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Abstract – Instead of abandoning development as an oppressing discourse,

this paper stresses the importance of the development anthropologist to
facilitate development as a collaborative practice. Genuine intercultural and
interdisciplinary collaboration is at the root of sustainable development and
should be guided by the ideal of parity. Visual applied anthropology is
treated as a promising candidate for development anthropology.

Key Words – Anthropology – Collaboration – Development – Knowledge – Parity – Visual applied


Both anthropology and development lost their self-evidence with the advent of post-modernity.
The crisis in anthropology, starting in the ‘60s and reaching its climax in the ‘70s, resulted from
dissatisfaction with anthropology’s theoretical fragmentation and doubts about its social
relevance. In the ‘90s development was deconstructed in a critical way, identifying the Western
hegemony that is irrevocably embedded in the discourse.
Although it could be argued that the worst is over for anthropology as well as development, the
new millennium still has not brought any sound and straightforward solution as to how the West
should be involved in ‘developing’ the South. Anthropology has not been able to overcome its
controversial nature either, as shown by the ongoing debate concerning the appropriateness of
advocacy within anthropology or even the application of the discipline (Escobar, 1991; Olivier
de Sardan, 2005; Rylko-Bauer, 2006; Sillitoe, 2007).

The aim of the present paper is to defend the stance that anthropologists have a crucial role to
fulfill in the field of development, thus bridging the problematical gap between anthropology
and development and strengthening the precarious position of both. In order for development to
break free from its hidden hegemony and for anthropology to gain social relevance and
credibility, the main goal of development should be genuine collaboration with the ultimate
ideal of radical parity. In order to achieve this, the anthropologist has to function as a co-actor in
the field, facilitating collaboration within development projects from the very beginning to the
very end.

A specific and valuable type of development anthropology is visual applied anthropology.

When knowledge is regarded as a social (embodied) practice rather than a system or a thing, it
follows that (oral or written) language is not always enough to present, negotiate or integrate
knowledge. Audiovisual media are to be considered as valuable means to work with knowledge
that is inaccessible through verbal or written media. This paper explores the potential of
ethnographic documentaries and their preceding collaborative and reflexive production
processes as a crucial part – or even the source – of projects of social intervention.

The present paper is divided into three chapters. The first chapter presents a brief overview of
the recent history of development and the crises and criticisms development and anthropology

have been confronted with, followed by a refutation of these claims. The second chapter offers
a conceptual exploration of some key themes in (anthropology of) development, hereby
reflecting on the role of the anthropologist. This chapter will conclude with the identification of
the key concept ‘collaboration’, stressing the importance of genuine and equal teamwork. In the
third and final chapter the importance of interdisciplinary teams in development will be
defended and ‘visual applied anthropology’ will be presented as a promising candidate for
development anthropology.

1 Anthropology and development

[…] Both development and anthropology have been recently facing what are often
referred to as ‘postmodern’ crises. Rather than throwing up our hands in horror,
however, we suggest that both have much to offer each other in overcoming the
problems which they face in moving forward. (Gardner & Lewis, 1996, p.2)

1.1 The history of development in a nutshell

Historical reviews on development show that it was president Truman who in 19491 coined the
term ‘underdeveloped areas’, hereby dividing the world into two parts: the developed vs.
underdeveloped. (Escobar, 1995, p.3; Sachs, 1992, p.2) The former was seen as superior and
charged with the challenge of ‘developing’ the latter.
In the ‘50s and ‘60s the economic idea of development prevailed, focusing very optimistically
on progress whereby the North is ‘advanced’ and the South should try to catch up. By the ‘70s
this optimism starts to decline and focus is shifted towards social components of development,
the fulfillment of basic needs and the idea of self-reliance. An important UN-resolution in 1970
called for a ‘unified approach’ of development. Though the project itself was kind of a failure,
new buzzwords and slogans such as ‘participative development’ would dominate the field for
years to come. Another interesting concept – initially promoted by Unesco – was ‘endogenous
development’, stressing the idea that Third World countries should be striving towards
development and tackling social problems from inside out, not by imitating Western
industrialized societies.
The ‘80s was a decade which Esteva (in Sachs, 1992, p.16) refers to as ‘the lost decade for
development’ in which pessimism prevailed and many governments – especially in Africa and
Latin-America – had to accept the rigid ‘structural adjustment programs of the World Bank and
IMF (Gardner & Lewis, 1996, p.8). The ‘90s, however, were marked by a booming of NGOs
and development experts stressed the importance of a ‘bottom-up approach’, ‘people-centered
development’ and the importance of grassroots-initiatives. Furthermore, as a consequence of the
growing awareness concerning the environmental challenges our planet faces, development had
to be ‘green’. This ‘re-development’ process would be labeled with the widespread and still
prevailing term of ‘sustainable development’. A clear example of the new energy and ethos in
development is the first United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Human Development
Report, with the ultimate ambition of developing a Human Development Index (HDI). (Sachs,
1992, pp.12-17). Finally, at the turn of the millennium the Paris Declaration on aid effectiveness
marked a shift in attention towards alignment and harmonization of development work and a
clear focus on ownership whereby developing countries are to set their own strategies for
poverty reduction (OECD, 24.12.2009).

1.2 Critiques and identity crises: ‘development’ and anthropology under fire

1.2.1 Post-modern criticism on development: deconstruction

From the start, development’s hidden agenda was nothing else than the Westernization
of the world. (Sachs, 1992, p.4)

Post-modernity rejects the ideas and values of modernity: society arrived at the end of ‘the
grand narratives’ and of ‘Truth’ with capital ‘t’. Statements such as ‘it did not work’ or
‘development has become outdated’ (Sachs, 1992, p. 1) illustrate post-modern attacks on
development. In post-modern, deconstructionist critiques ‘development’ is depicted as a set of
pervasive but dangerous ideas serving Western hegemony2. All contributions to the body of
post-modern critiques warn the reader of the fact that development as a discourse is nothing else
than an instrument of domination, a tool for the (re)production of relations of social inequity
(Pottier, Bicker & Sillitoe, 2003, p.9).
Sachs (1992) states that ‘the age of development’ is over: after forty years of triumph,
development as a discourse is – or at least should be – declared death. Hobart (1993) shows that
the development discourse is made out of Western scientific premises and builds on a Western
world-order and worldview. In the ‘90s this was the prevailing criticism on development.

