Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Our Ancestors Used to Bury Their 'Development' in the Ground: Modernity and the Meanings of Development within a Tanzanian Marine Park

Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Our Ancestors Used to Bury Their 'Development' in the Ground: Modernity and the Meanings of Development within a Tanzanian Marine Park

Article excerpt

Building upon critiques that suggest that the concept of alternative modernities may too readily slip into an easy pluralism, this article instead directs attention to competing uses of the concept of the "modern" within a single location. Linking ideas of the modern with those of "development," this article explores the disparate meanings given to development within Tanzania's internationally-sponsored Mafia Island Marine Park. It considers how the various perspectives of island residents, national government officials, and international aid workers/tourists relate to their own social positioning and carry implications for the power relationships at work among these groups [development, alternative modernities, Tanzania, marine parks, ecotourism]

In recent years, there has been growing attention to the concept of alternative, multiple or parallel modernities (Gaonkar 2001; Appadurai 1996). Such concepts seek to decenter Euro-centric paradigms of "modernity" by arguing, as Dilip Gaonkar (2001:17) has expressed it, that "...modernity is not one, but many." In other words, "...modernity always unfolds within a specific cultural or civilizational context and that different starting points for the transition to modernity lead to different outcomes (Gaonkar 2001:17)."1 The search for alternative modernities modernities crucially draws attention to the variety of experiences found in nonwestern parts of the world; however, this endeavor may also present theoretical problems of its own. Most obviously, the concept of alternative modernities inadvertently retains the assumption of a generic European norm against which variations of modernity found in other parts of the world are imagined and discussed (Mitchell 2000: xii). In some accounts, there is also a lingering tendency to view modernity as if it were a noun, i.e. as a state or condition (hybrid, attitudinal or otherwise), rather than the reified label for complex, contradictory and contested processes and beliefs with multiple temporalities and jagged edges.

Such tendencies may encourage the temptation to conceive of alternative modernities in terms of an easy pluralism (Mitchell 2000:xii) which fails to fully interrogate the power relationships in which concepts of the modern are embedded and utilized at national and international levels. James Ferguson (2002a; 2002b), for example, warns against letting conceptions of alternative modernities slip into a simple cultural relativism. He notes that in Zambia, discussions about which peoples or countries are more or less modern or developed (with Zambians depicting themselves as those who are "lacking") constitute a form of "inequality talk" that seeks to underscore the profound international inequalities experienced by many Africans. Claims that all peoples are equally modern, albeit in different ways, can inadvertently downplay this type of use of the "modern" which seeks to draw attention to social and economic disparities. Consequently, rather than simply documenting the "creative adaptations" of various peoples as they generate their own alternative routes to modernity (Gaonkar 2001:18), we might wish to focus greater attention on how the concept of the modern itself comes to be understood and utilized by a range of social actors in the context of particular power-laden social relationships both within and between countries.2

Paying attention to the everyday usages of the "modern" in non-western parts of the world inevitably means addressing ideas of development. As Stacy Pigg has argued for Nepal, "...modernity is not an abstraction. It is an idea rendered meaningful and concrete through involvement with the ideologies and institutional practices of development...Being modern is being bikasi (developed)" (1996:172). In this article, I suggest that the growing critical literature on development can offer a helpful space from which to explore and evaluate the concept of alternative modernities.3 Although the literature on development is itself varied, several strands within this literature offer useful directions for the contemporary debates over alternative modernities found within cultural studies, postcolonial studies, anthropology and other disciplines. …

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