What is the relationships between the subsistence farmers and the bureaucrats of the World Bank, USAID, DFID, JICA, and the host of government-sponsored development aid projects? Such projects are sponsored by clever, well-educated, powerful, and wealthy people. And yet they often fail—and the clever powerful people turn around and blame the subsistence farmer.
But I do not think that this is the whole story. The broader question is how do the impoverished farmers manage to frustrate the smart rich people who have degrees so consistently? One of my favorite postings here at Ethnography.com js Farmer Power: The Continuing Confrontation between Subsistence Farmers and Development Bureaucrats. The first part of the title of course is a tip of the hat to a chapter in Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel, though I do not share all of his enthusiasm for the capacities of well-educated people. The second part of the title is a reference to my book The Persistence of Subsistence Agriculture: Life beneath the Level of the Marketplace (2007).
Anyway, this is one of my favorite postings at Ethnography.com, and I of course hope that man people working in development aid programs will read it, and perhaps go forward with a better idea of how difficult the job they are undertaking is. Certainly, that is the conclusion I have reached after having worked for about 10 years in Tanzania and Thailand in relief and development programs—years which, despite it all, I am still quite proud of!
Tony Waters is czar and editor of Ethnography.com. He came to us from the Sociology department at California State University at Chico where he has been a professor since 1996. In 2016 though he suddenly found himself with a new gig at Payap University in northern Thailand where he is on the faculty of the Peace Studies Department. He has also been a guest professor in Germany, and Tanzania. In the past, his main interests have been international development and refugees in Thailand, Tanzania, and California. This reflects a former career in the Peace Corps (Thailand), and refugee camps (Thailand and Tanzania). His books include: Crime and Immigrant Youth (1999), Bureaucratizing the Good Samaritan (2001), The Persistence of Subsistence Agriculture: Life Beneath of the Marketplace (2007), When Killing is a Crime (2007), and Schooling, Bureaucracy, and Childhood: Bureaucratizing the Child (2012). His hobby is trying to learn strange languages–and the mistakes that that implies. Tony is a prolific academic, you can read more of his work at academia.edu.or purchase one (or more!) of his books from Amazon.com.