Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Anthropology and Development

Anthropology and Development

Minor Research Project

Kabir Krishna
Master of Philosophy (Social Anthropology)
Department of Anthropology
University of Delhi

Anthropology and Development

Anthropology and Development enjoy a complementary relationship. Spradley and McCurdy (1972:9) say that Anthropology enables us to discover the different cultural worlds that human groups create and inhabit, and to understand these worlds in terms other than our own. Anthropology helps us appreciate that each culture has its own distinctive ethos or worldview, each with its own logic and coherence. Anthropology therefore serves as a bridge across cultures, making one intelligible to the other, preserving the integrity of each. Anthropos means Human and logia is Study so that anthropology is the study of humans. More specifically, it is the study of human differences, cultural and biological, in the context of human nature. Anthropologists identify and compare behavior of a particular group against the full range of human behavior. These comparisons should uncover principles that apply to all human communities. However, until after the Second World War, anthropology focused almost exclusively on non-Western or tribal peoples. In fact, this "third world focus" was the distinguishing characteristic of the discipline. In fact, for a long time anthropologists assumed that non-European cultures were different enough to warrant a different social science discipline to study them. This assumption seems less persuasive today.
Anthropologists studied the way of life, remains, language, and physical characteristics of primitive people -- social facts. Social facts might include how people celebrate a holiday or when they exchange gifts. Customs, values, and social patterns of different cultures were described and sometimes compared. How are different people in different places similar and different, both biologically and behaviorally?
All humans are fundamentally alike in many ways. We share biological needs and functions, we use language, and we form relationships. At the same time, each of us is unique individual: No one else on earth has quite our particular experiences, thoughts and wishes.
Culture, however, groups some individuals together and excludes others; it makes some of us alike and some of us different in important ways. The way we dress, the gods we worship, the language we worship the language we speak, the food we eat, the things we value or despise – all of these are culturally motivated and serve to differentiate the members of one culture from those of other. People use this cultural knowledge to look at their surroundings and to organize what they see. They use the culture to arrive at judgments about what is happening in their world, to help them select appropriate responses to those happenings, and to draw conclusions about the results of these actions.
The individual begins to be able to identify differences and similarities in the new environment.
The individual begins to grasp the form, content and underlying principles of the new environment

COPING WITH ITThe individual learns how to interact successfully with the new system in limited ways.

USING ITThe individual learns to work within the system to achieve desired goals and outcomes.

INTEGRATING ITThe individual incorporates elements of the new system into his or her own operating framework.
(Source: Nolan 1999:25)

Although many disciples engage in fieldwork, none do it as intensively as anthropologists. Field work is like a rite of passage for anthropologists in making. Without going on a fieldwork, they cannot state that they are fully qualified anthropologists. Research in fieldwork tends to be descriptive and qualitative based upon lengthy interviews and much detailed observation. Analysis and documentation of a culture via field work is called Ethnography.
In order to maximize learning, anthropologists see the culture from inside it. Thus, the cultural anthropologist attempts to discover how people see their world. Since they often spent many years living within the culture they studied, anthropologists often identified with the tribal group. Anthropology fosters a tolerance for different ways of living. Some anthropologists are strongly associated with the rights of native peoples to live their life without external threats. Thus, some anthropologists could be seen as an "enemy of progress."

Participant Observation
Anthropologists acquire their knowledge from other people through Participant observation. Participant Observation is simple learning by participating and observing. Anthropologists spend a great deal of time and energy trying to understand how people use language to talk about – and think about and act about – what is important to them. Learning the local language allows the anthropologists to participate, observe, question and measure using local terms and categories. Anthropologists in the field, far from being ‘objective’ or ‘detached’ observers, are extraordinarily dependent on the people around them for data.