The rather extreme deconstructionist approach towards development is interesting in order to

broaden one’s insights and perspective: by theoretically unraveling and de-constructing the
development as a discourse, its subjective and culturally produced nature is exposed and power-
structures become visible (Gardner & Lewis, 1996, p.75). Nonetheless it will be argued that this
theoretical stance is untenable. Rather than promoting the ruining of development, this paper
will advocate a move towards genuine collaboration in the development field, hereby stressing
the essential contribution anthropologists ought to make within an interdisciplinary team of
development workers.

1.2.2 The identity crisis of (applied) anthropology

With the advent of post-modernity, anthropology has – just as development – been facing a
crisis, putting its very identity at stake. Some manifestations of the identity crisis include
dissatisfaction with the theoretical fragmentation, doubts concerning the empirical foundations
of the discipline and anthropology’s dubious contribution to the solution of social problems.
(Kloos, 2002, pp.153-154). Although anthropology traditionally incorporates post-modern
values such as cultural relativism; its aim of describing, understanding and representing other
(distant) cultures makes the discipline an easy target for post-modern criticisms. The crisis of
representation within anthropology refers to the given that representations and observations of
local people cannot be value-free, they are always embedded in unequal power-relations
between the West and ‘the rest’. (Gardner & Lewis, 1996, p.23) Another point of critique is that
the traditional subject of anthropology – distant cultures – is increasingly affected by
globalization forces. The crisis of anthropology also involves the (direct) application of the
discipline, a debate that is marked by a considerable amount of controversy. Common critiques
are that applied anthropology is a-theoretical, that it lacks intellectual independence and
objectivity and that it is at the service of hegemonic power structures. (Rylko-Bauer, 2006)

Obviously, authors defending the deconstruction of the development discourse (see 1.2.1) treat
any form of applied anthropology within development as a conspiracy of anthropology with the
Western power-elite (‘expert hegemony’) and therefore taboo. Other authors suggest that the
role of the anthropologist in development is of utter importance, for the development field as
well as for the relevance of anthropology as a discipline. (Gardner & Lewis, 1996; Hagberg &
Widmark, 2009; Pottier, 2003; Silltitoe, 2002, 2007; Rylko-Bauer, 2006; Pink, 2009). I will join
these authors in my attempt to tackle the criticisms and explore ways in which anthropology can
be of great use in the development field.

1.3 Tackling the criticism

1.3.1 Moving beyond deconstruction

Olivier de Sardan (2005, p.5) fervently points out that the ‘diabolic image of the development
world’ created by post-modern criticism is not only very pessimistic but is marked by a rather
inconsiderate generalization lacking empirical enquiries that would reveal a much more nuanced
image of ‘development’. Development is no monolithic and negative entity; it is a complex and
vital field and a challenge for everyone who is concerned with a more humane world and the
principle of equity. Another problem with the deconstructionist approach is that it exaggerates
cultural relativism, a valuable argument that will be discussed in the following section.

1.3.2 Applied anthropology in development

An important area in applied anthropology is the application of anthropological methods and

theories in the field of development (Gardner & Lewis, 1996, p.26). Worries concerning the
involvement of anthropologists in development date back from its roots: anthropologist’s
participation in colonial administration. In order to survive its present ‘crisis’ and gain
relevance, this paper argues in favor of a stronger involvement of anthropology in the
development world, in theory (‘anthropology of development’) as well as in practice
(‘development anthropology’). For authors such as Sillitoe (2002, 2007), Gardner and Lewis
(1996), and Rylko-Bauer (2006) applied anthropology is crucial if the discipline wants to
survive3. Moreover, Sillitoe (2002, p.17; 2007, p.151) considers the anthropologist as a very
suitable interdisciplinary partner.

In line with Gardner and Lewis (1996, p. 24), the intrinsic problematic relationship between
development and anthropology will be taken seriously, but this does not mean that
‘anthropologists should just retreat’. The assignment of the crucial role of facilitator in the
development field can bridge the gap between anthropology and development, hereby
strengthening the precarious position of both. The methodological, theoretical and conceptual
‘toolbox’ of anthropologists is too valuable to deny them the crucial position they could occupy
in the field or/and in theorizing behind the scenes.

Another issue concerns cultural relativism and is strongly related to a fundamental problem of
the deconstructionist approach. According to Gardner and Lewis (1996, pp. 156-158), a
fundamental problem with deconstructionism is that, by completely dismissing the whole idea
of development, it risks a collapse into nihilism and paralyzed or depoliticized irresponsibility
due to exaggerated relativism. Although the ideological principle of cultural relativism in

anthropology should be valued and respected, this may not lead to the prohibition of active
involvement in development. Anthropologists cannot stay in their ivory tower, looking upon
global inequalities and poverty as if it is all (culturally) relative. In order to add something we
need to move beyond the deconstructionist stance, recognizing that relativism has its limits.

