Participating in Development: Approaches to Indigenous Knowledge

Participating in Development: Approaches to Indigenous Knowledge

Participating in Development: Approaches to Indigenous Knowledge

Participating in Development: Approaches to Indigenous Knowledge


Development has too often failed to deliver on its promises to poor nations. The policies imposed from above by international agencies and state bodies have frequently not met the needs of ordinary people. Development agencies have therefore been searching for some time for alternative approaches. One of those being pioneered is 'indigenous knowledge', which aims to make local voices heard more effectively.This thought-provoking and challenging collection focuses on how anthropologists can define and use indigenous knowledge in situations where it must meet the demands of development while not compromising anthropological expectations.


Making anthropology work

Paul Sillitoe

There is a revolution occurring in the pursuit of ethnography (Sillitoe 1998). Few anthropologists are involved! It has to do with the shift in emphasis that is occurring in the development world from a 'top-down' intervention to a 'grassroots' participatory perspective. Development agencies have been casting around for several years with mounting evidence of resources wasted in ill-conceived, frequently centrally imposed schemes that have not only failed to improve matters in less developed countries but which have also on occasion made them worse, arrogantly sending in the eggheads to sort out local problems (Hobart 1993). The time has come for anthropology to consolidate its place in development practice, not merely as frustrated post-project critic but as implementing partner. There are growing demands for its skills and insights to further understanding of agricultural, health, community and other issues, and so contribute, as this volume argues, to positive change in the long term, promoting culturally appropriate and environmentally sustainable interventions acceptable to 'beneficiaries'. The conference from which this work derives-the millennial Association of Social Anthropologists of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth Conference (at London's School of Oriental and African Studies, April 2000) - aimed to further the involvement of anthropologists in this challenging work.

Anthropology needs to turn from overinterest in postmodern mindgames to engaging more with development's dilemmas, as Darrell Posey (chapter 2) argues passionately, or face further probable diminution in the current political and economic climate, (with its accountancy demands) as some of the proliferating commentaries on the discipline's future suggest. Its identity is at stake. The topic of identity features prominently in contemporary anthropological discourse, aptly perhaps given its focus on subjectivity (although it exposes the discipline devastatingly to postmodern critiques by appearing ethnocentrically again, in the name of theory, to impose its concerns on those it studies). But there is more at stake here than disciplinary self-interest. Many of those communities anthropologists study are explicitly the target group of development agencies, the 'poorest of the poor' as they say, and, where the discipline can, it should surely do something to assist them. Until recently we

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