes from Michael Cowen and Robert Shenton’s work on development is quite problematic and elitist in nature (cf. Szpotoicz 2015). He states that an intervention from International development organizations is imperative since “national elites in the third world are generally corrupt and show little interest in such populist approaches” of a moral kind of development.

This statement is aligned with the idea of development that promoted difference and claimed the West to be superior and better in the so-called underdeveloped areas. This makes the whole narrative quite unsettling but it still does not take away from his argument in my opinion. Therefore, the idea of an anthropology of development that is built on a moral narrative is still a powerful idea but one might question the ethics and moral assumptions that Gow has in his own mind. This is still not to say that this is a superior or inferior approach to Ferguson’s Evil Twin. The aim of this particular section is to contrast Ferguson’s disregard for the discipline’s evil twin with Gow’s celebration of the field as a moral twin (cf. Gardner, Lewis 2015: 5)

Anthropology and its Engagement With Development

This engagement is not only important to understand the anthropologist’s popular position with development but it also paves way for us to question a set of assumptions put forth by James Ferguson in his work on anthropology and the evil twin. He would argue that development and therefore the field of development anthropology sets to destroy the very thing that the discipline loves to study. He claims that a study of “ modernizing people might well be of considerable applied or policy significance” but it could hardly be “central to the more prestigious arena of anthropological theory” which was built upon the study of “societies as little contaminated by development as possible” (1997: 146). While this might have been a dominant idea when Ferguson wrote his essay, it no longer applies to the current world of anthropology. The introduction of subfield such us urban and digital anthropology has made sure that anthropology is no longer a study of local or primitive culture. This is to argue that even the theoretical aspect of the discipline which has nothing to do with development does deal with development in some form or another. I would reiterate Lewis’ argument that anthropologists do not have a single stance when it comes to its relations with development. In the context of this reiteration, the following paragraphs and subsections look at some of the ways in which the discipline has moved beyond studying development strictly through an applied lens.

Katy Gardner and David Lewis would revisit, update and republish their book, Anthropology, and Development: challenges for the 21st century, in 2015 since the idea of development has changed since the book’s first publication in 1996 (2015). Development is no longer something that only happens in the third world. As one saw in the section that traced the history of development, the word had indeed moved beyond economic terms to also include factors like environmental concerns and more. These new ideas of development such as sustainable goals also applied to the so-called developed countries.

This is to say that an anthropology of development is not just studying a society with “modernizing” people but can also work in and on the so-called “modern” or “developed” societies. It also helps one think beyond the idea that a study of development can only happen in “modernizing” areas with active development projects (Ferguson 1997: 146). This would mean that an anthropological lens into development could be used to study a form of Identity, as Akhil Gupta in his work on Postcolonial development looks at how “underdevelopment becomes a form of identity in the postcolonial world” (1999: x). It could also be a study of development institutions as Richard Harper’s work on an IMF mission looks at the gathering of data that forms the institution’s reports and discussions with different governments (Edelman, Haugerud 2005: 323).

In short, one can study kinship, religion, infrastructure, gender, language and much more through the lens of development. As David Mosse, during a lecture on “Anthropology and Development: challenges for the 21st century” would claim; “a study of development today could be a study of everything”. The following two subsections will illustrate this point as one looks at the different way that anthropologists/social scientists have engaged with the notion of development.

Development and Linguistics

Jonathan Crush, in his volume on development, would separate his anthology from the work of others by arguing that he and all his contributors focus on the “texts and the words of development” (1995: 3). Their focus is on the “written, narrated and spoken” of development rather than the project itself. They focus on language since the purpose of a development text is to convince and persuade the people that there is a single vision for the world and anything else needs to be amended (1995: 22). While he argues this using multiple works, I would particularly focus on the essay by Doug Porter titled “The Homesickness Of Development Process”. Porter lays out the ways in which the “authoritarian character of development is reproduced by metaphors of practice” (1995: 81). It could be a local development project or a higher level policy making but there are authoritarian consequences with all these metaphors. There are a continuity and persistence among these metaphors despite the significant changes in the meaning of development since world war 2. He does this by looking at three different kinds of metaphors. The first one or the organizing metaphor which is specific to the post world war 2 kinds of development. The second one and arguably the most important one refers to Master metaphors which are not bound by time or space. The third one is the metaphor of practice which is particular to a specific project or a geographical location (1995: 64).

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