In the 2019-2020 academic year, the unit of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Konstanz has received a new Humboldt Fellow, Dr. Yonatan N. Gez, whose work will focus on the ‘afterlives’ of development interventions in East Africa. In recent years, scholarship on international development has seen a long-overdue trend of studying project failures and unintended consequences, especially as related to the top-down developmentalist approach that peaked in the 1960s. Such scholarship fleshes out the centrality of perspective and power in defining development’s narratives, pointing to the gap between agencies’ official accounts and actual consequences for local populations. Scholars are increasingly aware of how local actors employ agency as they engage in bricolage-like re-composition of the remains of past development interventions to form new and relevant solutions in response to changing circumstances and needs.
Proceeding from an emic perspective, Dr. Gez’ project will explore how local imagery, initiative, and critique all play a role in shaping the legacy of past development schemes, transforming and reusing them both mentally and materially. The work sets out to understand the processes whereby, over time, abandoned development projects become appropriated and integrated into communal and personal narratives, as well as dissipating into raw fragments of mental and material resources. To do so, Dr. Gez’ research will combine theoretical and ethnographic components – with the latter revolving around three abandoned agricultural cooperatives from the 1960s in the greater Mwanza area (Tanzania) as a starting point. This will allow Dr. Gez to test his hypothesis whereby, over decades, the legacy of multiple development interventions—seemingly disconnected and separated by time, objectives and approach—is accumulated and becomes entangled within local—collective as well as individual—narratives.
Alongside his work at the University of Konstanz, Dr. Gez is also affiliated with the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, where he is the co-director of a Franco-Swiss research project titled “Self-Accomplishment and Local Moralities in East Africa” (Project SALMEA, https://salmea.hypotheses.org/).