Relativism is another key aspect of fieldwork methodology. Anthropologists believe that all people are fully and equally human, and that the only way to develop significant understanding of another culture is to judge it on its own terms. Because fieldworkers seek understanding from an insider’s point of view, they adopt an attitude of relativism – the suspension of judgment about another culture’s norms, values and practices - the better to understand to understand its internal logic and structure.
Each society has its own particular view of what is ‘normal’ and the people in these societies come to accept this view of normality and act accordingly. What might strike an ‘outsider’ as ‘irritational’ or ‘inefficient’ behaviour usually makes sense within its own cultural framework, where rationality and efficiency are defines differently.

Development as a cross cultural encounter
Development has been defined in a variety of ways, but improvement, empowerment and participation are key terms. Improvement refers to betterment in ways that local population understands, accepts and values. Empowerment means building local capacities for the planning and management of the changes associated with improvement. Participation means the involvement of different members of a society – groups and subgroups in the decisions that will effect their lives, now and in near future.
Development, often emanating from outside – can pose a threat or challenge to existing cultural practices. Development opportunities, furthermore, do not arrive at discrete packages, but as part of complex cultural system, with associated elements, values and consequences.
Development is not a thing or a concept, it is a process. A process of negotiation and sometimes conflict – over whose goals and values will prevail in change, whose rules will apply. Groups use their culture as recourse – and sometimes as weapon – to help shape responses to such changes and opportunities.
In this cross – cultural encounter, the potential for disappointment and disaster is high. Outcomes that satisfy neither development agencies nor local populations are all too frequent. Most of the time, development failures stem from lack of understanding between proposed changes and local cultural contexts, not a lack of finance, technology or goodwill.

Content and Context in Development Work
Successful development work requires both content and context knowledge. Content knowledge includes specific details of processes, operations and formulae – the procedures necessary to accomplish a task. Context knowledge refers to the understanding of a specific environment in which the task will be carried out. Development work tends to focus on matters of content – budgets, technical specifications procedures, deadlines and policies. Development specialists, whatever their discipline, therefore tend to share a common base of content knowledge thet makes it possible for them to communicate effectively in many situations and to craft policy prescriptions at the macro level.
But when one moves from policy to practice, the common universe of discourse becomes more fragmented. The success with which macro policies actually work in the field depends far more on context than anything else i.e. on the extent to which cultural assumptions contained in the policy actually fit with those operating in the local environment. In development situations, the cross-cultural nature of the encounter means that the content knowledge that drives policy, finance, and technology almost always requires detailed context knowledge of the local situation to be both relevant and effective.
The local cultural context within which a development project is situated can be ignored, and it usually is. But it will not go away unless people do. Cultures are flexible, resilient, and able to change, but they are also remarkably enduring. It is often seen that the development programs that fit with their surroundings work, whereas those that disregard salient aspects of context usually fail, sooner or later. The question then arises that how can context be incorporated into development policies and practices.

