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The Anti-Politics Machine: "Development," Depoliticization, and Bureaucratic Power in Lesotho

4.18  ·  Rating Details ·  342 Ratings  ·  24 Reviews
Development, it is generally assumed, is good and necessary, and in its name the West has intervened, implementing all manner of projects in the impoverished regions of the world. When these projects fail, as they do with astonishing regularity, they nonetheless produce a host of regular and unacknowledged effects, including the expansion of bureaucratic state power and th ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published February 1st 1994 by Univ Of Minnesota Press
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Brandon Wu
Aug 24, 2011 Brandon Wu rated it it was amazing
Shelves: development
This is an utterly fantastic anthropological work exposing how the discourse of "development" turns questions of poverty that are fundamentally about politics and power structures into mere technical problems that can be solved with apolitical aid solutions. Written five years before Escobar's equally cogent critique of development as discourse, Ferguson's book focuses on his fieldwork in Lesotho as a concrete example. Some of Ferguson's research on why "development" failed to solve poverty-rela ...more
Apr 05, 2010 Nithya rated it it was amazing
Ferguson describes this book as “not principally a book about the Basotho people, or even about Lesotho; it is principally a book about the operation of the “international development” apparatus in a particular setting.” His book is about the complex relation between the intentionality of planning in a development project in Lesotho and the strategic intelligibility of its outcomes, which turn out to be unintended, but instrumental in expanding state power and, at the same time, depoliticizing t ...more
Feb 12, 2012 Veena rated it really liked it
This is one of the first texts I read in my introductory international development course. It immediately demonstrated the value and central nature of participatory development work... in a nutshell, help is only helpful if it means something to those you are trying to help. James Ferguson's study of this failed attempt to support a community in Lesotho shows the perils of assuming that aid organizations know best simply because they have funding and external knowledge. He shows the value and im ...more
Oct 25, 2013 Max rated it really liked it
This was an intelligent and thought-provoking book. It is a terrific deconstruction of the institution of "development."

The subject of the book is a development project in Lesotho. It discusses how the Canadian International Development Agency (Canada's USAID) twisted a complex situation into a simple model so that it could apply its standard "development" prescriptions to the situation at hand. The resulting project was a failure and the book examines exactly why it was such a failure.

Dylan Groves
Dec 12, 2015 Dylan Groves rated it it was amazing
Case study of 70-80's livestock improvement scheme in Lesotho.

The big anthropology critiques of development are well trodden and contestable. The beauty of this book is (1) how well it nails the details (the nuances of failed livestock, decentralization, and integrated rural development schemes), (2) how clear and accessible it is, (3) how seamlessly it relates theoretical arguments to concrete project developments.

Three takeaways:

1 - The principal effect of development projects is the (depolit
Mar 15, 2007 Tyler rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Katie
Excellent book on the problems with development projects, especially why they always seem to fail when they, assumingly, set out to do good. Especially potent for anyone thinking about working with the World Bank or the Peace Corps: the book does not necessarily condemn these development organizations totally: in fact Ferguson points out that the people on the ground, the volunteers, etc., are actually in many ways trying to make a difference. Yet, the structure and mechanisms of the projects an ...more
Jun 09, 2013 Yaniv rated it it was amazing
Shelves: anthropology
An absolute classic in the literature of development. Ferguson's work examines the institutions, policies and practices of the development industry as a set of discourses with real-world effects on the ground. His work draws largely on Foucauldian insights on the power relations within discourses that claim to de-politicize socially and historically-rooted inequalities among the people of Lesotho. Although the book could have used more ethnographic information in the first chapters, by the time ...more
Ike Sharpless
Aug 13, 2011 Ike Sharpless rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed, development
This was easily the best book I read for an Anthropology of Development course I took as an undergrad. Lesotho is geographically, historically, and culturally a fascinating case study, and this is a good primer on how the World Bank can mess up. As with most such 'anti-development' (or anti-globalization, or even postmodern) insights, I think it's best digested as a corrective to ill-formed policy than as a frontal assault on the concept of global development. But that's just me being a pragmati ...more
This book is a must-read for anyone remotely interested in the development industry. Even though Ferguson focuses on Lesotho, he exposes the development apparatus as it functions globally, using Foucault's analysis of the evolution and discourse of the modern prison system as a model for his analysis of development discourse and its effects. If you can't read the whole book, at least read the first chapter.
Jul 08, 2010 Mel rated it it was amazing
Shelves: perspectives
This book is an engaging, thoughtful critique of development policy, particularly the kind of institutionalized, top-down programs organized by the World Bank in the late 1970s/early 1980s. And although it uses the case of Lesotho to make it's point, the research is helpful to anyone seeking to better understand the conceptual and practical flaws in this kind of approach to "developing" a nation.
Drew Johnson
Jun 23, 2007 Drew Johnson rated it it was amazing
One of the best concrete examples about the disjuncture between intentions and results in the development world, and a great example of what anthropology should be. Everyone interested in in doing development right should read this.
Jul 24, 2008 Yariella rated it really liked it
brilliant, on-the-ground description, of a 'development' program in action - reinforcing the idea that development outsiders (so-called experts) will always be limited by their lack of local knowledge.
Oct 03, 2009 Taylor rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I didn't like his writing style; this book read like a PhD dissertation. But I think what Ferguson's saying is important. Sadly, I feel like most people working in development still aren't listening.
Apr 28, 2009 Andrew rated it it was ok
This book is so brilliant, yet frustratingly written. I completely agree with his argument and the research is flawless. However, the process of reading this book can be a bit slow moving. Highly recommended for those who like Foucault and are interested in international development.
Jul 31, 2007 Thomas rated it it was amazing
the chapter where he takes apart the World Bank report is so funny. It should be titled, " Are you morons kidding me?!!!?"
Also the part where he talks with Basotho men about cattle is great too.
Mar 19, 2013 Alexei rated it it was amazing
Brilliant and lucid. The cornerstone of post-development critique and a wonderful narrative to accompany salient discourse.
Meredith Evans
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

James Ferguson is an American anthropologist. He earned a B.A. from the University of California, Santa Barbara and a Ph.D. from Harvard University (1985).
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