Writing development (Respond to this article at http://www.therai.org.uk/at/debate)


  • Bengt G. Karlsson

    1. The author is Associate Professor at Stockholm University. His work concerns mainly indigenous peoples issues in India and questions relating to the politics of nature and identity. His most recent book is Unruly hills: A political ecology of India's northeast (Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2011). His email is beppe.karlsson@socant.su.se.
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Development professionals spend a lot of time writing and the aid industry has a vast production of texts. The author argues here that anthropology of development needs to look anew at how these texts are being produced, circulated and the purposes they serve. I have briefly identified six features of development writing: 1. Institutional ownership, 2. multiple authorship, 3. impersonal style, 4. terminology, 5. Communicable simplifications and 6. temporality. The more general point is to call for a more sophisticated engagement with development texts. There might be more going on in these documents than immediately meets the eye. More than anything else, these texts grant legitimacy and presence to the actors involved in development. Writing development is more about the production process, the language and what it ultimately bring in terms of aid flows, rather than the substance of the text itself.