International Aid and the Making of a Better World
Routledge – 2014 – 208 pages
Series: Rethinking Development
How can international aid professionals manage to deal with the daily dilemmas of working for the wellbeing of people in countries other than their own? A scholar-activist and lifelong development practitioner seeks to answer that question in a book that provides a vivid and accessible insight into the world of aid – its people, ideas and values against the backdrop of a broader historical analysis of the contested ideals and politics of aid operations from the 1960s to the present day.
Moving between aid-recipient countries, head office and global policy spaces, Rosalind Eyben critically examines her own behaviour to explore what happens when trying to improve people’s lives in far-away countries and warns how self-deception may construct obstacles to the very change desired, considering the challenge to traditional aid practices posed by new donors like Brazil who speak of history and relationships. The book proposes that to help make this a better world, individuals and organisations working in international development must respond self-critically to the dilemmas of power and knowledge that shape aid’s messy relations.
Written in an accessible way with vignettes, stories and dialogue, this critical history of aid provides practical tools and methodology for students in development studies, anthropology and international studies and for development practitioners to adopt the habit of reflexivity when helping to make a better world.
At last, an honest account of the real-life dilemmas faced by development practitioners! This book will be of immense value - and comfort - to those who face the ethical, personal and political questions that are the daily reality of working to promote a better world. It will also be of immense benefit to students grappling with the tension between theory and practice.
–Chris Roche,La Trobe University, Australia
Rosalind has done a brilliant review of the past decades of development and her own engagement, generating a powerful proposition for reflexive practice. She criticizes the recent rise of a donor driven "results based management", which is undermining the relevance of processes, power and rights. The book establishes how crucial it is for progressive organizations and practitioners to stop such a trend!
–Adriano Campolino, Country Director, Action Aid, Brazil
This evocative and moving book weaves together a life lived seeking change through engagement with international development with a fascinating biography of the international development enterprise, as seen by a reflective practitioner working in a variety of its institutional sites. It is a gripping read, one that is at turns immensely funny, insightful and rich in historical and empirical detail. It deserves a place at the top of the required reading lists of anyone teaching development, and a place on the bookshelves of the bureaucrats who, like Rosalind Eyben, practice their art with an awareness that it's the devil in the detail that can be such a powerful instrument for change.
–Andrea Cornwall, University of Sussex, UK
In this book Rosalind Eyben provides something highly unusual: an autobiographical journey through the field of international development (‘Aidland’) over four decades. The vicissitudes of development aid are explored through insights offered from the remarkable variety of roles that Eyben herself has played; accompanied by critical reflection on the interplay of this career with values, motivations and a sense of self springing from childhood. Her writing is both analytically sharp and playful as she challenges readers to take the personal and relationships seriously with no loss of focus on the possibilities of global policy for the reduction of poverty and making a better world.
Through perceptive observation and disarming honesty, Eyben shows us policy in the making through the machinations of aid bureaucracy, national politics and the international relations of donor coordination.
By placing herself at the centre of the account, Eyben brings a sharpness of observation, an honesty and a wisdom to the analysis of international development that is truly refreshing and quite unparalleled. She demonstrates, as few others have, personal experience as a critical lens through which to examine the institutions and practices of international development. The result is something as rare as it is necessary: a critical self-awareness of power — of pride, delusion, mistaken assumptions, over-optimism or nativity about the suspicions of others’ benevolence.
International development organisations urgently need new knowledge to better explain their actions, and to deal with the pressing constraints on their own learning. This is exactly what Eyben provides, through her enduring anthropological curiosity.
This is a brilliant book which deserves to be widely read by those within and well beyond international development. It challenges us to think of aid as a field of power and helps us understand that the relationships that shape knowledge and action are moral and emotional.
–David Mosse, School of Oriental and African Studies, UK
The personal account is riveting – pieced together from letters, journals, and illustrated with grainy black and white photos of parties on the verandah in Zaire, all discussed with an unflinching gaze that examines both her failings and triumphs.
–Duncan Green, From Poverty to Power
1. Introduction: Reflexive Practice 2. Histories and Biographies 3. Home and Away 4. A Way of Seeing 5. Who Changes? 6. Through Others' Eyes 7. Relationships and Realities 8. Good Enough Practice 9. Conclusion: Making a Better World
Rosalind Eyben was a Professorial Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies from 2002 to 2013. She is currently an Associate with the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex.