From Inside Technology
A Parable of Development Aid
A fictionalized ethnographic study of development aid in sub-Saharan Africa that focuses on technologies of inscription in the interactions of development banks, international experts, and local managers.
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.
Hardcover$19.75 X | £15.99 ISBN: 9780262182645 280 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 8 b&w photos, 5 b&w illus.
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.
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.
Director, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, and the author of Toward a History of Epistemic Things