18 Seeing Like an Anthropologist: Anthropology in Practice

Logan Cochrane, Banting Fellow, Carleton University


Learning Objectives

  • Identify ways in which “seeing like an anthropologist” differs from the approach to local cultures used by international development agencies.

  • Explain why “harmful traditional practices” are prioritized for change by development agencies and describe how negative attitudes toward these practices can be examples of “bad for them, okay for us.”

  • Assess the reasons why anthropological perspectives and techniques tend to have a limited impact on the design or goals of international development projects.


 What does it mean to see and hear what others do not see and hear and how can that unique information be practically applied? The lack of a simple answer is fitting to anthropology because the work of anthropologists often demonstrates that simplistic explanations are, at best, only part of the complex stories of human culture. In this chapter, I provide examples of how the ability to see and hear is applied in practice and how these skills add value in a sociocultural anthropology setting associated with international development. In particular, I shed light on the potential challenges of practicing anthropology within non-governmental organizations. Given the ethic of confidentiality in anthropology, I omit details about the country, organization, and ethnic group as much as possible, which allows me to focus on the processes involved.

Although an education in anthropology stresses the importance of confidentiality and the potentially dire consequences of drawing attention to individuals and communities, it probably does not truly sink in until you conduct your first fieldwork and “subjects” turn into human beings with names, families, and feelings. One of the greatest ethical challenges anthropologists face in writing about individuals and communities is the additional attention drawn to them when the intention of the anthropologist is to highlight a concern that extends beyond specific individuals and communities and can thus have negative consequences. Take, for example, an assessment I conducted of a national safety net program that took place in a limited number of communities.[1] If the individuals and communities participating had been explicitly identified or could be identified, they may have experienced negative political consequences such as a loss of government-provided social services or their jobs. Instead, the anonymity of the individuals and communities was protected, and the concerns and challenges were identified in a way that protected those who graciously and generously contributed their time and ideas to the research process. Complete anonymity is not always desirable, needed, or possible but is always an important consideration for anthropologists.

Throughout the last ten years, I have worked for non-governmental organizations—about five years in Eastern Africa and shorter periods in Asia and the Middle East—as a volunteer, employee, and consultant with community-based groups and national and international organizations. In this chapter, I explore one of those experiences to convey a sense of what “seeing like an anthropologist” means by analyzing an effort to eliminate by a nongovernmental international development organization. This chapter was inspired by the work of political scientist and anthropologist James C. Scott, particularly his Seeing Like a State (1998). I shift the focus inward onto anthropology as a practice and a way of seeing.[2] 



Sociocultural anthropology is best understood by its primary approach to data collection: participant observation. This key component of ethnographic research involves long-term engagement, living with and learning from a cultural community different from one’s own. In listening, learning about, and seeing the world from the perspectives of others, anthropologists draw on the idea of cultural relativism. This is in contrast to ethnocentrism, the belief that one’s own culture, cultural values, and societal organization are true, right, and proper and that others’ are erroneous to some degree. Cultural relativism posits that cultural practices and ideas must be understood within their contexts.

In the past, some anthropologists participated in the “development” activities of colonial governments, and individual anthropologists and the discipline as a whole were rightly criticized for their roles in the injustices that resulted. While working in Afghanistan in 2013, I encountered anthropologists who were engaged in activities in the name of “development” that could be defined as neo-colonial in that they supported militaries by analyzing cultural communities with the goal of finding ways to weaken them and foster unequal and unfair relationships (cultural imperialism). Anthropological engagement is not always benevolent or neutral. As a result, anthropologists are encouraged to engage in self-reflection—to examine their roles, engagements, practices, and objectives critically, known as reflexivity.

