Countering Development

Indigenous Modernity and the Moral Imagination

Countering Development

Book Pages: 320 Illustrations: 12 b&w photos, 1 map Published: May 2008

Author: David D. Gow

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Latin American Studies, Native and Indigenous Studies

Cauca, located in southwestern Colombia and home to the largest indigenous population in the country, is renowned as a site of indigenous mobilization. In 1994, following a destructive earthquake, many families in Cauca were forced to leave their communities of origin and relocate to other areas within the province where the state provided them with land and housing. Noting that disasters offer communities the opportunity to remake themselves and their priorities, David D. Gow examines how three different communities established after the earthquake wrestled with conflicting visions of development. He shows how they each countered traditional notions of development by moving beyond a myopic obsession with poverty alleviation to demand that Colombia become more inclusive and treat all of its people as citizens with full rights and responsibilities.

Through ethnographic fieldwork conducted annually in Cauca from 1995 through 2002, Gow compares the development plans of the three communities, looking at both the planning processes and the plans themselves. In so doing, he demonstrates that there is no single indigenous approach to development and modernity. He describes differences in how each community defined and employed the concept of culture, how they connected a concern with culture to economic and political reconstruction, and how they sought to assert their own priorities while engaging with the existing development resources at their disposal. Ultimately, Gow argues that the moral vision advanced by the indigenous movement, combined with the growing importance attached to human rights, offers a fruitful way to think about development: less as a process of integration into a rigidly defined modernity than as a critical modernity based on a radical politics of inclusive citizenship.


“David Gow’s much anticipated new book is a welcome addition to the anthropology of development and social movements, to the study of indigenous mobilization and identity, and to the anthropology of moral knowledge and identity in Latin America. It is also an essential study of local political, social, and economic processes during a period of wider neoliberal consolidation in the now iconic region of Cauca, Colombia.” — Mark Goodale, PoLAR

“David Gow's Countering Detelopment enters the debate over how indigenous and marginalized populations might be brought into modernity with the startling proposition that perhaps we should listen to voices from these populations in formulating development policies.” — John Holmes McDowell, EIAL

“[A] richly textured and at times brilliant ethnography of indigenous development. . .” — Tom Perreault, American Ethnologist

“David Gow has written a fascinating and provocative book on how subaltern indigenous communities in southwestern Colombia re-imagine the concept of ‘development’ to further their own aims. . . . Gow offers readers not only a new understanding of ethnic politics in the Cauca, but also an empowering and ‘moral’ way to do anthropology.” — Brett Troyan, Bulletin of Latin American Research

“David Gow’s book, written with an unprecedented volume of privileged information about the communities, raises questions which will, without doubt, provoke an important debate among anthropologists involved in social development. . .” — Renato Athias, Development in Practice

“Ethnographers practicing and critiquing development as well as development practitioners themselves would be well advised to read Gow’s ethnography, but the impact of the book stretches beyond development studies. It includes a detailed case study of education policy and practice at the local level and a close examination of indigenous struggle for participatory citizenship in a more inclusive state. This will articulate with Latin Americanists studying new social movements, democracy, and education, especially, in Mexico, Guatemala, and Bolivia.” — Walter E. Little, Journal of Anthropological Research

“Gow should be commended for his attention to indigenous interlocutors and for his meticulous research. . . . [T]he book is a unique and refreshing contribution to an anthropology of development and indigenous peoples, deserving significant attention in these areas.” — Jason Antrosio, Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology

“Gow’s book once again points to the necessity of changing the way development is approached in order to make human rights and social justice a priority. The book is to be recommended to scholars, students and practitioners of development, planning and indigenous politics.” — Patricia Richards, Journal of Latin American Studies

“The insights Gow presents are compelling. . . . Recommended. Graduate students, faculty, professionals.” — M. A. Gwynne, Choice

“Amid abundant critiques of development, salutary and incisive as they may be, two countervailing patterns are disconcertingly persistent: dominant institutions continue to implement development programs according to their own top-down plans, and many subordinated peoples continue to ‘desire’ development even while harboring deep skepticism of top-down solutions. David D. Gow’s study moves us beyond this impasse, showing how indigenous struggles have subverted dominant plans, not by rejecting development wholesale, but rather through pragmatic, militant struggle from within. His findings are sober yet profoundly hopeful for the transformative potential of grassroots indigenous politics and, equally important, for a rejuvenated anthropology that learns from these struggles by simultaneously taking part in them.” — Charles R. Hale, Professor of Anthropology, University of Texas, Austin


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

David D. Gow is the Edgar R. Baker Professor of International Affairs and Anthropology and Director of the International Development Studies Program in The Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University. Formerly a consultant to the World Bank and a senior associate with the World Resources Institute, he is a coeditor of Implementing Rural Development Projects: Lessons from AID and World Bank Experiences.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Abbreviations xiii

Introduction: Beyond the Developmental Gaze 1

1. More Than an Engaged Fieldnote: Collaboration, Dialogue, and Difference 21

2. Disaster and Diaspora: Discourses of Development and Opportunity 59

3. Development Planning: Slaves of Modernity or Agents of Change? 96

4. Local Knowledge, Different Dreams: Planning for the Next Generation 134

5. The Nasa of the North and the Tensions of Modernity 171

6. Beyond Development: The Continuing Struggle for Peace, Justice, and Inclusion 202

Conclusion. Countering Development: Indigenous Modernity and the Moral Imagination 240

Notes 261

Bibliography 273

Index 295
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4171-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4148-2
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