Discourse and development: language and power in a rural Rajasthani meeting

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Price, Kenneth Leland

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Within the broad field of international development, issues of communication and power between funding agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and rural “beneficiaries” are paramount in the minds of participants at all levels. This dissertation examines communication, relations and expressions of power and resistance between individuals from each of these three groups as they interacted at a meeting in an Adi-Vasi village of southern Rajasthan in 1995. This “Big Meeting,” as referred to here, represented a relatively rare occurrence in international development projects in which representatives from all three groups (funding agency, NGO, and villagers) were present. Employing Foucauldian notions of discourse, relations of power between members from each group as expressed at the “Big Meeting” are examined in their social contexts, including interpretations of development language (e.g. “participation,” “partnerships,” and “development” itself). Having introduced the setting and characters of the “Big Meeting” in the second chapter, the following chapters examine the backgrounds and perspectives on development held by individuals present that day from among the villagers, NGO managers and staff, and funding agency representatives from Delhi and abroad. Informed by certain sociolinguistic tools for studying discourse and culture, detailed presentation of transcripts from the meeting set alongside contextual information taken from interviews with participants at the meeting yields clues to their perspectives on the interaction and on development processes, more generally. As a kind of “multi- sited ethnography,” this research shifts attention between the perspectives and desires, and the specific contexts for the birth of those perspectives and desires, from one group to another (i.e. Adi-Vasis in a rural Rajasthani village, NGO staff and managers in a small Indian city, and funding agency project managers and consultants in Delhi). While people from each group expressed their perspectives and desires differentially, some more or less directly than others, the villagers, NGO managers and staff, and funding agency representatives interviewed each related frustrations with the limitations of structured development interactions, such as the “Big Meeting.” Finally, the efficacy of structurally constrained, power-laden practices for designing, monitoring and evaluating international development projects by foreign funding agency representatives is called into question by the dissertation’s conclusion.