Varying degrees of criticism of the nature, objectives, and embedded assumptions of international development continue. Some have called on international development practitioners to significantly reform their activities to make them more effective, while others have expressed more radical criticisms, including the view that provision of aid causes greater impoverishment and should end.[3] It is essential when deconstructing development, as a concept and an activity, to ask why, when, how, and for whom the development is intended and who it excludes. It also requires identifying the power dynamics and motivations involved. Anthropological tools and ways of seeing are important means by which to answer these questions.[4]



My interaction with the project discussed in this chapter was limited in duration and I had specific tasks related to program evaluation and impact assessment. I interacted with management staff based in the international head office as well as the national head office, who provided me with background information about the region and clarified expectations before visiting the project area. The project itself was not primarily geared toward ending “harmful traditional practices,” but included a component related to addressing gender inequality and practices that negatively impact women. Reflecting back on those discussions, it appears that staff and donors who were located furthest from the area of the project had the greatest interest in these “harmful traditional practices.” Based on their emphasis, it is clear that foreign and exotic practices had an appeal that basic and shared needs did not. For example, those who were more distanced from the people the project sought to support were particularly interested in “female genital mutilation,” exchange marriages, and seemingly irrational and bizarre food taboos.

On the other hand, within almost every community in the project area, both men and women were primarily concerned about the lack of clean drinking water and healthcare options. Unfortunately, these concerns attracted little attention from outsiders.[5] In fact, many governmental agencies funding international development have explicitly restricted their funding such that water infrastructure is not an allowable project expense, including the governmental donor for the project in which I was involved. The reason for this is rarely explicitly stated, however informal discussions with development agency personnel cite high costs and sustainability as concerns. Abu-Lughod’s (2013) research on western perceptions of Muslim women, and broadly on conceptualizing “others” and their needs, provides insight into how prioritization of needs often takes place based upon assumptions, not reality.

Harmful traditional practices” are an odd collection of practices that range from tattooing and scarification to exchange marriages, forced marriages and marriages wherein a woman who is widowed becomes the wife of her deceased husband’s brother. “Harmful traditional practices” also include acts typically considered criminal activity throughout much of the world, such as abduction and unlawful confinement. A national committee in Ethiopia, for example, listed 162 “harmful traditional practices.”[6] While many of these practices are illegal and generally agreed to be abuses of human rights, some have parallel practices that are legal in the countries in which international organizations are based, such as tattooing and scarification. Numerous examples of “bad for them, okay for us” could be made. Each practice, its context, laws, and discourse requires contextualization beyond the scope of this chapter. However, useful examples of deconstructions of one frequently discussed practice, female genital mutilation, have been made by Russell-Robinson (1997), James (1998), Obermeyer (1999), Ahmadu and Shweder (2009) and Londono (2009).

The project staff identified a number of “harmful traditional practices” they believed ought to be stopped, however, I will only explore one of them: a collection of food taboos that were believed to negatively affect the nutrition of women. In particular, there was a focus on one specific food taboo: the restriction of women from eating eggs, which was the only food taboo mentioned in every report provided by the organization.

I learned from the project proposal that there were “cultural taboos” forbidding women from eating eggs and milk.[7] To address this, the project would improve their access and provide training on the nutritional value of these products. An initial assessment report stated that this taboo was not only about prohibiting the consumption of eggs, but also poultry. However, it later became clear that the restriction was only on eating eggs and meat from a specific breed of chicken that was raised in a woman’s own home or in the home of her in-laws. The organization advocated that this practice was negatively affecting women and infants because sources of already limited nutrition were being restricted, particularly an important source of vitamin A, which is a common micronutrient deficiency amongst the population. While eggs were a primary focus, other internal organizational reports provided different information: women and children also did not eat goat meat, animals that had been hunted, or any dairy products.

The consumption of these products was believed to cause illness and bring about the death of an in-law, hence the prohibition. Several years into the project it was reported that a significant change in child nutrition had occurred and the report suggested that training and education programs discouraging food taboos were the reason for this shift. A detailed gender report, conducted halfway through the project, suggested that women and girls were still not generally allowed to eat chicken meat and eggs, but provided some case studies of positive change. This particular report pointed to the mother-in-law as the person who instituted the prohibition of chicken meat and eggs, while most reports simply said the prohibition was “cultural” amongst this ethnic group or due to community misconceptions. After five years of work, the project continued to actively engage in activities aiming at addressing the “misconceptions” and “traditional practices” of not eating eggs or drinking milk.

One report, finalized a few years into the project, mentioned significant resistance to project activities encouraging the consumption of eggs and chicken meat. The “harmful traditional practice” was described as a “serious taboo,” and a “deeply rooted belief.” This report referenced another organization that was working to “prove the taboo is wrong” and had fostered remarkable change. Meeting with management staff in the national head office, I heard the same general story: there are cultural taboos forbidding women and girls from eating some foods, and specifically eggs. Staff permanently based in the project area repeated this information.

However, throughout the years of the project very little was understood about this particular practice. The food taboo was identified and a few potential, sometimes conflicting, reasons were given. No one appeared to have taken the time to understand why these food taboos existed. When I later explored this question, a staff member who had lived and worked within the region for almost two decades remarked, “I have not had a chance to know about this.” This is one of the challenges anthropologists face in working within non-governmental organizations: often the difficulties communities face are assumed to be a result of ignorance and the “solution” is presented as a straightforward, often technical, activity such as education. I believe the lack of understanding of these practices was not due to insurmountable barriers, but a lack of inquiry into the “why,” “how,” “when,” and other questions that make cultural practices understandable. The ability to ask these kinds of questions, I argue, is a skill built into the anthropological way of seeing. For those familiar with “schemes to improve the human condition,” as Scott put it, the lack of interest in asking questions would not be surprising. Organizations tend to identify a problem, propose a solution, and plan evidence-based activities to achieve an objective. For many in the international development sector, finding out why these taboos exist is not particularly important. Rather they believe it is most important to stop those practices deemed (by them) to be harmful. 



The historian Eugen Weber wrote that “when one looks for different things, one sees different things.[8] He was referring to seeing within a text; I believe the same applies to other kinds of observation. Anthropologists fundamentally view the world through a unique lens, and their ability to see what others do not is fostered through anthropological methodologies, approaches, and ideas. The physical reality is the same; the lens is different. Likewise, professionals in non-governmental organizations—management staff, economists, medical professionals, and development experts—bring their particular training, their lenses, to the problems, often focusing on different kinds of information they respectively view as important. In other words, our individual perspectives alter what we see.

The ethical challenge for anthropologists working in international development is that often the donors, organizations and projects operate without detailed sociocultural information. As a result, many anthropologists end up advocating for significant shifts in how the sector operates. For example, in designing a project, the proposed activities are often outlined before the baseline assessments of community needs are conducted. When the project is approved, and budget is set, it is difficult to completely adjust the focus and plan based on new knowledge of community needs. Anthropologists working on these projects often find themselves in the challenging space of advocating for new approaches, such as funding structures based on needs, rather than donor priorities, and flexibility in programming as opposed to carrying out the set activities that are outlined in program plans.

In the case of the food taboos identified within this development project, diverse ways of seeing were evident in the reports, in which medical perspectives focused on the impacts of the nutritional content of the foods, gender specialists were most concerned with the abuse of women’s rights, planners identified how behavior changes could occur and be integrated into the project using evidence-based measures, and economists paid attention to the potential income women could generate by producing poultry and selling eggs. Despite the passing of years and even the identification of some strong resistance by people in the communities, the food taboos were consistently presented as cultural issues or misconceptions that best practices and evidence-based behavior-change approaches could eliminate. The plan was to “raise awareness,” hold “community-based dialogues,” “facilitate exchange visits” with communities in which such taboos were not practiced, and provide nutritional education. On paper, the plan sounded good. The diverse activities would reinforce the message of behavior change with each offering unique insight and thus having a compounding effect in achieving the desired objective. The activities had previously been shown to be successful in a range of settings. For the project staff, all required information appeared to have been gathered.

My work began with spending time with the people in their communities and asking them about the food taboos—what they actually were and why they existed—and the community members provided detailed and insightful information. When I talked to the field staff about it, they reported that they had never asked the people in the communities those questions. That might sound like a case of neglect, but I view it is the logical outcome of one way of seeing. When a problematic practice has been identified and the organization has experience with activities that have changed such behavior, why do the details matter? From that perspective, the tedious task of collecting such data would waste valuable resources, time, and effort. It is important, at this juncture, to shed some light on the systemic nature of seeing from technical perspectives of this sort, which are common in the organizational cultures of international development programs and their staff members. It is not limited to international development workers—national and local organizations often present the same narratives about “bad” cultural taboos that can be eliminated by providing education about nutrition and empowering women. 



When I started my work in the program, I had no previous experience with the ethnic group that practiced the food taboos and had never been in the region. I was sent to visit a number of communities as part of an assessment unrelated to food taboos and to conduct gender-separated focus group discussions and individual interviews. In the first community I visited, the adult men made no mention of food taboos but the women did, and their reports were at odds with the project reports. They said that the restrictions applied only to adult married women and were, as one of the official reports had noted, limited to a specific local breed of chicken raised in specific households. I made note of the comments and went on with my tasks. In the second community, I interviewed religious leaders from two Christian sects who also mentioned the food taboos, describing them as examples of common practices of witchcraft. In the third and fourth communities, I had lengthy discussions exploring the context that no one had asked about until then: What in fact were the food taboos? Why did the taboos exist? What reinforced them as an ongoing practice? How did people view the practices and what were the consequences of not following them? The staff members who had been working with the communities were amazed at the valuable information gathered by simply asking the questions.

Community members made a number of important clarifications, some of which aligned with what was presented in reports and some did not. The details of these taboos were not uniform in all communities, however they shared some trends. For example, once a woman married a number of restrictions began, which included the prohibition of eating eggs and chicken meat, although only those that were produced from local breeds of chicken and only those raised within her household or the household of her in-laws. The restrictions did not apply to children or unmarried girls, nor did they apply to other breeds of chickens. Additionally, women could eat eggs and chicken meat as long as it was from different source, such as eggs from a neighbor’s chicken. In some communities, this also applied to the meat of hunted animals and milk. Women who did consume the prohibited products were believed to suffer from illnesses, such as swelling and itching, or even to cause the death of one of their in-laws. One project activity instructed women to bring the eggs they were forbidden to eat to the project staff, who then cooked the eggs and told the women to eat. The response of some women was outright refusal, some ate and then induced vomiting, while others followed the instructions and ate without strong objection. Reactions such as these suggested that there was more to the prohibition than a simple misconception. 



Elders in the communities explained that food taboos were one of a series of interconnected restrictions on behaviors, some identified by the project as harmful but not connected to the food taboos. In addition to food taboos, the restrictions included limitations on what women can touch and places they could enter while menstruating, a prohibition against a wife eating from the first harvest of the season until after her husband does, and rules preventing a wife from drinking from a newly prepared batch of alcoholic drink until after her husband does. Project workers had identified many of these practices, but understood them to be isolated from each other as separate traditions. The elders’ view of the practices as linked suggested that they needed to be understood as manifestations of something larger.

I found that the communities’ narratives differed but the information and specific rules were consistent. The food taboos were, in fact, a small part of a detailed belief system that influenced many components of everyday life. There had been, perhaps two generations ago, a respected leader from their ethnic group who had supernatural traits. His name was Gumzanjela, and he guided the community and held a role akin to religious leadership. Although Gumzanjela had passed on, he continued to be present in the community. His presence, described as his spirit, influenced what happened, could bring about illness, and could be called on when seeking cures. Some believed that Gumzanjela was a person; others believed that he had always been a supernatural being. Regardless, belief in Gumzanjela was a serious matter; people believed in him, believed his regulations were true, and had witnessed repercussions of failing to follow them. Gumzanjela had established the food taboos and restrictions for women. One of the many stories told about him was that his first child was born holding a leaf of a specific plant that was thereafter used as a cure for spiritual illnesses. Treatment of illness was a common theme in recollections of Gumzanjela and was a primary reason people continued to seek his help. Disobeying Gumzanjela was said to result in curses, sometimes on the one who violated a rule and other times on a relative such as the in-laws cited in the food taboos. The curses ranged from relatively minor ailments such as severe itching or swelling to the death of an in-law.

In addition to prohibiting a number of behaviors for women, Gumzanjela had imparted specific directions for people to follow, often built on his teachings, that were delivered via spiritual mediums in the community who communicated with Gumzanjela. For example, Gumzanjela had prescribed a cure that involved cutting off the claw of a chicken and placing it in the belly button of the person needing treatment. The claw was left there for one week, and the person could not bathe during that time. At the end of the week, the claw was removed and the person bathed. Only the person being treated could eat the chicken from which the cutting was taken.

