North-South Centre - European Centre for Global Interdependence and Solidarity


Engaging anthropology in development and social change: practices,
discourses and ethics          

The APAD (the Euro-African Association for the Anthropology of Social Change
and Development) conference will be held from 20-23 January 2010 in
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. 

You are invited to submit an abstract. Abstracts should not exceed 500 words
and must be submitted before 1 April 2009 to the general secretariat of APAD
at the African Studies Centre in Leiden at the following email address:

Call for papers

Growing poverty and inequality, emerging ethno-religious tensions and
political conflicts, worsening environmental hazards, and increasing social
fragmentation remain major challenges of this millennium. This has led to
lively debates in politics, development and economics, whereas the relative
aloofness of anthropology becomes problematic and almost embarrassing. As
the only discipline that is grounded in the inter-subjective relation, an
anthropological engagement to social change would perhaps be seen as
self-evident. However, engaging anthropology in development and social
change raises methodological, epistemological and ethical questions.

A core concern of anthropology remains the engagement that fieldwork
implies. Empirically grounded fieldwork provides anthropology with its
ethnographic insights and analytical tools. Over the years anthropologists
have come to turn their attention to development as a critical
anthropological subject of study. Yet the relationship between anthropology
and development remains ambiguous. Consultancy, short-term research on a
predefined problem, has increased with the demand of development
institutions for anthropological knowledge. This situation seems to have
deepened the schism between a theoretically oriented anthropology and a more
applied anthropology. Major challenges of engaging anthropology are to
reconnect theory and practical application, and to create a platform for
dialogue between a theoretically oriented, empirically grounded
anthropology, and an anthropology directly applied to development and social

In the recent decade two somewhat contradictory tendencies may be observed
in the relationship between anthropology and development. On the one hand,
anthropology has become increasingly marginalised in development debates,
where macro-economic and political reforms rather than contextualised
socially and culturally sensitive development interventions have been
promoted. In the era of budget support and sector-wide approaches
anthropologists have had hard time to find new ways of engaging in
development. On the other hand, anthropological knowledge and perspectives
are nowadays demanded by development agencies as, for instance, poverty and
rights based approaches require socio-cultural analysis and understanding.
The immediate implication of this is that today actors pay at least
lip-service to anthropological approaches and perspectives.

Taken together these two tendencies reveal that despite important works
produced by scholars inside and outside the APAD-network, anthropological
knowledge and analysis are often referred to, but much less practically
integrated in, development interventions. Yet at a time when the boundaries
between development aid and public expenses are fuzzier than ever,
anthropological analysis is badly needed to understand and, by extension,
influence development and social change. While this seems to be largely
accepted, today the main challenge is how and by what means anthropology may
engage in development in practical and concrete ways, while respecting
scientific rigor and methodological requirements.

Central questions that conference participants could address are: What are
the prospects for engaging anthropology in major challenges of poverty,
inequality, corruption, social fragmentation, violence and ethnic tensions?
How and when should anthropologists be actively involved in development
efforts, and political jumbles? What are the responsibilities of
anthropology in studying social change? How can anthropology engage in
public debate and development policy?

The Euro-African Association for the Anthropology of Social Change and
Development (APAD) is firmly engaged in strengthening anthropological
research on development issues. Over the years researchers have increasingly
turned their attention away from a strict focus on development towards the
study of the public space, decentralization, governance and civil society.

The issue of engagement has re-emerged as a key debate in anthropology as a
whole. The theme of the 2010 APAD Conference in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso,
is a way to return to the issue of engaging anthropology in development and
social change.

The conference will be organised around the following axes: 

-         Anthropology and the ethics of engagement: Development, politics
and cultural exchange 
-         Setting the agenda in engaged research: Anthropology on public
services, media, democratisation, decentralisation, and gender
-         Grassroots participation and personal engagement: Anthropologists
straddling between the public and the private
-         Narratives of development: Integrating anthropology and history 
-         Anthropological methods in development: Ethnography, participation
and the promotion of social change
-         Anthropological data and development agencies: Combining research
and development work 
-         Public anthropology: Engaging anthropology in public debate,
policy and politics


 For more information on the conference and on APAD go to: