Chika Watanabe, Lecturer, School of Social Sciences, The University of Manchester

On Becoming Good Models of Development

Anthropological studies of development knowledge often focus on the ways that development practices are bureaucratised and standardised according to a modernist or neoliberal arrangement of the world. Although some of these analyses might assume a linear progression of change from a centre of power (e.g. ‘the West’) to the periphery, others explore the contingent and multiple ways that change is envisioned and implemented in development projects. In this paper, I follow these latter analyses and propose that focusing on practices of modelling might offer a window into the situated negotiations of cultural difference that shape projects of social and personal ‘improvement’. Specifically, I take the case of a Japanese NGO and its agricultural training programmes for Burmese and other non-Japanese participants in Japan and Myanmar to investigate how the efforts to become ‘good’ models of change involved a scripting of national-culturalist ideals of ‘Japaneseness’ but in ways that were improvisational and contextual, rather than simply enforced. The Japanese as well as the Burmese NGO workers had to tinker with cultural differences to inspire transformative imitations, changing both the model and copy. Modelling proves to be a useful analytic to understand how imaginations and enactments of future change unfold through encounters where national-culturalist projects coexist with the improvisational shifting of cultural boundaries.

Chika Watanabe is a Lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester. Her research and teaching interests revolve around issues of development, humanitarianism, NGOs, expertise, religion and secularity, ethics and morality, and disaster preparedness. She has published articles in journals such as Cultural Anthropology and American Anthropologist, and contributed chapters in edited volumes. She has a book manuscript under contract and developing a new project on the translation of anticipatory expertise in Japanese disaster preparedness training programmes across Japan and Chile.

Organised together with Forum for Asian Studies, Stockholm University.

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