Is the Non-unitary Subject a Plausible and Productive Way to Understand Development Bureaucrats?

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Development bureaucrats are the human instruments of the policies that mobilise funds, create organisations and underwrite interventions. For their home audiences development organisations need to present bureaucrats who are reliable instruments. In the field these same organisations need staff who can do what makes sense. This arrangement works until what makes sense in head office does not work in the field. At that point staff have to ‘marry off’ these two worlds. How these staff are understood shapes both how they can be approached by locals and how they should be supported by their organisations. This paper draws on research done in a donor organisation headquarters, in a military unit tasked with conducting development activities and at a field-level donor mission in a failed state. It explores the relevance, methods to research, the plausibility and the productivity of understanding the development bureaucrats who do this ‘marrying off’ as non-unitary subjects.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1511-1525
JournalThird World Quarterly
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2012



  • ethnography
  • discourse

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