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

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  452 ratings  ·  28 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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4.24  · 
Rating details
 ·  452 ratings  ·  28 reviews

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Brandon Wu
May 13, 2011 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 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
Dylan Groves
Jan 15, 2014 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 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
Feb 09, 2012 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
May 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: development
Probably one of the most important and refreshing books on development. Published more than 20 years ago, but still amazingly relevant.

Through the extreme case of Lesotho, James Ferguson gives a powerful analysis of how development aid is disconnected from local realities, how it is instrumentalized by politics, and why a technical "neutral" approach is used to justify political agendas that do not improve living conditions for the poor.

Even though the author is just an observer, unwilling to ad
Brurce Mecca
Feb 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I specially enjoyed the depiction of social value of cattles that opposed capitalistic notions in Bovine Mystique --how to some extent the cultural construct ranging from ages, gender, and patron/client relations have created some sense of 'securities' in a way that are indigestible by capitalistic values. It may have sounded Marxist in sometimes.

What's great that his book has shed some lights on the apparent, yet self-perpetuating blind spot of development projects. A way to let yourself out o
Sep 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was a mind-bending trip into the world of international development and just how bizarre, counterintuitive, and flat out insane the industry can be. I have always been a proponent of local solutions and this provides clear evidence in favor of that. I found the conclusion and epilogue a bit underwhelming and repetitive, but this didn't take away from Ferguson's firsthand experiences and the book as a whole.
Samantha Fleurinor
Dec 30, 2018 rated it liked it
incredibly dense but enlightening
Oct 23, 2013 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.

Apr 13, 2013 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
Jul 23, 2011 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.
Jun 20, 2010 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 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 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 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 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.
Howie Lempel
Jun 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Very highly recommended.
May 06, 2007 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.
Lizzie elston
Aug 01, 2007 rated it it was amazing
i love this book. so smart, so well written. also, i love pony trekking in lesotho.
Alex Clark
Nov 10, 2014 rated it it was ok
Who knew a book on problematics and apparatuses could be boring?
Jan 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant and lucid. The cornerstone of post-development critique and a wonderful narrative to accompany salient discourse.
Mills College Library
338.18688 F3527 1994
Geoff Pettys
May 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
incredible analysis of development programs - from discourse to failures
John Favini
rated it it was amazing
Mar 23, 2014
rated it liked it
Aug 03, 2011
rated it it was amazing
Mar 26, 2017
rated it it was amazing
Jan 27, 2018
Yvonne j Underhill
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Oct 16, 2015
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name. This is James^^^Ferguson.

James Ferguson is Susan S. and William H. Hindle Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Stanford University. He is the author of Global Shadows: Africa in the Neoliberal World Order and the coeditor of Culture, Power, Place: Explorations in Critical Anthropology, both also publi