Where Culture Meets Development: Perspectives of Development Professionals in the Participatory Era
Degree awarded: M.A. School of International Service. American University
Conventional development practices, designed to promote modernization and economic integration, gave way to ideologies of participatory development in the 1990s. While participatory development, in theory, privileges the desires, and strategies of communities in the global South, and reflects local cultural practices, its success is limited. This thesis considers the perspectives of development professionals, and addresses the following questions: Given lessons learned from the failures of structural adjustment and other conventional practices, what barriers prevent development professionals from working with communities effectively in the participatory era? How do development professionals find meaning in their work, in spite of conflict and failure? Findings suggest that the interests of donors and employers, and a "professional culture" constrains practitioners, to the point that it is not possible for project beneficiaries to participate significantly. Fully aware of the problems of structure and agency pervading the field, practitioners adapt or leave, implying that there is little space for innovation in development institutions and organizations.