Thomas Grammig

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"Technical Knowledge and Development

   Observing Aid Projects and Processes"

                 2002   and   2012

                 London:  Routledge

Available since 2012 in paperback from Routledge for 33 Euro and as e-book for 39 Euro.  Extracts of Chapter 2 are in Development Anthropology and of Chapter 3 in Ethnography

The quality of fieldwork, the limits of the experts´ mutual understanding and their technical products, the results´reception by development agencies, the reaction of the project actors, the communication mechanisms and the symbolism of the project encounter are presented in a connected and thus minute form.  Both project cases analysed were funded by the World Bank but none of the topics are specific to that donor.  The Mexican and US-american energy engineers failed to distinguish parameters to adapt to Mexican firms from universal ones and each side felt betrayed.  The Chadian and French mechanics fully coincided in the adaptations, but their relations were fixed by silences about their individual views.  For each case a set of organisational remedees follows directly from the dynamics of their collaboration.  From these 2 cases, widely applicable latent processes of project implementation are defined.  Their elaboration and use as management tools are demonstrated on the next Webpage.

Published Book Reviews of

"Technical Knowledge and Development"

 Book reviews published in 2002 and 2003, are of quite different opinions.   Some acknowledge the everyday situations I described contain the means to overcome development efforts´ barriers, others assume this cannot bear any fruit because relations between development practitioners are categorically limited.   In a short comparison of these reviews, I demonstrate that they reflect practitioners´ experiences and scientific biases.

Practitioners versus researchers´ reviews

The most competent reviews are


Citations in four influential books




The Oxford Handbook of Public Policy

Ch. 28 Social and Cultural Factors: Constraining and Enabling

Davis B. Bobrow

Page 578

People come to any particular policy situation with a stock of notions about the degree and nature of relevant variety based on their prior actual or virtual experiences (including socialization, accepted history, academic learning). Thus Grammig (2002, 56) reports that a development assistance project was for experts of different nationalities “an empty shell that each participant filled with his own meaning”.  What is learned about whom usually results from prior judgements about the importance of a culture or subculture and sufficient curiosity to enquire about it. We are more likely to have elaborated profiles of others we have dealt with before and previously treated as important, and less likely to have such about those rarely encountered or thought lacking in wealth, coercive power, status or rectitude. Of course, players in policy systems and policy issues are a heterogeneous lot in terms of who they have encountered and treated as important.  In sum, which and how many differences get recognized (or denied) are political and cultural matters.


Handbook of globalization, governance and public administration

Ch. 36 International Development Management: Definitions, Debates and Dilemmas

Jennifer and Derick Brinkerhoff

Page 832

Development management as values is expressed in two ways. First, development management acknowledges that managing is infused with politics; successful management takes account of this fact and therefore is both contextual and strategic (see, for example, Lindenberg and Crosby, 1981; White, 1987; Brinkerhoff and Crosby, 2002).  Part of this acknowledgement extends to the recognition that managers, whether the local managers in a particular country or the external providers of technical or managerial assistance, are “carriers” of values, and hence are inherently political whether they recognize it or not (see Grammig, 2002).  However, providers of international technical assistance often don a mantle of neutrality, assumed as a function of their scientific and professional expertise.  However, knowledge and expertise cannot be separated from the values context in which they are developed and applied.
Similar citation in Brinkerhoff DW, 2008, "The State and International Development Management: Shifting Tides, Changing Boundaries, and Future Directions", Public Administration Review, 68/6: 985-1001.


Cultivating Development.

An Ethnography of Aid Policy and Practice

David Mosse

Page 12

Development organizations are in the habit of dealing with criticism and the questioning of their claims and actions (e.g. through reviews and evaluations). However, they are less tolerant of research that falls outside design frameworks, that does not appear to be practical relevance, is wasteful of time or adds complexity and makes the task of management harder (see discussion in Mosse 1998a).  It is this that makes it virtually impossible to sustain long-term participant observation in the absence of making a practical contribution (whether as an engineer, a medic or anthropologist), being a member of the community and having a certain status (cf. Grammig 2002, Harper 2002).  In any case, I for one would not have wanted the role of passive observer.