Anthropology and Development: Relationship
In the arena of development, anthropology provides the means both for understanding the con\text and for incorporating this context into planning and action in mutually satisfactory ways.
In many important ways, anthropologists are ideal development practitioners. Their inductive and non judgmental approach means that they enter a field situation with few preconceptions about what they will find there. Anthropologists are wary of generalizations, assumptions or foregone conclusions. They are naturally interested in people rather than things, in what people do as well as what they say. Anthropologists are aware that our arrangements, with which most of us are most comfortable and secure, are essentially arbitrary and indeed exotic to others at times. Anthropologists remind our colleagues that there are minds out there that think as well as we do, but differently.
Anthropology provides us with a way to look into other cultural worlds, to uncover and understand the shared meanings by which others act and react. it is through anthropology that we learn the things that aren’t immediately obvious ; that aren’t revealed by surveys or quick site visits. Anthropology helps us understand how a culture is patterned, why changes in one part of the pattern may resonate elsewhere, and how norms and values affect plans, policies and prescriptions. Anthropology, in short, helps us understand why actions, thoughts, and feelings make sense to people who inhabit cultural worlds often quite different from their own.
Anthropology provides a way of seeing that complements rather than challenges the kinds of knowledge generated by other disciplines. Anthropology does not conflict with these other approaches, but extends and enhances them. Learning to see through another’s eyes is not a sufficient condition for effective and successful development, but it is necessary one.
Anthropology not only uncovers different cultural worlds, it makes it possible for them to engage with each other. As a cross-cultural encounter, development is a protracted negotiation; unless both sides win, both sides lose. As in life itself, success in development means coming to terms with different ways of seeing the world and learning how to create outcomes that draw on diversity as a source of intelligence and strength. Anthropology in development can help ensure that different cultural worlds that come together in projects and programs do so in ways that are mutually acceptable and satisfactory.
Anthropologists say that in order for development to make its impact, it must involve people. Therefore right from the beginning, all individuals must be involved in the process. Therefore it is important to know the priorities of people, their pressing needs and accordingly the plan of development can be finalized. The traditional way to know about the people has been the ethnographic method where anthropologists spend a long time in the field with people end try to find out the needs of the people. But ethnographic method takes a long time as fieldwork is supposed to be lengthy and detailed. Thus, by the time the anthropologists are able to say anything specific; the conditions in the society might have changed. Therefore a new method was devised that told about the people in the field in the shortest period of time so that the development work can begin as soon as possible, without any delay.
In 1978, University of Sussex in England organized a seminar, the title of which was Rapid Rural Appraisal or ‘RRA’. The aim of Rapid Rural Appraisal was to conduct a survey which familiarized the people with the local situation in the shortest period of time.
John Beebe suggested that the time to be spent for this should be 4 to 10 weeks. And during that period we should be able to have an understanding of society so that we can start with the development work as soon as possible.
Later on Rapid Rural Appraisal was coupled with participatory approach and it became the Participatory Rural Approach or PRA. The aim of Participatory Rural Approach was to find about the local situation as rapidly as possible. The aim of Participatory Rural Approach was to engage people right from the time their study is planned. People should be involved. This will give the strength to the survey and later on, planning. Combining both of these, Rapid Rural Appraisal and Participatory Rural Approach, the approach that came out was Participatory Learning and Action. Or PLA which implies that we learn from the opinion of the people and therefore we have to give up the elitist approach, the approaches of outside according to which what ‘outsiders’ know is superior to the approaches of the ‘insiders’. This kind of approach has to be given up. The alternative is Participatory Approach i.e. the people should identify their pressing needs feel attached to the planning process, think that the project is their and would benefit them. Unless people are involved, in the entire process, nothing useful will come. The account of the combination which is arrived at using the methods of Rapid Rural Appraisal and Participatory Rural Approach is known as ‘Development Ethnography i.e. the kind of Ethnography used for development purposes. Hence in this Ethnography those aspects are given precedence which has a bearing on the development process, so that all the information which does not deal with development is not included in the work. Development Ethnography is prepared in the shortest period of time. This kind of ethnography not opposed to classical ethnography. Anthropologists say that along with Development Anthropology, the classical ethnographical work can go on. They are not contradictory. Their purpose are obviously different. The purpose of development ethnography is to initiate change. The aim is to acquire that knowledge which can help to bring about change, whereas the aim of classical ethnography is to understand the situation.
So the process of understanding the situation as a whole may go on alongside development work. Anthropologists further say that there is always a need to periodically evaluate the impact of development. Each development program, to begin with is tentative. It can always be changed as the situation changes. While the development program is going on, the anthropologists must study the impact of the program. And with the accordance with the impact of the program, the development model should be changed. In other words, the program of development should not remain the same forever. Rather it should be changed keeping in mind changing situation.
Here the proposal is that anthropologists should be including in the group of the development personnel, all those people who are concerned with development program. The anthropologist should reside with the members of the local community, study the impact of development as it occurs. These anthropologists are also known as Resident Anthropologists.
The impact is studied as it is occurring. In accordance with the opinion of these anthropologists, the development program must be changed because newer issues will come up, newer problems will surface and therefore development program must change. Anthropologists are expected to sharpen their tools to study impact of the development programs. This is called Impact Assessment Studies. So the tasks assigned to the anthropologists are
1. To collect the opinions of the people, pressing problems.
2. To help in the planning process.
3. To conduct Impact Assessment Studies and modify development program.
The last advice the anthropologists give is that each situation differs from the other; each has its own characteristics. Hence, each planning should be at the macro level. There can be certain common characteristics in all development programs. But each development program must be modified according to the local situation. And it should require an understanding of the local situations. And it would require an understanding of the social system and in this work the role of anthropologists should be paramount.

