Peer review of paper number 98
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Francis, MD Interpretations of development Reviewed by Murray Hofmeyr (firstname.lastname@example.org) The paper once again illustrates the difficulties surrounding the concept and practice of "development". A Canadian comes to South Africa to do development in deep rural areas, in the process engaging in ethnographic research towards an academic qualification. The locals, when asked for criticism regarding his and his organisation's role, do not want to offend him because he represents a line of contact, however thin, to a more prosperous world. That is the cynical view, and the author knows there is enough to be cynical about. But he also receives gifts, and it might be that people do not mind his presence, even enjoy it. He has interesting stories to tell, no doubt, and through his questions give occasions to self-reflection and self-affirmation. He might not be an expert in development, as his NGO (I can hear NT's enthusiasm) makes him out to be, but he does represent a world for which we do not actually exist. So having him around makes us not to feel totally forgotten. The strong point of the paper is that it vividly describes the dilemma of development as it is often understood in South Africa - a project here, an initiative there, while the kind of development that will make a difference will have to be on the scale of Nepad and the spatial development initiatives of the South African government in conjunction with SADC. Whether that is feasible, within a neo-liberal economic framework, is another question. In the meantime lives go on in deep rural areas. When American Peace Corps volunteers visit me with similar frustrations here where I live in another deep rural area, I often try to explain that maybe their aims are too high. Maybe it is already a lot, more than most can manage, to learn to see the world from the perspective of deep rural people, and to allow yourself to be transformed in the process, so that you return to the US a changed person, with insight into a different perspective, and maybe even as an adherent to perspectivism. If the people you meet in the foreign country also benefit in the process, through gaining a friend, or access to information, or by being affirmed as worthwhile for a visit against the tide of constant reminders that life is elsewhere, so much the better. The paper gives insight into the changes that are taking place in the views of the author as he is progressively exposed to the frustrations of poverty and powerlessness. To really turn ethnography and cultural studies around to allow the affected to criticize "the forces that are affecting their society - forces which emanate from ours" (Taussig quoted on p. 8) - that would be progress. The weak point of the paper is that it does not describe "cultural reflexivity" or "reverse ethnography" in sufficient detail. One gets an idea of what these are from how he practices them, but a sounder theoretical underpinning would have been helpful to the uninitiated reader. Personally I would also have liked a more sustained theoretical critique of "development". A useful collection in this regard is Rahnema, M & Bawtree, V (eds) The Post-Development Reader. London; New Jersey: Zed Books; Halifax, Nova Skotia: Fernwood; Cape Town: David Philip. I especially like the contributions of Zaoual and N'Dione et al. The experiences of N'Dione and his collaborators in Senegal are extremely relevant to our context. They formulate an alternative to the usual criteria of what constitutes "being developed": the level of people's integration in their natural and spiritual environment, and the quality of relationships within communities. In this light poverty and wealth must be redefined: "One becomes rich by taking advantage of the many canals that irrigate and diversify knowledge and wisdom, and stimulate mutual discoveries and recognition. People themselves are the main means for making this synergy work: hence the importance of supporting dynamic processes that rehabilitate people in all their dimensions, and that also rehabilitate relationships between themselves and their surroundings." (N'Dione et al in Rahnema & Bawtree 1997:369). More or less what Michael Francis is finding out. There are still a few errors: "The following say" should read "day". "where we given sweet potatos" lacks a "were", (both p. 7) and a few more.
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