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Deconstructing Development Discourse: Buzzwords and Fuzzwords Revisited

January 15 @ 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm

Why should language matter to those who are doing development? Surely there are more urgent things to do than sit around mulling over semantics? But language does matter. Whether emptied of their original meaning, essentially vacuous or hotly contested. The language of development not only shapes our imagined worlds, but also justifies interventions in real people’s lives. If development buzzwords conceal ideological differences or sloppy thinking, then the process of constructive deconstruction makes it possible to re-examine what have become catch-all terms like civil society and poverty reduction, or bland aid-agency terms such as partnership or empowerment. Such engagement is far more than a matter of playing word games but involves how we think of development itself.

Andrea Cornwall is a political anthropologist who specialises in the anthropology of democracy, citizen participation, participatory research, gender and sexuality. She has worked on topics ranging from understanding women’s perspectives on family planning, fertility and sexually transmitted infection in Nigeria and Zimbabwe. Public engagement in UK regeneration programmes and the quality of democratic deliberation in new democratic spaces in Brazil. The use and abuse of participatory appraisal in Kenya, domestic workers’ rights activism in Brazil.  Sex workers’ rights activism in India.

Tania Kaiser is a Senior Lecturer in Forced Migration Studies in the Department of Development Studies at SOAS, University of London. She has degrees in Literature and Anthropology from the Universities of Bristol and Oxford. Her research focuses on forced migration in Africa, East and West Africa in particular. Culture and society and internal conflict in Uganda and conflict in South Sudan. She has also been the programme convenor for the BA in Development Studies at SOAS.


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SOAS Department of Development Studies
Email: fi2@soas.ac.uk