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date: 01 October 2022

Development and Anthropologylocked

Development and Anthropologylocked

  • Riall W. NolanRiall W. NolanPurdue University

Summary

International development is one of humanity’s most important global undertakings, but it is also a “wicked problem” characterized by uncertain and shifting priorities, disagreements, and unexpected outcomes. Created during and in the aftermath of World War II, the development industry of the early 21st century is large, complex, and highly influential. It is also relatively opaque to outsiders and largely independent of normal means of democratic control.

Anthropology has been involved in development from colonial times, but particularly so since the 1950s, and anthropologist practitioners have made several important contributions to development planning and implementation. The discipline’s influence overall, however, has been overshadowed to a large degree by other disciplines, such as economics, which still remains dominant in the industry. Anthropological influence has waxed and waned over the years, both as a response to development policies and priorities, and as a response to changes within the discipline itself.

Anthropological analyses of development, as well as detailed development ethnographies, have helped people inside and outside the industry understand why and how development efforts succeed and fail, and indeed, how to define success and failure in the first place. At the same time, anthropologists have enhanced our appreciation of the role of language, power, and agency in the development process. In the future, anthropology is likely to become more important and influential in development work, given the growth of disciplinary trends favoring practice and application and renewed focus within the development industry on poverty eradication.

Subjects

  • Applied Anthropology
  • International and Indigenous Anthropology
  • Sociocultural Anthropology

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