There are [emphasis added] moral absolutes in the world, people are not merely
atomized individuals, endlessly fragmented by diversity, with wholly different
perceptions and experiences. People have right to basic material needs; they also have a
right to fulfill their individual potential […] Yet many millions of people throughout the
world are denied these rights. We therefore make no apologies for arguing that
professionally as well as personally anthropologists should be actively engaged in
attempting to change the conditions which reduce poverty, inequality and oppression.
(Gardner & Lewis, 1996, p.158)

2 Collaborating towards parity

Elaborating further on the thesis that anthropologists do have an important function to fulfill in
the development world and guided by the ideal of complete parity, different key themes in
(anthropology of) development will be explored. After stressing the importance of an actor-
oriented bottom-up approach, attention will be drawn on power and knowledge as two core
elements of development. The chapter concludes with a proposal to replace the buzzword
‘participation’ by the term ‘collaboration’, thus stressing the importance of genuine and equal
teamwork in development.

2.1 Bottom-up

The ideal of participative development dates back from the ‘50s where it was advocated within
social activist circles (Sachs, 1992, p.117). The general social climate, however, started turning
in the ‘90s; a decade that was marked by an increased focus on a bottom-up approach within
development. As a consequence of the Paris Declaration (2000), aid-receiving countries were
invited to draw their own poverty reduction strategy papers (PRSPs), hereby clearly embodying
the bottom-up ideal.

Top-down management in the development industry has turned out a disappointment. A project
that excludes a locally informed perspective is bound to fail. In practice, however, big
development agencies are not keen on subverting the whole top-down arrangement in favor of
bottom-up initiatives and endogenous development because it diminishes their control and
power. (Sillitoe, Bicker & Pottier, 2002, p.11)

Although widely agreed upon, there is still no real and sustainable solution as to how exactly
local people should be involved. Major issues center on power and knowledge, two interrelated
core concepts that will be discussed in this chapter. A genuine people-centered, bottom-up
approach is the ultimate goal in the development discourse and the only way to reach
sustainable development.

2.1.1 Actor-oriented approach and the arena-metaphor

The work of Arce and Long on actors is of central importance within the anthropology of
development. In the context of this paper I will not expand on the work of these two authors but
I will adopt their extremely valuable ‘actor-oriented perspective’. Another interesting concept
that this paper will borrow is a metaphor coming from Olivier de Sardan (2005); who speaks of
the development field in terms of an arena.
Every development initiative gives rise to different actors and strategic alliances that will meet
and interact in an arena. It is interesting to analyze this arena, occupied by a large amount of
direct and indirect stakeholders and characterized by a complex web of interactions.

Arce and Long stress the importance of detailed and actor-oriented ethnographic analysis,
carried out by the anthropologist. ‘A thorough study of everyday practices is complex, but
essential if we are to adopt new insights into social change and development’ (Arce & Long,
2000, p.21). By zooming in on the different actors and connections within a specific project, it
will be possible to unravel the complex development field and gain a much more profound
understanding in processes and social practices of development.

The different stakeholders we can differentiate are the following: the indigenous people and
representative(s); anthropologist(s); non-ethnographic scientist(s); government representative(s)
on international, national, regional and local level; donors (on different levels); and NGO(s) (on
different levels). (Sillitoe, e.a., 2002, p. 177). In the context of this paper I will narrow my focus
to the local/indigenous people and the anthropologist, without of course denying the importance
of the other actors.

2.1.2 Participation as a worn-out buzzword?

Perhaps the most typical buzzword in the whole bottom-up discourse of development is
‘participation’, linked with the previously mentioned shift from top-down modernization
towards a ‘grassroots participatory perspective’ (Sillitoe e.a., 2002, p. 1). Sillitoe et al (2002, p.
6, p. 251) point out that the idea of participatory development can manifest itself in several
ways; varying from mere window dressing in which the buzzword ‘participation’ is used to
masquerade top-down projects, to genuine insider collaboration4.
Although the birth of ‘participation’ can be situated in the context of an anti-paternalistic and
anti- ‘top-down’ view on development aid, the idea of participation has been seriously
criticized, mainly from (social-) psychological and sociological point of view (e.g. Hart, 1992
Children’s Participation from Tokenism to Citizenship). Participation always presupposes that
one actor takes part (part-icipates) in the project of another actor.

In order to really stress the equal importance of all the different stakeholders in development,
the term ‘collaboration’ could prove more appropriate than participation. In the final section of
this chapter the concept of collaboration and the role of anthropologist as co-actor shall be

2.2 Power and knowledge

The criteria of what constitute knowledge, what is to be excluded and who is designated
as qualified to know involve acts of power. (Foucault in Pottier e.a., 2003, p.17)

Epistemological and power aspects are irrevocably intertwined and extremely important in the
development discourse.

2.2.1 Knowledge as embodied practice

Hobart’s writings on power and knowledge in The Growth of Ignorance (1993) are, although
quite pessimistic, of great value to introduce this section. He starts from the premise that the
West has a monopoly on knowledge, treating science as the only objective way to analyze our
planet and people in all their diversity. Indigenous knowledges, on the other hand, are seen as
‘beliefs’ (Pottier e.a., 2003, p.164). Static and passive ‘wisdom’ of indigenous people is treated
as a mere obstacle of rational progress. Furthermore, the growth of the body of Western
scientific knowledge goes hand in hand with the growth of ignorance and devaluation of
indigenous knowledge (Hobart, 1993).

Hobart (1993, p.14) offers alternative ways of seeing and studying knowledge, arguing that a
potential task for anthropologists consists of the study of how indigenous knowledges and
scientific knowledges work out in practice. By treating ‘knowing’ as practical instead of
systematical, it becomes clear that there is no ‘true’ or ‘false’ knowledge. Whatever its merits,
scientific knowledge is not neutral, neither are its implications and uses (Hobart, 1993, p.6)
A key concept Hobart (1993, p.5) uses in this context is agency, urging us to treat people as
agents and their knowledge as valuable ‘savoir-faire’.

Later in this paper (see chapter 3) the valuable contribution of a ‘visual applied anthropology’
approach towards development will be defended, mainly because of the benefit of audiovisual
ethnographic products to communicate knowledge that is not easily accessible through oral or
written language.

