I am a feminist social anthropologist with a career in international development policy and practice, including long-term experience of working and living in Africa, India and most recently in Latin America. I also worked at the London headquarters of DFID as Chief Social Development Advisor.
I have been at IDS since 2002 where my research interests relate to power and relations in international aid. Between 2006 and 2011 I was a member of the Pathways of Women’s Empowerment Research Programme Consortium with a particular interest in global policy institutions, actors and discourses in relation to gender equality. This included a project with feminist bureaucrats who are working in international development agencies and this is the subject of a forthcoming book At the Margins of Change. My current interest is how and why development policy invisibilizes unpaid care work.
When still working for DFID I had already argued for studying donors as subjects in their own right – making myself such a subject for study when in Bolivia (2000-2002) – and have since t contributed to ‘aidnography’ since my participation in a 2003 seminar organised by David Mosse and David Lewis where I gave a paper with Rosaio León that became a chapter in (2005) The Aid Effect. This was part of a body of work analysing different aspects of power and aid relations in Bolivia, concluding in Mosse’s edited collection Adventures in Aidland (2011). Researching donors poses methodological issues and in my own research I position the anthropologist as a reflexive auto-ethnographer, retaining empathy for the insider’s position while sufficiently distanced to cultivate a critical faculty. My new work on donors concerns the impact on the international aid system of the emerging powers.
My interest in knowledge, power and practice has led to my taking the international aid system as an entry point to enquiring more generally into institutions that have a declared normative commitment to progressive social change. I have recently been working with NGOs including in Vietnam, Scandinavia, Switzerland and the Netherlands, as well as the UK, to help them bring theories of social change to bear on practical and institutional questions in a manner that allows practitioners to explore their assumptions and identify alternative modes of action.
Investigating how we understand how change happens has led to a concern about the current obsession in official aid agencies for measuring effectiveness in a manner that assumes all problems are bounded/simple to be solved through linear cause-effect logical planning. Power, relations, the partiality of knowledge and complexity are all ignored in current approaches to performance measurement, as are surprises and positive and negative unplanned consequences. I co-convene the Big Push Forward that links practitioners to identify and share strategies and approaches for fair assessments for a fairer world.
One of the reasons I joined IDS was to be involved in teaching and I enjoy both the classroom experience as well as one-to-one supervision. I regularly teach in MA Participation, Poverty, Gender and Development studies. I am currently co-supervising two doctoral students and regret that am not able to take on any new commitments in this respect.