By Katy Gardner, David Lewis
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Extra info for Anthropology and Development: Challenges for the Twenty-First Century
To an extent, anthropology has always had some postmodern tendencies. Cultural relativism, one of the discipline’s strong positions, insists upon recognising the inner logics of different societies. The world is thus presented as culturally diverse and composed of many different realities. What anthropologists had not tended to question until the 1980s, however, was the status of the knowledge that they gathered. Ahistorical generalisations based upon the observations of the ‘objective’ anthropologist were made in many of the classic ethnographies that served to disguise heterogeneities within the local societies under study.
While accepting the reality of global inequality, long-standing relations of exploitation and the political value of ‘Third Worldist’ discourse, such a binary distinction obviously obscures important elements of diversity and complexity. By the 1980s, the rise of Japan as an economic powerhouse, the emergence of ‘Asian tiger’ economies, and the global power of oil-rich countries in the Middle East made the picture more complicated. As we note above, when the Cold War ended in 1989 the language that had set out a distinction between the ‘First’ World (the West), the ‘Second’ World (the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics [USSR], China and the Eastern bloc) and the ‘Third’ World (the rest) no longer fitted, even if large areas of Africa, Asia and Latin America remained impoverished.
One now notorious case is the Groundnut Scheme of southern Tanzania. This latter project received £20 million in 1946–52 (the total British aid budget in 1946–56 was £120 million) and had a return of zero (Mosley, 1987: 22). Unquestioning faith in the desirability of cash crops on the part of planners, together with inadequate research into local farmers’ needs and into the appropriateness of different crops to the local environment, was central to the scheme’s failure. Modernisation, as both a theory and a set of strategies, is open to criticism on virtually every front.