Anthropology’s Contribution to Development
Anthropology has had a major impact on development over the past few decades. Anthropology has provided, among other things, a clear and keen sense of the real, and can often be crucial for bridging gaps between policies, plans and ground level implementation. Four arenas where anthropology has contributed to development work are:-
1. Research
Anthropologists have generated a great deal of useful research as well as developing innovative research methodologies. They have won major research contracts from agencies and foundations for this work and produced many influential publications. Many of their findings have been turned into important policy recommendations.
2. Leadership
Anthropologists now play leadership roles in many development projects, often serving as team leaders or chiefs of party. They work more closely with other specialists on key development issues. For Horowitz (1996: 336) states that “today it is not uncommon for an anthropologist to lead a team composed of economists and other technical specialists, because not only is cultural expertise desired, but it is increasingly recognized that anthropologists, by virtue of the holistic focus of their discipline, are often best able to integrate the various specialist reports into a coherent set of recommendations for action”
3. Assessment
Because anthropologists have been able to show how some development policies or projects have been detrimental to the lives of supposed beneficiaries, anthropology is being increasingly used across the entire cycle of project and program development. Although initially restricted to social impact appraisal ex post facto evaluation, anthropology is no\w used with growing frequency at all phases of project development
4. Indigenous Knowledge and Local Perspectives
Finally, and perhaps most important, it is slowly becoming accepted that a beneficiary perspective in planning and implementation is not simply useful but essential to development success. Anthropologists have been able to uncover reservoirs of local skill, knowledge, experience and expertise, and to show policy makers how these resources can be used to shape or reshape the nature of planning and action in the field.

Anthropology and Project Development
Anthropology, with its emphasis on discovery rather than prescription, is an ideal catalyst in the process of creative meaning making. Its qualitative approach breaks down barriers between different stakeholders in a project, illuminates areas of relevance and helps people talk and plan meaningly across differences that would otherwise divide them.
There are 3 major levels:-
1. Framing Level
2. Management Level
3. Assessment Level
1. Framing Level
At the framing level of the project, anthropology helps identifying problem structures and stakeholder groups. Once groups have been identified, anthropology provides tools for understanding their characteristics, needs and capabilities. Finally, anthropology can help match these characteristics to their counterparts within the development agencies involved in the project development. For this, appropriate and realistic project arrangements are designed and negotiated.
2. Management Level
At the management level of the project, learning and negotiation become even more important. Anthropology helps to illuminate and guide relationships between stakeholders as project activities unfold. Anthropology also helps these groups deal with unexpected developments, new information or changes in the surrounding context of the project
3. Assessment Level
Finally at the assessment level, anthropology helps stakeholders understand outcomes in terms that make sense to everyone. If the project is successful, anthropology can be used to help ensure that benefits continue and that arrangements are sustained over time. Should the project fail or produce negative outcomes, anthropology can often help pinpoint causes, helping stakeholders design appropriate modifications.

To conclude, the relationship between anthropology and development is too important to be ignored. A new development paradigm, borrowing insights from anthropology, would be based on context as the key to successful development. Place and people would be central to the new paradigm, which would also emphasize local participation in planning and implementation, a concern for long term sustainability, and finally an explicit learning orientation.
The adoption of such a paradigm will have a profound and far reaching consequences for the way in which development work is conceived and carried out. The understanding of cultural differences and its integration into plans procedures would become a central part of development. In order to change development thinking, we will need to change our development institutions.
Anthropology will play a central role in the development and implementation of this new paradigm and in the institutional transformations that accompany it. Anthropologists must continue their engagement and development at all levels, but particularly at the policy making sphere, and find ways to make their contributions and insights both relevant to the needs of the developing world, and used by the agencies and institutions that operate there.

