Ethnography and International Development

Dr. Jonathan Murphy and Dr. Arun Kumar

Ethnography and international development have shared a difficult relationship. Colonial ethnographers’ descriptions of the Other (as savage, traditional, simple, and backward) became the premise for postcolonial development. Discussing, Anthropology’s engagement with development, Lewis and Mosse (2006) classify it into instrumental, populist, and deconstructive approaches. The latter of these has been particularly influential among post- and critical- Development Studies scholars (Escobar, 1995; Ferguson, 1990) in challenging ‘Western’ development and modernization. Departing from this, postcolonial studies of development have used ethnography to probe the nature of modernity under postcoloniality and challenge the dichotomies (under/developed, modern and traditional etc.) on which development is predicated (Gupta, 1998). Relatedly, Ferguson (1998) also advocates a ‘messy’ approach to ethnographies of development and modernity.

More recently, ethnography has also turned its attention to/on those at the other end of development. ‘Aidnography’ (Gould and Marcussen 2004, Mosse 2005), for example, looks at the experts and professionals leading development interventions. Auto-ethnography has become a popular way of illuminating the insidious working of power through and in the lives of development experts (Eyben 2014), which had been secreted away, in large part, from academic and popular discussion on Development Studies. Lewis and Mosse (2006) propose using ideas of ‘brokerage’ and ‘translation’ to understand, through ethnography, the role of different actors involved in development. Closer to home, Critical Management Studies scholars have also employed ethnographies (Kenny 2012; Dar 2014) to provide influential criticisms of the organisation and management of international development.

In this stream, we are interested in ethnographies of development (from the ‘field’ and beyond) as well as methodological reflections on doing development ethnographies. At the same time, we are also interested in historicized criticisms of the use of ethnography by practitioners and scholars of development.

Please submit a 500 word abstract or proposal by Tuesday 28th February 2017.

Stream Organisers

Dr. Jonathan Murphy, Cardiff University,

Dr. Arun Kumar, University of York,


Dar S (2014) Hybrid accountabilities: When western and non-western accountabilities collide. Human Relations 67(2): 131-151.

Escobar A (1995) Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Eyben R (2014) International aid and the making of a better world: Reflexive practice, Routledge: New York.

Ferguson J (1990) The Anti-politics Machine: ‘Development’, Depoliticization and Bureaucratic Power in Lesotho. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ferguson J (1998) Expectations of Modernity: Myths and Meanings of Urban Life on the Zambian Copperbelt. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Gould J and HS Marcussen (eds) (2004) Ethnographies of Aid: Exploring Development Text and Encounters. Roskilde: Institute of Development Studies.

Gupta A (1998) Postcolonial Developments: Agriculture in the Making of Modern India. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Kenny K (2012) ‘Someone big and important’: Identification and affect in an international development organization. Organization Studies 33(9): 1175–1193.

Lewis D and D Mosse (eds) (2006) Development Brokers and Translators. The Ethnography of Aid and Agencies. Bloomfield, CT: Kumarian Press.

Mosse D (2005) Cultivating Development: An Ethnography of Aid Policy and Practice. London; Ann Arbor, MI.: Pluto Press.