In this episode of the IDS podcast Between the Lines, Ian Scoones and Andrea Cornwall, editors of the book Revolutionizing Development: Reflections on the work of Robert Chambers interview Robert Chambers about his work and legacy.
The book – which has just been made open access – with a new foreword from IDS Director Melissa Leach – tells the story of development studies in practice over the last 50 years, with contributions from authors who have been intimately involved as collaborators, critics and colleagues of Robert Chambers.
In the interview, Ian and Andrea ask Robert amongst other questions; what have been your influences and what does development studies mean today.
About the authors
Ian Scoones is co-director of the ESRC STEPS Centre at Sussex and principal investigator of the ERC Advanced Grant project, PASTRES (Pastoralism, Uncertainty and Resilience: Lessons From the Margins).
He works on agrarian and environmental change, particularly in Africa. He has a particular interest in the connections between science, policy and the politics of sustainability. His long-term research on land, agricultural and livelihoods in Zimbabwe is covered in his regular blog, Zimbabweland. He is a member of the editorial collective of the Journal of Peasant Studies and on the editorial board of Ecology and Society.
Andrea Cornwall is Pro-Director of Research & Enterprise at SOAS and Professor of Global Development and Anthropology. She is a political anthropologist who specialises in the study of democratic innovation, citizen engagement, participatory research, gender justice and sexual rights. Her research focuses on power, inclusion and rights, and includes work with domestic and sex worker rights movements in Brazil and India, reproductive and sexual health in Zimbabwe and Nigeria, citizen participation and accountability in health policy and governance in the UK, Nigeria and Brazil, and on contestations over gender, empowerment and rights in international policy arenas.
About the interviewee
Robert Chambers has a background in biology, history and public administration. His current concerns and interests include professionalism, power, the personal dimension in development, participatory methodologies, epistemology, poverty, stunting, teaching and learning with large numbers, and work on sanitation and hygiene with the Sanitation Learning Hub.
About the book
This book tells the story of development studies in practice over the last 50 years through the work of one remarkable individual – Robert Chambers. His work has taken him from being a colonial officer in Kenya through training and managing large rural development projects to a fundamental critique of top-down development and the championing of participatory approaches.
The contributors eloquently demonstrate how he has been at the centre of major shifts in development thinking and practice over this period, popularising terms that are now at the centre of the development lexicon such as vulnerability, multi-dimensional poverty, sustainable livelihoods and “farmer first”. Robert Chambers played a major role in the massive growth in participatory approaches to development, and particularly the application of participatory methods in development research and appraisal.
This has led to fundamental challenges to development practice, ranging from approaches to monitoring and evaluation to institutional learning and professional training. There is probably no-one who has had more influence on approaches to development in the past decades.
Revolutionizing Development offers a unique overview of these contributions in 32 concise chapters from authors who have been intimately involved as collaborators, critics and colleagues of Robert Chambers.