In each community, there were well-known practitioner spirit-mediums, both male and female, to whom people go to connect with Gumzanjela. They sought various forms of support or requested that curses be placed on someone. The seeker could be given specific instructions to do certain things or to refrain from doing certain things. Payments and sacrifices were sometimes required, and occasionally Gumzanjela called for lengthy spiritual events during the night in which rites were performed and/or sacrifices were made.

One of the project reports had referred to the food taboos as being deeply rooted and, in context, it is easy to understand why that was the case. The specific food taboos were components of a much larger belief system; they were integral activities required by the communities’ religious traditions and thus taken very seriously. They were, as one member of the community noted, part of the “law of Gumzanjela.”

A brief analogy demonstrates the gravity of this point. Imagine that the people in the project communities were followers of Judaism or Islam, religions that prohibit consumption of a number of foods, including pork.[9] An international development organization and its external staff members might identify a protein deficiency that could be resolved by people consuming pork and view the taboo against it as a harmful traditional practice that should be eliminated through education about its nutritional value. Additionally, disadvantaged members of society could be encouraged to raise and sell pigs to generate income. Because Islam and Judaism are major recognized religions with millions of followers, it might seem absurd to try to convince them to eat pork based on nutritional and economic grounds. But the law of Gumzanjela is also a belief system and is as important to the communities in the project as Islam and Judaism are to their followers. The project had failed to recognize that the food taboos were part of a comprehensive belief system and that the organization had made demands that directly confronted culturally important beliefs and values. As a result, the project activities were viewed as an affront to their religious traditions and to the righteous, respected man from whom the laws had come and his living spirit.

I asked a group of men if a person could continue to believe in Gumzanjela and not practice the food taboo regarding chicken and eggs. No, they said, it was not possible. They added forcefully, “I believe in Gumzanjela. I have seen the effects; no cure works except from Gumzanjela.” They explained that there “is no cure from the medical professionals; only Gumzanjela can cure these illnesses.” Women thoroughly embraced these beliefs as well. Several years into the project, for example, a woman stated that she would “not eat it [the eggs] until I die.” Her response reflected the strength of her personal beliefs despite the project’s efforts. The majority of the community members interviewed agreed that belief in Gumzanjela was correct and that they must follow the system set out. Gumzanjela was present in their lives and in their homes and affected their lives daily. They experienced it and knew it to be true.

Some members of the community had “left Gumzanjela” and practiced a different faith, either Christianity or Islam. A primary reason for their leaving Gumzanjela and abandoning the food taboos, they explained, was the theology of their new faith. The women ate eggs, disregarded the menstruation rules, and sought medical help from local clinics rather than cures from practitioners. Abandoning the taboos required abandoning the greater belief system, a religious conversion either to a new theology or to a rejection of faith (at least theoretically; I did not encounter any community members who rejected faith altogether). 



Is this particular project unique or is the narrow vision of practitioners common in international development? Another project in which I was involved was run by an agricultural organization that was promoting changes in planting methodologies aimed at increasing yields. The farmers recognized that the new planting method increased yields but did not adopt it. A primary reason for that failure was a different way of thinking about what is important in an agricultural livelihood—the organization was promoting short-term gains and the farmers were prioritizing long-term sustainability of the soil. Another international organization and its donors were confident that child malnutrition in a region was the product of lack of knowledge about the nutritional value of consuming a diversity of foods to reduce micronutrient deficiencies, and they developed a series of educational projects to address the problem. But after spending time with members of the community, they realized that a lack of diversity in their diets was due largely to having few options, primarily because of poverty, and that the malnutrition was associated with seasonal food shortages and could not be alleviated through education. The activities of these projects appeared beneficial, but did not address the actual problems; instead, they were designed based on assumptions about both the problems and the solutions and failed to value contextualized, ethnographic information.

Technical approaches too often exclude the socio-political context in which they are applied and, consequently, entirely miss the politicized nature of the project and its activities. A vocational training effort I worked with in the Middle East, for example, failed, not because the need for education was misunderstood, but because the socio-political context in which it took place was neglected; the poor quality of existing educational systems was not addressed because improving the quality of the education provided was not an objective. Similarly, in the evaluation of the social safety net mentioned at the outset, the political nature of the implementation of the project was not adequately recognized by the international funding agencies.[10] Thus, the experience explored in this chapter is not uncommon, and it is clear that the anthropological way of seeing allows broader issues to come into view—cultural, social, and political—which can then be incorporated into the project goals and activities. These are areas that relatively technical approaches and evaluations tend to miss. 



What, then, do socio-cultural anthropologists do? There is no single answer to this question. There are, however, skills that anthropologists acquire that unveil unique ways of seeing and listening that can be applied to many different settings. Some anthropologists use these skills to facilitate the creation of policies that are more inclusive and multicultural, some engage with poorly understood subcultures, and others enhance the effectiveness of marketing of consumer goods. This chapter illustrates how I used the anthropological way of seeing to contextualize development actions, actors, and the people for whom the “development” was being done and explores the ethical challenges faced by anthropologists when working in the international development sector and within non-governmental organizations.

In general, I have found that many people working in international development organizations have not yet recognized the value of asking people why they do what they do. From the anthropologist’s point of view, understanding why a practice occurs is not merely an act of inquiry; it is also a means of demonstrating respect for people and their knowledge and taking time to listen, learn, and see. The typical approach of development practitioners implicitly and explicitly conveys a lack of respect for the culture, values, and ideas of the people the projects seek to support.

The respect inherent to the anthropologist’s view is based on cultural relativity, which guides the inquiry process. Judgment is withheld to understand the relative context of the practices in question. Far too frequently staff of development organizations judge based on their assumptions and do not see value in investigating further. That limited vision is a barrier to their success. It is essential, in seeing like an anthropologist, to be willing to understand other people’s perspectives and respect their ideas. As an anthropologist, I am not required to believe in Gumzanjela. However, my training and education prepare me to understand and to begin to see the world from a perspective founded in that belief. My ability and willingness to see reality from perspectives other than my own are essential skills—the ability to see what some people do not see and hear what some people do not hear. Anthropology can connect the activities of international development efforts to cultural values so they work together instead of against each other. The identification of the comprehensive belief system in which the food taboos were embedded, for example, opened up new avenues for practical, culturally respectful solutions to the problem of poor nutrition for women and children.

The story of the development organization’s efforts is purposely left unfinished. Did the community resist? Did the organization change its activities? Was a different learning and inquiry-based culture supported within the organization? Did belief in Gumzanjela continue? Did the organization succeed in changing specific behaviors? How did the community navigate the external pressure? Did individuals mostly succumb to the project’s advocacy or did they find ways to deflect, redirect, and mislead the external advocates? As I hope this chapter has conveyed, people’s responses to efforts to change them are complex. Anthropologists play an important role by extending an organization’s vision so that its programs and activities can better align with the realities of the people for whom they are designed and implemented.


Discussion Questions 

  1. The international development professionals described in this chapter were determined to eliminate the food taboos associated with the “law of Gumzanjela,” but Cochrane points out that these rules were part of a larger belief system. Are there situations in which it is acceptable to try to alter a group’s cultural values in order to promote changes in health, nutrition, or women’s rights? Or, do you think it is inappropriate for outsiders to demand change? Do you think it is possible to achieve goals, such as improved nutrition, without pressuring groups to change their values and beliefs?

  1. Cochrane provides several examples of situations in which anthropological perspectives and methods led to the discovery of important information about local communities that development professionals did not have. However, the lack of knowledge about local cultures that characterizes many development projects is not caused simply by a lack of anthropological expertise. What other factors mentioned in this chapter contribute to a mismatch between the needs of local people and the goals of international development projects?


Cultural imperialism: Attempts to impose unequal and unfair relationships between members of different societies.
Food taboos: Cultural rules against the preparation and/or consumption of certain foods.
Harmful traditional practices: Behaviors that are viewed as ordinary and acceptable by members of a local community, but appear to be destructive or even criminal to outsiders.  