2.2.2 Power and parity

The ultimate goal of development and the answer to our (anthropological) concerns would be
complete parity on every social level and in every situation. Unfortunately, this goal is still far
from becoming a reality. In Sillitoe e.a. (2002, p.162) parity is described as:

The ability of a group to make autonomous decisions about its future based on a set of
principles derived from its own collective ontology – its own ‘truth’. Local judgments
about the integration of ‘outside’ knowledge must derive from people’s understanding
of the world rather than from imposed assumptions. Parity, in this sense, is inherent in
self-determination and consistent with cultural relativity.

Power is a complex issue and at the core of development. Since development is related with
politics and politics deals with the distribution of power, the power issue will always stay,
deeply embedded in development. Instead of using this as an argument to deconstruct

development as a discourse, a constructive insight in (unequal) power-relations will be treated
as one of the main challenges for the anthropologist.

This paper pointed to the hegemony of the Western world over Third World countries. When
comparing indigenous bodies of knowledge with (Western) scientific knowledge, one must
admit that an integral aspect of science is its ‘build-in claim to universal authority’, implicating
the inferiority of indigenous forms of knowledge (Sillitoe e.a., 2002, p.163). The ongoing
‘epistemological power struggle’ characterizes international relations and its critical assessment
is of crucial importance in development.

Next to global inequality, another important aspect concerns power-imbalances on micro-level.

A frequently heard criticism on development is that only the local elites are reached with
development projects. The voices that are receiving attention are often prescribed by social
hierarchies according to socio-demographic variables such as gender, age and ethnicity within a
local community. (Sillitoe e.a., 2002, p.253) The development anthropologist should be aware
of the ethical ‘which one to listen to’ – dilemma as a potential source of conflict when
collaborating in the field. As Sillitoe e.a. (2002, p.13) put it: ‘misreading local policies means
misreading the potential for empowerment’.

2.2.3 Scientific vs. indigenous knowledge

This paper adopts a collaborative bottom-up approach towards development, placing indigenous
knowledge at the forefront of development practice. Since collaboration assumes an equal input
of different actors within an equal partnership, it follows logically that indigenous knowledge
should be given equal merits alongside other forms of knowledge such as science. (Pottier e.a.,
2003, p.78).

About two decades ago anthropologists became interested in local and indigenous knowledge.
Indigenous knowledge is commonly described with adjectives such as ‘local, performative,
holistic, organic and intuitive’; contrasted (sharply) with science which is seen as ‘rational,
verifiable, abstract and universal’. (Sillitoe e.a., 2002, p.246). The inherent dynamic and
context-bound character of any ‘knowledge’ points to the fact that a neat distinction between the
unitary concepts of ‘science’ and ‘indigenous knowledge’ does not last. The untenable
dichotomy also follows out of the conceptualization of knowledge by Hobart, who treats it not
as a thing but manifesting itself through practice and agency. The positivist view that
knowledge as a system is unitary is misleading and explains why scientists still believe that
their superior knowledge can (easily) be transferred to improve or even replace local knowledge
(Pottier e.a., 2003, p.15). Indigenous knowledge is not ‘hermetically sealed’ from other
outsiders knowledge and every population is constantly absorbing new ideas – including
Western science – hereby transforming it in various ways. (Sillitoe e.a, 2002, p.243)

A similar remark applies to science, often attacked as a hegemonic giant serving Western
superiority. ‘Is our science just an arbitrary body of knowledge, not more true than any other
knowledge?’ ‘Should we dismiss the whole development idea(l) because it is rooted in Western
science?’ ‘If we don not think that science and technology have anything to offer, on what
grounds are we presuming to interfere in other’s lives?’ (Sillitoe e.a., 2002, p.113) These kinds
of questions are extremely difficult to answer in a consistent manner. The fact that for me
personally it is difficult to put Western science into perspective and dismissing it as the way to

obtain objective information, shows that I am also just a product of the Western (hegemonic)
discourse, at least a critical one though.

2.2.4 Knowledge negotiation

A constant dialogue between the different parties involved (the local community, government,
scientists, NGOs, etc.) should guide every development intervention. From a ‘knowledge-
perspective’, various actors occupy the arena of development as representatives of knowledge;
referred to as ‘epistemic agents’ in Sillitoe et al (2002, p.171). When an encounter in the arena
takes place, different dynamic and context-bound knowledge spheres will start to interact,
resulting in a new kind of negotiated knowledge production. (Pottier e.a., 2003) An important
role of the anthropologist as co-actor within the arena, is that of a two-way mediator and
facilitator. When problems arise, the anthropologist occupies the critical intermediary spot,
directing – with the ideal of parity in mind – the interactions between different epistemic agents.

Before negotiation processes start, the anthropologist has the important task to prepare the
different parties with regard to each other, even before the first encounter takes place. On the
one hand, the ‘outsiders’ should be convinced of the value and appropriateness of gaining
insight in and building on local knowledge; on the other hand the local communities should be
prepared for the encounter by informing them about knowledge practices and perspectives of
the intervening development actors.

In the context of the actual encounters afterwards, it is important to stress that the main goal of
negotiation practices between local people and development workers should not be a final
collective consensus or agreement. Without denying the possibility of a kind of compromise at
the end of the negotiation process, it is of utter importance – especially for the anthropologist –
to attribute analytical significance to contradictions and struggles that inevitably arise during
various encounters. Negotiation should be seen as a battlefield of knowledge, forcing us to
realize that inequalities of power are part of every negotiation situation. (Pottier e.a., 2003, pp.
76-78) Sillitoe e.a. (2002, p.13) propose in this context the valuable concept of ‘equitable
negotiation’, rendering the negotiation process far more complex but in the end leading to more
fair and sustainable development outcomes.

