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International development and the ‘perpetual present’: anthropological approaches to the re-historicization of policy

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Development agencies tend to focus more strongly on the promised delivery of change in the future than they do on analysing the historical contexts and origins of development ideas and practices. The histories of development ideas and agencies, as well as those of the people who work within them, are therefore important topics for anthropological attention. This paper sets out arguments for an anthropological approach that contributes a renewed sense of history to development policy and practice. There are two dimensions to this approach. The first is a need to place more stronger emphasis on the historical and political factors that help construct contexts in which development interventions occur. The second is to adopt a longer frame of historical reference in relation to development ideas, concepts and practices themselves, so that prevailing tendencies that focus attention predominantly on the present and the future can be challenged and counterbalanced. In order to illustrate these arguments, the paper explores issues in the history of ideas about non-governmental actors in development, and in the life histories of some of the individuals involved. Such an approach can be added to several other renewed forms of anthropological engagement that are helping move the anthropology of development away from an earlier impasse of ‘theoretical’ versus ‘applied’ tensions. A key role for a renewed and relevant anthropological engagement with development is one that brings a historical perspective on rapidly shifting fads and fashions that serve to over-simplify or erase the past to construct a ‘perpetual present’.

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en

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http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/24692/

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