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The Anti-Politics Machine

Development, Depoliticization, and Bureaucratic Power in Lesotho

1994
Author:

James Ferguson

The Anti-Politics Machine

“Through a detailed case study of the Thaba-Tseka Development Project in Lesotho over the period 1975 to 1984, Ferguson exposes the discourse and the practice of 'development' to a highly explicit and critical scrutiny. . . . The importance of Ferguson's book is that it exerts a decisive wrench away from evaluation of the success or failure of development projects in their own terms and towards an analysis of what development does, who does it, and whom it actually benefits.” --Colin Murray, Man

“Through a detailed case study of the Thaba-Tseka Development Project in Lesotho over the period 1975 to 1984, Ferguson exposes the discourse and the practice of 'development' to a highly explicit and critical scrutiny. . . . The importance of Ferguson's book is that it exerts a decisive wrench away from evaluation of the success or failure of development projects in their own terms and towards an analysis of what development does, who does it, and whom it actually benefits.” --Colin Murray, Man

The most penetrating and insightful case study of `development discourse’ I’ve encountered. Ferguson not only shows the bureaucratic logic of the misrepresentation of Lesotho but the pernicious political and economic consequences of this misrepresentation. It would be hard to teach any course on third world development without taking Ferguson’s original argument into account.

James C. Scott, Eugene Meyer Professor of Political Science Yale University

Development, it is generally assumed, is good and necessary, and in its name the West has intervened, implementing all manner of projects in the impoverished regions of the world. When these projects fail, as they do with astonishing regularity, they nonetheless produce a host of regular and unacknowledged effects, including the expansion of bureaucratic state power and the translation of the political realities of poverty and powerlessness into "technical" problems awaiting solution by "development" agencies and experts. It is the political intelligibility of these effects, along with the process that produces them, that this book seeks to illuminate through a detailed case study of the workings of the "development" industry in one country, Lesotho, and in one "development" project.

Using an anthropological approach grounded in the work of Foucault, James Ferguson analyzes the institutional framework within which such projects are crafted and the nature of "development discourse," revealing how it is that, despite all the "expertise" that goes into formulating development projects, they nonetheless often demonstrate a startling ignorance of the historical and political realities of the locale they are intended to help. In a close examination of the attempted implementation of the Thaba-Tseka project in Lesotho, Ferguson shows how such a misguided approach plays out, how, in fact, the "development" apparatus in Lesotho acts as an "anti-politics machine," everywhere whisking political realities out of sight and all the while performing, almost unnoticed, its own pre-eminently political operation of strengthening the state presence in the local region.

The Anti-Politics Machine

James Ferguson is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of California at Irvine.

The Anti-Politics Machine

The most penetrating and insightful case study of `development discourse’ I’ve encountered. Ferguson not only shows the bureaucratic logic of the misrepresentation of Lesotho but the pernicious political and economic consequences of this misrepresentation. It would be hard to teach any course on third world development without taking Ferguson’s original argument into account.

James C. Scott, Eugene Meyer Professor of Political Science Yale University

The Anti-Politics Machine is an acutely critical, highly imaginative excursion into the world of ‘development.’ It succeeds splendidly in unmasking the ideological scaffolding of that world, in revealing its unspoken axioms and taken-for-granted forms. Although focused on Lesotho, the study has almost universal resonances. It offers some very general, very disturbing lessons about the discourse of ‘modernization,’ a fantasy that serves as alibi for the (under) development of much of the so-called Third World.

John Comaroff, University of Chicago.

This book offers a remarkably multifaceted and original view of economic ‘development.’ Ferguson shows the very different perspectives of the various players engaged in a project in Lesotho. The World Bank, local institutions, and the villagers are shown to have a ‘working misunderstanding’ that effects practical changes even as the project fails in the objectives it has designated for itself.

Sally Falk Moore, Harvard University.

This is a salutary and refreshing book that should rapidly find a central place on reading lists for programs in Development Studies, at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels, and for shorter courses for ‘development’ practitioners. . . . The importance of Ferguson’s book is that it exerts a decisive wrench away from evaluation of the success of failure of development projects in their own terms and towards an analysis of what development does, who does it and whom actually benefits. The point here is not so much that the premises on which development intervention takes place are falsely constructed, though they often are; rather that development intervention brings about changes in the world which may have very little to do with its nominal objectives.

Colin Murray, University of Liverpool

This is one of the most innovative and stimulating books I have read in recent years. James Ferguson has studied the development industry as it goes about its work, and he presents an incisive analysis at several levels. . . .Theoretically, he transcends the unnecessary and frequently tedious disputes between advocates of Foucaultian discourse analysis and analysis of political economy. Methodologically, he weaves together literary criticism’s approach to written texts-with their claims to universality-and the view of the microcosm of the participant-observer of classical ethnography. . . . His book points the way not only to as yet unexplored topics for investigation, but to new ways of thinking about issues of fundamental importance.

Frederic Cooper, Journal of Southern African Studies

James Ferguson has given the critique of conventional development theory a new and imaginative dimension. Ferguson’s book is an original contribution to the literature that tries to understand the development problematic. His argument is a breath of fresh air in an environment where conformity with conceptual ‘fads’ is the norm. He strips the development community of its conceptual attire and leaves it naked for all to see.

American Political Science Review