Institutional Ethnography and the Practice of International Development: Exploring Ruling Relations

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 16:40
Location: Hörsaal 6C P (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Marie CAMPBELL, University of Victoria, Canada
Elena KIM, American University of Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan
The International Development literature is awash with critical analyses offering various explanations for a development program’s poor performance, or for a project achieving less than its promised outcomes. Bringing Dorothy E. Smith’s (1990) social organization of knowledge approach to such puzzles is, as Adele Mueller (1995) suggested, rather like examining the inside seams of a garment to find out how it is shaped and held together and, eventually, discovering how or if “what happens” can be read as institutionally acceptable achievements.  Using this approach, an institutional ethnographer looks analytically at the language used in the framing of such projects learning from those involved in the work itself how they (become engaged in) enacting and materializing an institutional design. Instead of applying the concepts of a social theory, or an institution’s accountability framework, or a policy discourse, the analyst must therefore attend to what actually happens, including who does what and how they know what to do. A social organization of knowledge analyst assumes that each actor stands in a particular and socially organized relation to the project, and while these relations may not be apparent even to participants, the analytic purpose is to discover and describe the relations of ruling and how they work. In international development work, ostensibly characterized by “the will to improve” (Li, 2007) there is much to be learned about ruling practices. This paper offers the opportunity to consider some of the critical writing by practitioners and researchers in the field of international development, drawing on some of our own analyses of development work in which we employed a social organization of knowledge analytic framework.