Image of the authorLogan Cochrane is a Banting Fellow at Carleton University (Global and International Studies) and Adjunct Professor at Hawassa University (Institute for Policy and Development Research). For the last twelve years he has worked overseas, including in Afghanistan, Benin, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda. Logan has worked as a consultant with clients that have included Management Sciences for Health, Save the Children, The Liaison Office, UNICEF and UNAIDS.


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Ahmadu, Fuambai. S. and Shweder, Richard. A. “Disputing the Myth of the Sexual Dysfunction of Circumcised Women.” Anthropology Today 25 no. 6 (2009):14-17.

Robert Chambers. Provocations for Development. Warwickshire, UK: Practical Action Publishing, 2012.

Cochrane, L. and Tamiru, Y. “Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Program: Power, Politics and Practice.” Journal of International Development. 28 no. 5 (2016):649-665.

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Farmer, Paul. Infections and Inequalities. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.

Green, Duncan. From Poverty to Power. Oxford, UK: Oxfam, 2012.

Illich, Ivan. “Development as Planned Poverty.” In The Post-Development Reader, edited by M. Rahnama and V. Bawtree, 94-102. London: Zed Books, 1997.

James, Stanlie. M. “Shades of Othering: Reflections on Female Circumcision/Genital Mutilation.” Signs. 23 no. 4 (1998):1031-1048.

Lock, Margaret. “Afterward: Seeing Like an Anthropologist.” In Troubling Natural Categories, edited by N. Adelson, L. Butt and K. Kielmann, 209-222. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2013.

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Moyo, Dambisa. Dead Aid. Why Aid is Not Working and How There is Another Way for Africa. New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2009.

NCTPE [National Committee on Traditional Practices of Ethiopia]. Old Beyond Imaging Ethiopia – Harmful Traditional Practices. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: National Committee on Traditional Practices of Ethiopia, 2003.

Obermeyer, Carla. M. “Female Genital Surgeries: The Known, the Unknown, and the Unknowable.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 13 (1999):79-106.

Russell-Robinson, Joyce. “African Female Circumcision and the Missionary Mentality.” A Journal of Opinion 25 (1997):54-57.

Scott, James. C. Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998.

Sulkin, Carlos. D. Londono. “Anthropology, Liberalism and Female Genital Cutting.” Anthropology Today 25 no. 6 (2009):17-19.

Weber, Eugen. Peasants into Frenchman: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870-1914. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1976.

  1. See Logan Cochrane and Y. Tamiru, “Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Program: Power, Politics and Practice,” Journal of International Development 28 no. 5 (2016):649-665.
  2. I cannot claim to be the first to write about “seeing like an anthropologist;” others have done so, including Lock (2013), though with slightly different objectives.
  3. Those who have called on international development practitioners to reform their activities include Robert Chambers (2012), Paul Farmer (2001), and Duncan Green (2012). A more radical critique suggesting that the provision of aid causes greater impoverishment can be found in Arturo Escobar (1994) and Ivan Illich (1997). Dambisa Moyo (2009) has called for an end to international development projects.
  4. Those interested in an anthropological perspective of the views of other development actors can read McGovern’s (2011) article on the works of Collier.
  5. I use the term outsiders to refer to those external to the communities, either as non-members or as those not living within or near that particular location, and am not referring only to international staff.
  6. NCTPE, National Committee on Traditional Practices of Ethiopia, 2003
  7. The project proposal and reports mentioned in this chapter are internal organizational reports not available to the public. The purpose of the reports is to inform programming, which differs from academic research articles that are made available to the public (although not always open access). While these practices appear quite different, there are some similarities: organizations publish publicly available reports on their work based on the totality of the data collected, but these reports do not include all of the information that they have. Similarly, not all data collected by academic researchers is made available to the public nor is it all published, rather a selection of that data is published in academic article and books.
  8. Eugen Weber, 1976, Peasants into Frenchman: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870-1914. Stanford University Press: Stanford University Press, x.
  9. Leviticus 11:7–8: “And the pig, because it parts the hoof and is cloven-footed but does not chew the cud, is unclean for you. You shall not eat any of their flesh and you shall not touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you.” Quran 2:173: “He [God] has only forbidden to you dead animals, blood, the flesh of swine and that which has been dedicated to other than God.”
  10. Cochrane and Tamiru, “Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Program.”


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