Human Development Index

World map indicating Human Development Index (2007)

0.950 and over
under 0.350
not available

The Human Development Index (HDI) is the normalized measure of life expectancy, literacy, education, standard of living, and GDP per capita for countries worldwide. It is a standard means of measuring well-being, especially child welfare. It is used to determine and indicate whether a country is a developed, developing, or underdeveloped country and also to measure the impact of economic policies on quality of life.
The index was developed in 1990 by Indian Nobel prize winner Amartya Sen and Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq, with help from Gustav Ranis of Yale University and Lord Meghnad Desai of the London School of Economics and has been used since then by the United Nations Development Programme in its annual Human Development Report. Described by Sen as a "vulgar measure", because of its limitations, it nonetheless focuses attention on wider aspects of development than the per capita income measure it supplanted, and is a pathway for researchers into the wide variety of more detailed measures contained in the Human Development Reports.
The HDI measures the average achievements in a country in three basic dimensions of human development:
• A long and healthy life, as measured by life expectancy at birth.
• Knowledge and education, as measured by the adult literacy rate (with two-thirds weighting) and the combined primary, secondary, and tertiary gross enrollment ratio (with one-third weighting).
• A decent standard of living, as measured by the log of gross domestic product (GDP) per capita at purchasing power parity (PPP) in USD.
Each year, UN member states are listed and ranked according to these measures. Those high on the list often advertise it, as a means of attracting talented immigrants (economically, individual capital) or discouraging emigration.
An alternative measure, focusing on the amount of poverty in a country, is the Human Poverty Index.

The Human Development Index Report 2007

The report for 2007 was launched in Brasilia, Brazil, on November 27, 2007. Its focus was on "Fighting climate change: Human solidarity in a divided world." Most of the data used for the report are derived largely from 2005 or earlier, thus indicating an HDI for 2005. Not all UN member states choose to or are able to provide the necessary statistics.
The report showed a small increase in world HDI in comparison with last year's report. This rise was fueled by a general improvement in the developing world, especially of the least developed countries group. This marked improvement at the bottom was offset with a decrease in HDI of high income countries.
A HDI below 0.5 is considered to represent "low development". All 22 countries in that category are located in Africa. The highest-scoring Sub-Saharan countries, Gabon and South Africa, are ranked 119th and 121st, respectively. Nine countries departed from this category this year and joined the "medium development" group.
A HDI of 0.8 or more is considered to represent "high development". This includes all developed countries, such as those in North America, Western Europe, Oceania, and Eastern Asia, as well as some developing countries in Eastern Europe, Central and South America, Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, and the oil-rich Arabian Peninsula. Seven countries were promoted to this category this year, leaving the "medium development" group: Albania, Belarus, Brazil, Libya, Macedonia, Russia and Saudi Arabia.

On the following table, up arrows (▲) represent an increase in ranking over the previous study, while p\down arrows (▼) represent a decrease in ranking. They are followed by the number of spaces they moved. Dashes (▬) represent a nation that did not move in the rankings since the previous study.
Top thirty countries (HDI range from 0.968 down to 0.894)
Iceland 0.968 (▲ 1)
Norway 0.968 (▼ 1)
Australia 0.962 (▬)
Canada 0.961 (▲ 2)
Ireland 0.959 (▼ 1)
Sweden 0.956 (▼ 1)
Switzerland 0.955 (▲ 2)
Japan 0.954 (▲ 1)
Netherlands 0.953 (▲ 1)
France 0.952 (▲ 6)
Finland 0.952 (▬)
United States 0.951 (▼ 4)
Denmark 0.950 (▲ 1)
Spain 0.949 (▲ 6)
Austria 0.948 (▼ 1)
United Kingdom 0.946 (▲ 2)
Belgium 0.946 (▼ 4)
Luxembourg 0.944 (▼ 6)
New Zealand 0.943 (▲ 1)
Italy 0.941 (▼ 3)
Hong Kong 0.937 (▲ 1)
Germany 0.935 (▼ 1)
Israel 0.932 (▬)
Greece 0.926 (▬)
Singapore 0.922 (▬)
South Korea 0.921 (▬)
Slovenia 0.917 (▬)
Cyprus 0.903 (▲ 1)
Portugal 0.897 (▼ 1)
Brunei 0.894 (▲ 4)

