Academic journal article Human Organization

Village Expert and Development Discourse: "Progress" in a Philippine Igorot Village

Academic journal article Human Organization

Village Expert and Development Discourse: "Progress" in a Philippine Igorot Village

Article excerpt

How does discourse work in everyday development situations and how does it order social relationships in local communities? To answer these questions, this paper argues, we have to follow how local actors use different development discourses in practice. Using the case of an indigenous women's organization in the Philippines, the paper explores what local development initiatives tell us about the meaning of development and social change in a village. Stepping away from notions about hegemonic discourse, the argument is based on the duality of discourse, where actors on the one hand find room for maneuver in a multiplicity of discourses, and on the other create realities beyond their intentions by enacting particular discourses. To study this, the paper adopts a two-step approach. First, three local meanings of development are identified: development as improving the village; as helping those in need; and as bringing personal benefit. Second, an interface analysis is used, focusing on negotiations at real or imaginary meeting points of different discourses. Research found that women's use of development discourses plays into processes of social ordering, in particular by eroding the status of peasant women in favor of educated professionals.

Key words: development discourse, local knowledge, women's organizations, Philippines

This paper is dedicated to my dear friend Norman Long, on the occasion of his retirement and in honor of his contribution to development sociology. Discourse has, in the last decade, evolved into a central concept of development studies. It seems beyond dispute that the way development is defined and its recipients labeled is crucial in processes of generating and distributing costs and benefits of development. Thanks to discourse analysis, development has largely been unmasked as a project of Western superiority; however, little insight has been gained on the questions of how discourse works in everyday development situations and how it orders social relationships in local communities. To answer these questions, this paper argues, we have to follow how local actors use different development discourses in practice.

At the base of this paper lies a puzzling situation concerning a literacy project for 13 women in Kayatuan in Mountain Province, Philippines, that I studied on behalf of the sponsoring organization and as part of a one-year ethnographic study in the village.1 The project was initiated by a nongovernmental organization (NGO) to empower illiterate women. The ability to read and write would help them in their everyday life, if only to guide transactions in the market or to travel to the big city. It would also empower the women politically; being able to write would allow them to participate in elections. After training a volunteer, the local partner organization recruited a class of participants and the program took off. Two years later the project concluded its first phase and held a graduation party. Seventy guests, including a number of provincial government officials and the municipal mayor, attended the party.

As it turned out, there was only one problem with the project: it made no sense. The participants were illiterate, but they were also very old. Most of them were teenagers during World War II, and they were hardly capable of learning to read and write. They wrote with thick markers to see the letters and, with their arthritic fingers, it took them minutes to note down a word. Week after week the same letters were repeated, and on graduation day some could still not spell their first names. It is understandable why the old women liked the literacy class; after all, it was lots of fun. But why did the officers of the organization, especially the volunteer teacher, put so much time and effort into a training that was not going to make the participants literate? Why did they consider it important to organize such a major event for the "graduation"? If the purpose was not to teach the women, what did the project do? …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.