Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Birth Control Ends Hunger in 'Subaltern' Community

Dutta provides us with a sharp critique of the ideologies and values that drive entertainment education campaigns, specifically those carried out under USAID funding. He reminds us that those values are not difficult to divine, since they can be found within the mission of USAID itself, which is essentially to create a strategically secure position for the U.S. through humanitarian and developmental projects. As can be expected, Dutta shows that USAID repeatedly and unabashedly makes the post-cold-war rhetorical link between market economies and political freedom: “It [successful development abroad] produces allies—countries that share U.S. commitments to economic openness, political freedom, and rule of law.” (qtd by Dutta from 2000 USAID doc). Dutta also shows the way that USAID has come to its participatory approach towards development programming with the primary ‘problem’ already determined: population control and family planning, as opposed to poverty and lack of access to resources.

While Dutta clearly establishes the covert motivations of E-E campaigns that belie their overt focus on population control methods as opposed to, say, improving subaltern access to clean drinking water, access to health care, or access to food, I wished Dutta could have focused more on establishing how E-E programs carried out by organizations like USAID become the “machinery for oppression of the poor in the Third World by pushing transnational capitalism and, thus, obliterating domestic forms of production that support the subaltern classes” (Dutta, 2006: 224). How? I agree that transnational capitalism has the potential to increase the distance between the rich and the poor (as it has in the U.S. and many other countries) or to put ‘domestic forms of production’ out of business, but I think a few examples would have strengthened the piece. He provides perfect examples for his ideological critique, but I would have like to read more about the concrete results of those ideological efforts (maybe some sweat shops or dangerous coal mines?). Granted, the paper does not really claim to address those issues.

Dutta could perform the same subaltern critique of the World Bank and IMF and their constant touting of their ‘engagement with civil society.’ I started looking at this issue for another class called Global Civil Society (offered in the summer online, I believe) and it was really interesting to delve into the Fund and the Bank’s own accounts of their “engagement with civil society” and the extent to which they account for “country ownership” in their loan projects.

Just as Dutta says that “forms of participation applied in E-E campaigns particularly refer to participation as a tactical tool that is used to diffuse the already preconfigured problem”, Ngaire Woods, author of The Globalizers: The IMF, the World Bank, and Their Borrowers (2006) offers a similar critique to Dutta’s:

“…for the Bank and the Fund, ownership [country ownership/agency in loan agreements] does not…mean ownership as you or I might see it. They applied a different test: Does the country understand the policy we are pressing on them? And have we explained it to a wide section of the society? That is a very different approach [that] at its weakest just looks like amplified public relations and at its strongest, involves an attempt to engineer societies so that they respond better to the agenda pursued by the Fund and the Bank” (Woods interview, 2006).

To give you an idea of the great language I found in World Bank/IMF descriptions of their “engagement” with local populations and civil society, check out The World Bank’s Inspection Panel brochures and online literature, which are meant to show how borrowers are given a voice and agency in loan projects. According to the World Bank itself, “the primary purpose of the Inspection Panel is to address the concerns of the people who may be affected by Bank projects and to ensure that the Bank adheres to its operational policies and procedures .” The brochure assures those with complaints that “if you and at least one of other member of your community believe that you are suffering, or may suffer, harm caused by a World Bank-funded project, that the World Bank may have violated its operational policies or procedures, and that this violation is causing the harm, you may submit a Request for Inspection…” (The World Bank Inspection Panel”, emphasis my own).

This wording makes it clear that all three conditions are needed for a funded project to be eligible for review, which means the Inspection Panel will only investigate a project if World Bank operational policy appears to have been violated or could be violated in the course of a project. There is, as of yet, no recourse for borrower country populations and communities if harm is being done them as a result of a World Bank operational policy.

It’s kind of laughable, really. With that said, I have to also say that the Bank has made clear efforts to be more inclusive of civil society actors and local people when determining their CAS and PRS, as outlined in “World Bank - Civil Society Engagement: Review of Fiscal Years 2007 to 2009”, but I'd really like to see someone outside of the World Bank provide this sort of assessment. They are are always assessing themselves, and saying yep,. we did a great job with this participatory approach, but what in the world is supposed to make that valid? Just sayin....


  1. R - I think you'll find the World Bank frequently performs congratulatory environmental self-evaluations as well. It's just a big ol' self-affirmation party over there... But maybe that's what it takes to keep the wolves of civil society criticism at bay. I actually took issue with Dutta's characterization of USAID (as you can see here: But despite my disagreement with his anti-USAID rhetoric, I do think it's important to include marginalized communities in the process of their own development for the obvious reason that Dutta points out: They know better than anyone what they need, and they often have a good sense of how to achieve it (or at least how NOT to achieve it). Dutta doesn't include any examples of absolutely egregious culturally-oblivious E-E "solutions," but I'm sure there are some out there. Plus, people are much more likely to approve of a solution if they feel they've been involved in the entire process.

  2. The irony of the World Banks 3 conditions for eligibility for review-- where is the average person living in a Third World country with a World Bank project underway going to find this content? In South America and Africa, for example, the World Bank has funded dam projects that have displaced thousands of rural people. Do these villagers have Internet access? I doubt it. When their interests are represented at all, it is usually by outside advocates who paint them as the victims of neoliberal institutionalism. Either way, the world sees them as victims. One wonders how they see themselves.