2.2.5 Knowledge integration

In order to effectuate social change in a constructive manner, the processes of knowledge

negotiation needs to be followed by some form of knowledge integration.
Keeping the potential of conflicts and contradictions inherent to knowledge encounters in mind,
it would be untenable to approach ‘integration’ as the creation of one common platform of
shared understanding. The pitfall of this sort of approach towards knowledge integration in
development is that indigenous knowledge will only be used to the extent that it fits in the
scientific knowledge frame. By plugging some aspects of indigenous knowledge into pre-
existing models, Western imperialism continues and genuine collaboration within the
development project is bound to fail. (Sillitoe e.a., 2002, p.252). Instead, it makes more sense to
use the (performative) knowledge of local communities as the point of departure.

Development anthropologists need to have models and methodologies for constructive dialogue
at their disposal, and a way in which to incorporate multiple voices and a diversity of

experiences into the final outputs. An interesting model concerns the Equitable Integration (EI)

Equitable integration

In one of the chapters5 of Participating in Development, Purcell et al (in Sillitoe e.a., 2002, pp.
169-181) present an outstanding model of knowledge integration which they refer to as a model
of ‘equitable integration’ (EI). The EI-model treats relations of power and the nature of
knowledge as core values, privileging the ethnographer as main facilitator of the process. The
ethnographer is seen as a ‘friendly outside knowledge broker’, a ‘co-interpreter of knowledge’
and a real ‘collaborator’. The authors suggest a number of phases in establishing ‘planned
contexts of discourse’, discovering grounds for common understanding without masquerading
conflicts and incommensurability. Although I would like to stress the potential of models such
as EI, I will not be able to deal with this in depth for lack of space.

In the following section ‘collaborative development’ will be launched as a potentially

interesting concept that could replace the worn-out concept of participation. It will be argued
that ‘the most beautiful’ role for anthropologists is not their theoretical knowledge but their skill
to collaborate (Vandamme, 28.12.2009).

2.3 Collaboration in development6

Development as a sustainable process, whatever the concrete goals of a particular project might
be, can only be realized by means of true collaboration between the different actors. The
anthropologist is fundamentally a co-actor, working in the field, with and for people.

Rather than a translator, broker or interpreter, we propose the role of the development
anthropologist in the field to be that of a facilitator and co-creator of a deep democratic
collaboration. Most often facilitators are thought of as ‘non-directive outsiders’ who are
facilitating processes in the Other. Often the metaphor is used of ‘being the oil in the
development organism’. (Vandamme, 28.12.2009)

While being present as a co-actor in the local community, the anthropologist will inevitably
change this community, just as the community influences the anthropologist by providing him
or her with new (intercultural) experiences. The arena in which development can emerge is
always reciprocal. All parties are ‘feeding’ each other’s development. The Western
anthropologist has as much to learn from local people, as they can learn from the Western way
to think.

Still there is a difference between an anthropologist and any other helper or tourist.
Anthropologists are skilled with knowledge and know-how to facilitate the co-creative
collaboration of which they are fully part. In this sense the mean method of the
anthropologist is not participative observation in the field, but the participatory action
research. Research, knowledge creation, developmental work, and real life human
encounters are coming together (Vandamme, 28.12.2010).

In their collaborative practice, anthropologists will bring in resources in the arena. Examples of
these resources include: reflection, mediation between stakeholders, a perspective on a
stakeholder’s identity, or an interface. Resources can be seen as the oil in collaboration.
Concerning knowledge and knowledge integration, one of the development anthropologist’s
resources can be described as ‘monitoring the balance of indigenous vs. scientific knowledge’
or ‘enhance reflection with regard to the appropriateness of indigenous knowledges’.
Good anthropologists are skilled collaborators with significant intercultural competences. They
observe and decide what is needed in terms of context to reach successful collaboration, without
putting themselves at the outside. The resources being brought in by the anthropologist are of
great value to improve collaboration between stakeholders. In other words: they create a ‘fertile
collaboration context’ within the arena of development-stakeholders by being at the inside of
the event. An interesting consequence of this perspective on the anthropologist’s role is that
they are not just a ‘bridge’ between actors or skilled translators. The anthropologist is first and
foremost a human being with a unique and personal input. As a valuable and skilled co-actor in
the arena, the anthropologist should be striving for genuine collaboration with the ideal of
radical parity in mind and heart.

It should be noted that the anthropologist’s presence in the development arena is not natural or
self-evident and asks complex brainwork. In order to be able to handle this duality,
anthropologists need the competence to bridge different roles in their own person. Being
continually confronted with the duality of being part of something – as a co-actor – but at the
same time being (metaphorically) outside of the development field; they have to deal with this
‘fuzzy logic’ and prevent themselves from slipping into the role of mere interpreter, translator,
developer or the one ‘who is doing a good job’. As Gergen (2009) pointed out, to deal with this
task in a multicultural framework, we have to learn to manage ourselves as a ‘multi-being’. For
Hermans (2004) the ‘I’ in contemporary society ‘is no longer a fixed identification with a role,
but an ability to process the alternation and assembly of roles’.

In the third and last chapter I will turn towards more concrete suggestions as to how
anthropologists can ‘intervene’. After considering the importance of interdisciplinary
collaboration, I will pick out one particular ‘mode’ of applied anthropology. The visual applied
anthropology will be presented and discussed as a suitable way of working in development

3 Interdisciplinarity and visual applied anthropology as an example of co-

creative collaboration

3.1 Interdisciplinary teamwork

I consider the presence and contribution of other disciplines such as medicine or agriculture –
depending the context – within a development project not only self-evident but also necessary.
Collaboration within development means that anthropologists should not only rely on their
intercultural competence but also prove themselves – within a team of researchers and
development professionals – as facilitators within multidisciplinary partnerships. Sillitoe
considers the anthropologist as a very suitable interdisciplinary partner in the development field.

