Skip navigation
Hardcover | $30.00 Text | £20.95 | ISBN: 9780262182645 | 280 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 8 b&w photos, 5 b&w illus.| April 2009

Essential Info

Far-Fetched Facts

A Parable of Development Aid


In 1996, the sub-Saharan African country of Ruritania launched a massive waterworks improvement project, funded by the Normesian Development Bank, headquartered in Urbania, Normland, and with the guidance of Shilling & Partner, a consulting firm in Mercatoria, Normland. Far-Fetched Facts tells the story of this project, as narrated by anthropologists Edward B. Drotlevski and Samuel A. Martonosi. Their account of the Ruritanian waterworks project views the problems of development from a new perspective, focusing on technologies of inscription in the interactions of development bank, international experts, and local managers.

This development project is fictionalized, of course, although based closely on author Richard Rottenburg's experiences working on and observing different development projects in the 1990s. Rottenburg uses the case of the Ruritanian waterworks project to examine issues of standardization, database building, documentation, calculation, and territory mapping. The techniques and technologies of the representational practices of documentation are crucial, Rottenburg argues, both to day-to-day management of the project and to the demonstration of the project's legitimacy.

Five decades of development aid (or "development cooperation," as it is now sometimes known) have yielded disappointing results. Rottenburg looks in particular at the role of the development consultant (often called upon to act as mediator between the other actors) and at the interstitial spaces where developmental cooperation actually occurs. He argues that both critics and practitioners of development often misconstrue the grounds of cooperation—which, he claims, are moral, legal, and political rather than techno-scientific or epistemological.

Inside Technology series

About the Author

Richard Rottenburg is Chair of Anthropology at the Institute for Anthropology and Philosophy at Martin-Luther University and a Max Planck Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, where he heads the Law, Organization, Science, and Technology Research Group.


"The work is lucidly written and fluidly translated. Its modest objectives are both refreshing and realized. Sociologists of knowledge, anthropologists of science and technology, students of development, and historians of technology will all learn from this challenging and stimulating volume.", Steve Breyman, Isis


"Far-Fetched Facts is a fascinating and thoughtful ethnographic analysis of developmental relations between the rich countries in the north and the poor countries in the south. Richard Rottenburg organizes his parabola of development aid around the central conflict of interests: the necessity for the donor countries to control the money flows, and the political goal of self-determination on the part of the recipients. The book combines ethnographic observation and critical reflection in an ideal fashion."

"In this brilliantly titled and genre-breaking book, Richard Rottenburg mixes fact and fiction to offer a fine diagnosis of what ails development cooperation today. It is a new departure for cultural anthropology and for science and technology studies, and both fields will be richer for his crossing of the boundaries between them. Restoring cultural difference to the center stage of modernity, he offers a fresh, and refreshing, perspective on old problems for a new century."
Sheila Jasanoff, Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

"Richard Rottenburg's Far-Fetched Facts is an incisive analysis of how certain representations of reality enable development aid to third- world countries to continue on, unchanging, even as its effectiveness is continuously compromised. Rottenburg's in-depth ethnography of how development aid is accomplished and justified through its paper trails is a significant contribution to the Anthropology of Organizations in the globalized landscape. The book's illumination of these complex dynamics should be required reading for practitioners and theorists alike."
Don Handelman, Department of Sociology & Anthropology, The Hebrew University

"Through a fascinating exploration of the inconsistent and often incoherent processes in a development project, Far-fetched Facts offers great insight into the inevitable contradictions of the very idea of development and of the forms of knowledge on which it is based. Based on his ethnographic research, Rottenburg writes a series of lucid and entertaining accounts of the work of various fictionalized characters trying to improve the municipal water supply in an African country. These stories are the grist for his sophisticated and provocative reflections on the nature of translation and the power of representation more generally."
Sally Engle Merry, New York University