Academic journal article Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Courtiers En Development: Les Villages Africains En Quete De Projets. (Book Reviews: Development)

Academic journal article Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Courtiers En Development: Les Villages Africains En Quete De Projets. (Book Reviews: Development)

Article excerpt

BIERSCHENK, THOMAS J.-P. CHAVEAU & J.-P. OLIVIER DE SARDAN (eds), Courtiers en development: les villages africains en quete de projets (Collection 'Hommes et Societes'). 328 pp., bibliogr. Paris: APAD-Karthala, 2000. [euro]24.39 (paper)

This is an important study for many reasons. It breaks new theoretical ground in the anthropology of development, and breaches a deplorable hiatus between English and French anthropological studies of development in Africa. The contributors acknowledge the manifold links between their work and the British tradition of political and social anthropology, and engage in a constructive debate with the writings of researchers based in the UK, the US, and the Netherlands. Bringing together the work of senior scholars and a new generation of fieldworkers, the book is characterized by a refreshing nonideological and empirical approach to local micropolitics of development. It develops a model which goes beyond the rather vague - if extremely popular in Anglophone studies - notion of 'local agency', and explores in detail the different facets of a particular kind of agency, that of brokers in development (courtiers en development).

Following Boissevain's definition, the authors argue that 'the broker is a professional manipulator of people and information, who produces communication for profit. The broker does not control resources himself (lands, jobs, subventions, credits, specialized knowledge, etc.), but he has strategic contacts with those who control these resources: the broker's capital consists in his network of personal relations' (p. 20). The emergence of brokers in development is traced back to configurations of power, partly shaped in colonial times, and catalysed by new state decentralization trends and international 'participatory' approaches, which favour the direct participation of 'civil society' in development. These trends have set the conditions for the figure of the development broker to develop his (in all the examples provided brokers are men) intermediary function between the 'developers' and the 'developed'. Brokers operate at the interface between these two worlds, and their role consists in draining toward a village or region a part of the 'development revenue'.

One of the book's merits is to draw attention to the multiple ways in which, far from being passive recipients of mistargeted aid, local people attempt to take advantage of projects and other resources made available by 'development'. Hence, local perceptions of 'development' cast it as potential revenue to be appropriated before others do so. This situation is vividly exemplified by Mongbo's analysis of local strategies to capture development funds in Benin. …

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