The breadth of anthropology, together with its holistic approach to consider culture as an
interrelated whole, form a key part of the discipline’s identity. Although considered an asset,
‘holism’ provokes the idea that anthropology purports to study ‘everything’. Sillitoe argues that,
especially within the context of development, the anthropologist enters a field filled with issues
he is not able to tackle alone. More over, if the interdisciplinary team of development workers is
working around similar issues, ‘an over-obsession with disciplinary boundaries can certainly be
counterproductive (…) Mutual interaction can result in fruitful synergy’. (Sillitoe, 2007,

This paper has been arguing that development anthropologists’ main asset in the field is not
implied in their (theoretical) knowledge. Instead, it is their skill to create a fertile context for
constructive and genuine collaborative development. The Anthropologists’ resources should be
seen through metaphor of oil, able to flow trough every part of the development organism,
smoothening or facilitating collaboration, whether being collaboration between cultures,
disciplines, and/or actors.

3.2 Visual applied anthropology: collaborative and plural authorship

To conclude this paper, I would like to present visual applied anthropology as a specific and
valuable candidate for development anthropology. It might be interesting to start with a

[Applied visual anthropology] entails designing visual productions that are informed by
anthropological theory, have ethnographic integrity, are appropriate to the context one
is working in, and can communicate with specific target audiences. Here however by
ethnographic integrity I do not mean that they are necessarily based on long-term
fieldwork, but an understanding of both the researcher’s and local people’s
subjectivities, developed trough a reflexive process of collaboration [emphasis added]
and research (…) In these projects applying visual anthropology involves promoting
self-awareness by representing individuals and groups to others and to themselves.
(Pink, 2009, p.253)

Visual applied anthropology embodies a way of working within the development field that fits
in with the presented perspective of this paper on social intervention and more specifically on
the role of the anthropologist. Pink’s book Visual Interventions (2009) discovers the potential of
ethnographic documentaries and their preceding collaborative and reflexive production
processes to be crucial part of – or even constitute – projects of social intervention. Pink et al
present a variety of (real-life) case studies in which visual interventions are realized from an
anthropologic point of view, trough fundamentally collaborative methods and as a result of
interdisciplinary and intercultural teamwork.

3.2.1 Knowledge goes beyond written or oral language

Audiovisual media are to be considered as valuable means to represent, produce or disseminate

knowledge that is inaccessible through verbal or written media (Pink, 2009, p.20). Pottier et al
(2003, p.43) point out that we are all addicts of written words and explanations, not seeming to
understand that some things are not ‘explainable’. They refer in this context to the concept of
‘performative knowledge’, stating that ‘conclusively and ideally, any form of performative

knowledge enjoins a performative demonstration’. Instead of ‘digging for’ the content of a
message, the anthropological perception of (indigenous) knowledge should engage with how
knowledge is used. It will be argued that audiovisual media are more appropriate than written or
oral media channels when attempting to grasp the essence of indigenous knowledge, especially
when it comes to skilled performance as an expression of performative knowledge.

3.2.2 Engaging the senses

Film engages us physically as well as intellectually in acts of perception, attention,

imagining and perspective taking; in the experience of empathy and imagination, in
resistance or responses to others that are felt bodily. (Stadler in Pink, 2009, p.74)

In The Skin of Film, Marks explores how intercultural cinema can engage or even embody our
different senses in a way written language fails to do. All the senses work together in the
‘experience of cinema’. Marks develops a theory of ‘haptic visuality’ to explain how cinema
can trigger physical memories of taste, smell and touch. This complex theory explains how
‘intercultural cinema engages the viewer bodily to convey cultural experience and memory’
(Marks, 2000).

In order to attract donor or effectively convince (international) stakeholders of the

appropriateness of the integration of indigenous knowledge in development initiatives, we
cannot neglect (audio) visual means. To state it in Dutch: ‘één beeld zegt meer dan 1000

3.2.3 Methodological and ideological roots: Rouch and MacDougall

It is interesting to mention three twentieth-century ethnographic filmmakers because their

development of revolutionary collaborative and multi-authored approaches contribute to the
foundation of contemporary social intervention productions. Jean Rouch and David and Judith
MacDougall produced ethnographic films that ‘pushed at the boundaries of visual anthropology
by developing collaborations with film subjects, often with a political edge that was critical of
the power relations in which their film subjects were implicated’. (Pink, 2009, p.8)

The Frenchman Jean Rouch (1917-2004) worked for over half a century as an anthropologist
and filmmaker in Africa. Rouch arrived in Niger as an engineer around World War II but
turned, in response to his experiences of colonialism in West Africa, to film.
He started to develop his notion of ‘shared anthropology’ trough filmmaking practices in which
‘no voice dominates’. (Baugh, 2005). Rouch wanted the primary audience for his films to be the
film-subjects themselves, considering their feedback of great value in the critical assessment of
his role as a filmmaker. He labeled his genre with the term ‘ethno-fiction’, combining
ethnography with the staging of reality (Baugh, 2005). The second audience for Rouch was the
wide general public, hereby promoting a form of public anthropology, which he saw essential in
creating a more ‘open-minded world of tomorrow’. (Pink, 2009, p.9) His films feature themes
of colonialism and racism of a remarkable poetic quality. (Baugh, 2005)

David and Judith MacDougall, husband and wife, are ‘considered by anthropologists to be the
most significant ethnographic filmmakers within the English speaking world today’ (Barbash &
Taylor, 1996) In his writings, David MacDougall developed the idea of participatory cinema,

describing it as a practice of collaboration of filmmakers and their subjects in a multiple
authorship. The MacDougalls recognized the blurry separation between the observer and the
observed, stressing ‘reciprocal observation and exchange’. (Pink, 2009, p.9)
An extract from an interview with the filmmaking couple shows that they consider the
ethnographer to function as a facilitator:

