Development Projects As Systems of Continuous Meaning Negotiation and Translation: Gender Equality from India to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Sunday, 10 July 2016: 11:00
Location: Hörsaal III (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Adam MOE FEJERSKOV, Danish Institute for International Studies, Denmark
This paper explores how ideas and practices manifested in a development project are continuously negotiated, reconfigured and made sense of as they move up and down through the many layers of a development organization. The paper builds a theoretical framework that lets us understand development projects as systems of continuous meaning negotiation and translation at several organizational tiers. The notion of ‘system’ connotes how development projects are like a Russian doll set of nested organizations and organizational levels that depend on each other, and among whom translation processes continue to shape the project and the relation between policy and practice. Building on multi-sited ethnographic field work the paper explores an empirical case of how a development project on women’s access to land in India is made sense of as it continuously journeys through different organizational levels. It finds that despite the natural difference in formal authority that sees more material power concentrated in head offices than with local implementing agencies, ideational power flows in complex ways that allows for influence at all levels. This has consequences for translation processes and leads us to understand that development policies or projects may be transformed between every organizational level as they are made sense of by different actors. By infusing similar practices with different meanings, values, and interests, development projects are essentially (re)produced and (re)configured up and down along the organizational chain, with consequences far beyond only the ideational, in the end even shaping our perceptions of outcomes and thus the social construction of success or failure of interventions.