Unruly clients : a study of how bureaucrats try and fail to transform gatekeepers, communists and preachers into ideal beneficiaries

P. de Vries

    Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


    <p>State-peasant relations in this book are studied by focussing on the strategies which farmers and bureaucrats deploy in a colonisation area of the Atlantic zone of Costa Rica in order to deal with forms of state intervention which include programmes, projects and other instruments of state policy. Existing studies of state intervention can be divided in two categories. First, there are works that view intervention as a policy activity and that pay little attention to the political role of intervention as an arena in which farmers and bureaucrats interact. And, second, there are studies which view state intervention as an instrument in the service of capitalist expansion, thus operating at the cost of the autonomy of smallholders.<p>My approach differs from these works inasmuch as it attempts to study intervention by focussing on the negotiation practices of bureaucrats and farmers. Central in the analysis, then, are not the formal intentions of a project or a programme. Neither are efforts made to uncover the 'hidden objectives' of intervention. Instead, I have undertaken a detailed analysis of how bureaucrats develop 'practices of intervention' including the labelling and classification of farmers, and of how farmers appropriate the resources and meanings of intervention in their dealings with state institutions. State intervention, in this perspective, has different consequences for different social actors, and pressuposes the existence of conflicting interests.<p>The question which this dissertation addresses can be phrased as follows: What kinds of intervention practices do exist, and what can we say about the role of the state bureaucracy in agrarian development? And, on the other hand, how does state intervention shape the strategies farmers deploy in order to deal with the state bureaucracy?<p>The research addresses these issues by studying attempts by bureaucrats to transform farmers into clients in two settlements in the 'frontier'. 'Development' was defined by programme planners in a technical and apolitical way. The attempted transformation of farmers/settlers into clients went together with different kinds of labelling and classification practices which had effect in the administrative domain, but not in the process of service delivery. It appeared, then, that farmers developed strategies in order to appropriate, resist or manipulate intervention.<p>The findings of this research are of interest for students of intervention as well as for practitioners involved in development projects. It is argued that more attention should be payed to the politics of intervention. Notions of success and failure, therefore, should be viewed within the context of the interests, commitments and aspirations of a variety of actors such as policymakers, front-line workers and farmers.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Long, N.E., Promotor
    Award date5 Oct 1992
    Place of PublicationS.l.
    Publication statusPublished - 1992


    • social classes
    • farmers
    • costa rica
    • bureaucracy

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