I think the major challenge in making observational films in unfamiliar cultures is not
so much one of "translation" as one of creating an environment that allows viewers
room to interpret the behavior of people operating within a very different social system.
(MacDougall in Barbash & Taylor, 1996)

Another interesting quote concerns the presence of the filmmaker:

[…] the MacDougalls films betray no desire to conceal the filmmakers' presence. In the
midst of watching a heated discussion among family or friends, one might suddenly be
privy to a snide remark about the filmmakers, a flash of recognition in someone's eyes
as they unexpectedly catch sight of the camera and are reminded of its intrusions, or a
shift into direct address to the camera that shows a subject to have been aware of it all
along. (Barbash & Taylor, 1996)

3.2.4 Visual interventions and the anthropologist’s resources

In what follows, some different ways in which to carry out visual interventions will be
highlighted. I present three approaches towards visual interventions, with varying degrees of
collaborative effort. The first two examples were derived from Pink’s Visual Interventions
(2009), the last case demonstrates how an NGO puts the value of visual products at the core of
its development philosophy.

Visual productions aimed at local communities

In many development interventions, use is made of audiovisual products to get certain messages
across to the local target community, in order to raise awareness or enhance reflection. The
illustration leads us to Africa and the AIDS/HIV-problem:

As a unique collaboration between international and South-African filmmakers, Steps for the Future
undertook a documentary film project, trying to raise awareness about AIDS/HIV. In various South-
African countries, the prevailing social climate as it comes to AIDS/HIV is one of fear and,
paradoxically, disbelieve. People are so scared they start to deny the existence of AIDS/HIV and it has
become taboo to talk about the disease. Baseline studies in Lesotho and South-Africa show that much
confusion exist about what constitutes safer sex practices, but people do not talk about it. The
documentaries show local people, infected with the virus, telling their true story in their local language.
The documentaries were shown on a big screen, outdoors, in public places, crossing borders of illiteracy
and reaching large groups of people in many different communities. Strong film characters gave people –
especially youngsters – the confidence to break the silence. (Pink, 2009, pp. 71-87)

Participatory Script Practices

A more collaborative visual development strategy can be described as ‘participatory script

practices’, a form of knowledge negotiation in which the script of a particular ethnographic

product is written trough a collective and collaborative authorship. An interesting illustration in
this context is a community art project that was carried out in Brussels, titled The Return of the

The project was situated in a marginalized area of Brussels and aimed at an equal involvement of
filmmakers, anthropologists and authors. The casting, organized in a container that was located in the
center of the area, was an open and organic process and everybody was welcome. In a next stage, the
actors – all kinds of people, everybody who was motivated to contribute something – wrote their own
story, based on reality or fiction. Afterwards, the anthropologist distilled, in constant consultation with
the actors, a script. In the next stage the filming and editing were carried out by filmmakers, during a long
period and with several moments of feedback. The people of the targeted area in Brussels were the first to
see the documentary about their neighborhood. According to the author, the project undeniably
empowered each of the subjects, giving rise to a strong feeling of collectivity.

Genuine collaboration means the involvement of all actors – in this case the film-crew, the
anthropologist and the subjects – in every stage of the production process. Although the
abovementioned project achieved reflective collaboration during the scripting phase; it still puts
the decisive power in the hands of the filmmakers during the editing phase, leaving space for
participation but no real collaboration. If we approach ‘joint script writing’ as the negotiation of
knowledge; ‘filming and editing’ are the subsequent integration of knowledge. As stressed in
previous chapter (2.2.4 & 2.2.5), knowledge negotiation should be seen as a battlefield of
knowledge, ultimately aiming for equitable integration.

Hand over the camera

As a final visual intervention ‘mode’, I consider ‘hand-over-the-camera’ initiatives. The main

idea behind ‘handing over the camera’ is to fundamentally change local people as ‘an object to
be controlled’ into ‘a subject that can control’ (Pink, 2009, p. 65). An interesting example can
be found in the activities of the European Justice Foundation (EJF), a charity that was founded
in 2000. EJF works together with grassroots organizations all over the world, providing film and
advocacy training to enable local people and grassroots initiatives to ‘document, expose and
create long term solutions to environmental abuses’. (EJF, 2009)

EJF empowers local environmental advocates to use new technologies and media to confront the world
with human right abuses and environmental disasters in order to tell the truth as it really is on location.
Modern communication media such as the Internet enable activists to send their documentaries into the
world, telling the story of isolated communities to everyone interested. Powerful video evidence and
compelling testimonies can elicit positive change from policymakers and national and international
organizations. EJF developed tools and know-how to pass on to local activists, thus ‘training trainers’.
Hopefully, these people will – in their turn – pass on their skills to other activists, enlarging the video
making community of EJF. EJF campaigns on various issues, including the cotton industry, climate
refugees and pirate fishing. (EJF, 2009)

When looking at the goals of specific visual interventions it becomes clear that the
anthropologist as facilitator and ‘resource provider’ has an important function within
collaborative ethnographic practices. Whether it is to ‘bring in’ reflection (for example with
regard to AIDS/HIV) or perspective on one’s identity (for example in the community project in
Brussels); the anthropologist occupies a crucial position within the interdisciplinary and
intercultural team. Visual applied anthropology can be identified as a framework of thinking as
well as a resource to bring into collaboration.