India in Human Development Index

Even as India appears to be at the forefront in terms of economic growth, it continues to lag in the quality of life as measured by its Human Development Index; it remains unchanged at a low 127 among 177 countries.
In comparison, the United Nations' Human Development Report 2005, which was released here on Wednesday, has a word of praise for neighboring Bangladesh in view of the rapid human development it has achieved in spite of its moderate growth.
Despite its low ranking in the HDI carried out each year by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), India, however, has shown progress in HDI valuation, having gone up from .595 last year to .602 in this year's report.
India’s human development index 2005
HDI value
Life expectancy
at birth (years)
Adult literacy rate (% ages 15 and older)
Combined primary, secondary and tertiary gross enrolment ratio (%)
GDP per capita(PPP US$)
1. Iceland (0.968)
1. Japan (82.3)
1. Georgia (100.0)
1. Australia (113.0)
1. Luxembourg (60,228)
126. Morocco (0.646)
123. Pakistan (64.6)
112. Rwanda (64.9)
120. Namibia (64.7)
115. Syrian Arab Republic (3,808)
127. Equatorial Guinea (0.642)
124. Comoros (64.1)
113. Malawi (64.1)
121. Viet Nam (63.9)
116. Nicaragua (3,674)
128. India (0.619)
125. India (63.7)
114. India (61.0)
122. India (63.8)
117. India (3,452)
129. Solomon Islands (0.602)
126. Mauritania (63.2)
115. Sudan (60.9)
123. Vanuatu (63.4)
118. Honduras (3,430)
130. Lao People's Democratic Republic (0.601)
127. Lao People's
Democratic Republic
116. Burundi (59.3)
124. Malawi (63.1)
119. Georgia (3,365)
177. Sierra Leone (0.336)
177. Zambia (40.5)
139. Burkina Faso (23.6)
172. Niger (22.7)
174. Malawi (667)

The UNDP report on human development has clearly brought out the fact that while India has moved ahead and joined the premier league of world economic growth, the accelerated growth has not resulted in a commensurate decline in poverty. On the Human Poverty Index (HPI-1), it is still ranked at 58 among 103 developing countries. "More worrying, improvements in child and infant mortality are slowing and India is now off track for these MDG (Millennium Development Goal) targets," says the report, which was launched here by the UNDP Resident Representative and UN Resident Coordinator, Maxine Olson.
Taking a much broader view of a country's overall development instead of just income, the HDI seeks to combine aspects such as life expectancy, school enrolment, literacy and income. Going by the country's gross domestic product (GDP), while India's ranking is 118, the per capita GDP is pegged at $2,892.
With a life expectancy of 63.3 years, India is ranked 119, while for school enrolment (60 per cent), it is placed at 131 along with a Gender Development Index (GDI) ranking of 98. Going by the status of women in the country, India is placed at 118, in terms of seats in Parliament held by women, while on the ratio of female-earned income to male-earned income, it is ranked 126.


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Beebe, J. (1995). Basic concepts and techniques or rapid appraisal. Human Organization, 54(1), 42-51.
Nolan, Riall: Development anthropology – encounters in the real world: Westview Press: 2002
Nolan, Riall: “Communication and adapting across cultures” Westview Press, Conn. Bergin and Garvey, 1999

Linda Wilkins, Paula Swatman and Tanya Castleman: Faster, Richer, Better: Rapid Appraisal Techniques for the Study of IS Implementation in Virtual Communities : The Qualitative Report Volume 9 Number 1 March 2004 161-175
Spradley, James and David McCurdy: The Cultural Experience: Ethnography in a Complex Society. Prospect Heights, III: Waveland Press, 1972

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