3.2.5 Ethical concerns

A well-considered ethical documentation should be the anthropologist’s basic concern when

collaborating in ethnographic visual productions. First of all, it should not be mentioned that
covert recording, together with any violation of the privacy of local people is completely out of
line and diametrically opposed to the notion of collaboration.
Because of the interdisciplinary character of development interventions, the actors involved
have to take into account the combination of ethical principles, for example of anthropology and
the medical world. The ethical codes from collaborators, clients and other interested parties can
considerably differ from the ethics guiding the anthropologist. Ideally, the anthropologist should
start with ’an informal anthropological analysis of the plural moralities in the applied research
Moreover, Pink (2009, p.18) argues that the anthropologist – as a cultural broker – should not
only ‘facilitate the representation of one culture to another on film’, but also ‘advise the film
subjects through his or her knowledge of the ethics and practices of the film-making culture’.
It is of crucial importance to show the documentary to the filmed community once edited. The
filmed subjects need to have the opportunity to give their ‘second consent’; free to decide which
parts they want the filmmakers to cut out. This dual layer of protection significally increases
people’s impact on the ethnographic product.
Another ethical concern of major importance arises ones the ethnographic product is finished.
The dilemma concerning ownership of data leads to discussions about intellectual property
rights, a hotly debated issue of extreme importance but beyond the scope of this paper. (Pink,
2009, pp.18-19, p.60)


It is clear that anthropology as well as development still have an important role to play.
Anthropology is socially relevant, especially in its applied form, although practice obviously
cannot exist without theory, particularly in the context of development. ‘Social commitments
advance through the development and expression of ideas’ and ‘cultural revolutions invariably
have their theorists who provide inspiration and direction’ (Milton, 1993, p.6).

All Western involvement in the South and every act of intervention in development countries
should be guided by an aspiration for radical and universal parity. It is of the utmost importance
to keep this ideal alive at the core of the development discourse, even when in reality
development aid comes down to big business of the so-called development industry. The most
problematic and complex issues in development are related to power, so the most urgent
challenge is to further address and deconstruct (hidden) power relations, in theory (development
of anthropology) as well as in practice (development anthropology). This paper has focused on
the latter.

A crucial way to approach power is through knowledge. This paper advocates the genuine
integration of indigenous knowledge in every development project and the importance of local
voices in (the debate about) every development policy. Since knowledge is at the root of power,
one way to obtain parity lies in the equal treatment of different practices and forms of
knowledge, allowing every community to hold on to its own knowledge. An inevitable
objection, however, concerns the (impossible) reconciliation of the ideal of parity on the one

hand, with the ideal of complete respect for indigenous knowledge and tradition on the other.
Parity is (again) a Western discourse. If we want to be loyal to the ideal of parity, how should
we deal with culturally prescribed power imbalances such as gender inequality? The unresolved
debate of (cultural) relativism vs. universalism (parity as ‘universal value’) has been at the heart
of (anthropological) philosophy for centuries. Without pretending to ‘know the answer’,
relativism as opposed to universalism is interesting to reflect upon, and this philosophical
impasse definitely contributes to anthropology’s and development’s difficult position in the
(intellectual) world.

The main aim of this paper has been to explore and (re)define the role of anthropologists as co-
actors in development, introducing the notion of ‘collaboration’ to replace the worn-out
buzzword of participation. Anthropologists in the field are to be seen as facilitators, their
resources smoothening interaction as the oil in the development organism. Treating
development as a collaborative practice, the anthropologist as a skilled collaborator with
significant intercultural competences will bring in resources in the arena. The anthropologist’s
resources – including ‘reflection’, ‘a perspective on one’s own identity’, and ‘functioning as an
interface’ – aim at creating a ‘fertile collaboration context’ within the arena of development

Furthermore, this paper has argued that, in order to effectively implement social change, the
contribution of different disciplines is a necessity. Anthropologists are the vital link within
multi- and interdisciplinary teams of development workers. It is the anthropologist’s
responsibility to facilitate the negotiation between various knowledges and interests of
stakeholders while striving for genuine collaboration with the local community, the ideal of
parity in heart and mind.

As a sub-discipline of (applied) anthropology, visual applied anthropology has proven to be a

worthy candidate to undertake development anthropology. Ethically correct ethnographic
production processes are the result of close collaboration within an interdisciplinary and
intercultural team. Moreover, audiovisual media are to be considered as valuable
communication means to represent or disseminate knowledge that is inaccessible through verbal
or written language.

With this paper I hope to have proven that development, and more specifically the role of the
development anthropologist, has not come to an end. Development workers need to consider
open communication, constructive dialogue and reflection as crucial elements to create a fertile
collaboration context. Anthropologists play a crucial role in providing this context, facilitating
development while taking steps towards parity. Genuine collaboration, although not easy, is the
only way to reach mutual understanding and sustainable development.

The notion of development dates back much further, back in the 18th century in the context of ‘the age of
competitive capitalism’ and later colonialism. (Lewis & Gardner, 1996, pp. 3- 6)
I see here an interesting link with the cultural imperialist discourse of globalization (Inda & Rosaldo,
2002, pp. 12-15), in which a very critical stance towards globalization is taken. Globalization is described
as a unidirectional flow of power from the center (First World) towards periphery (Third World). One
dominant pattern is created which eventually leads to cultural homogenization of the world following
Western imperatives (such as Western science and capitalism).
Sillitoe (2007, p. 147) refers to the contemporary political-economical climate, where market-forces
impact considerably on higher education.

This variation in the extent to which participation effectively occurs made the concept vulnerable for
post-modern attacks. In his development dictionary Sachs et al de-construct not only ‘development’ but a
whole dictionary of (buzz)words that occur in the development jargon; ‘participation’ (Sachs, 1992, pp.
116-129) being one of them.
Chapter 8: Indigenous knowledge, power and parity: models of knowledge integration.
This section is based on a (skype-) conversation with writer and teacher Rudy Vandamme, a highly
regarded psychologist, anthropologist and philosopher with interesting insights in development.
Vandamme is currently writing his PhD on ‘parity and co-creative knowledge development in the
classroom as exemplar of Transition Education’ (see also: - Creating True

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