Page 36

An aid project is a ‘globalising technology’ (in its way like the media or migration) whose art of persuasion works through projecting the lives of its remote tribal beneficiaries onto metropolitan imaginations (Appadurai 1997, Luthra 2003).  Over-ambition holds together internal diversity, and helps conceal the self-evident fact that ‘no country in the world has ever developed itself through projects (Edwards 1989: 119 in Grammig 2002).

Page 133

Over many years, we developed a closer and more informal working relationship with project staff than most consultancy teams; and the trust we gained gave us unusual access to the internal workings of the project. But the knowledge that we consultants developed was still based on a view from afar. Grammig (2002) suggests that (foreign) expertise necessarily implies cultural distance and ignorance of the local in order to establish a privileged ‘universal’ point of view. Certainly consultants had a fragmented experience of the project, disengaged from the day-to-day routines and the pressing demands of relationship building.



Social Studies of Science 35/5 (oct 2005)

Reagency of the Internet, or, How I Became a Guest for Science      

Wesley Shrum   Page 730

Two key dimensions of the transience of the Guest are length of stay (one of the ӿrst things asked about any visitor) and revisitation (never known until the fact). This is one point of entry for ethnographers who have studied technical assistance projects and an important contrast with the Guest bringing programs or projects. The actions of the latter are to review facilities, to inquire about interests (the answer is almost always ‘yes, we are interested’), to assemble a team for a proposal. Once a project is funded, it may or may not involve the emplacement of expatriates on site, interacting with a team of locals and generating all of the complexities of sustained intercultural interaction. Thomas Grammig’s outstanding description of technical assistance projects in Chad and Mexico reveals the astonishing complexity of relationships within and between groups (Grammig, 2002). Interpretations that rely exclusively on notions of who is foreign and who is local are undermined by ethnic, gender, and class divisions, among many others. As identities remain in place, they differentiate and develop individualities – over time, they can become people, even friends. The pure Guest is a transient, an action generator, an identity without other purpose than reagency.


Other Citations

How relevant is wellbeing to international development policy and practice?   
WeD Conference,      James Copestake

Page 12:

The Primacy of the Personal

We hope our dentist will be pleasant and respectful, but if it came to a trade-off most of us would nevertheless opt for the most skilful with the drill, even if his or her chair-side manners left much to be desired. Development practice differs to the extent that interpersonal behaviour can have a more direct effect on the core goal of diffusing power in society.  More fundamentally, the inequality of access to and control over resources that is inherent in many aid relationships creates particular strains on personal relationships. Carr et al (1998) observe this effect closely in the labelling and othering associated with technical assistance for training, while Grammig (2002) alludes to the same issue in his observation that even where counterparts enjoy mutual professional respect and friendship their relationship is still mediated by differing political interests and identities that are built in to unequal power over allocation and disbursement of funds. While there is no avoiding the inequality of control over global resources within which development is embedded, the effect of this can at least be reduced by questioning the functional separation of who decides when development initiatives start and finish from who is responsible for their implementation in between.


Citation Analysis

In the Oxford Handbook on Public Policy, Bobrow stresses the generic public policy problem that any development project is always and for all an empty shell.  Whereas Brinkerhoff’s development management piece still maintains that it must not be so and individuals are at fault if it is, using metaphorically “to don a mantle”.

David Mosse’s book is a real turning point in the social sciences on development, opening new avenues for policy and research. He stresses neither the fundamental point of the Oxford Handbook nor the judgmental point by Brinkerhoff.  Instead he refers to two specific conditions over-ambition and the need for cultural distance, and leaves their inevitability likely, perhaps he wants to stress that these conditions need to be establish again in each case. Shrum would support this since he stresses that the foreign/local opposition isn’t even enough in the case of Internet use.  Over-ambition and cultural distance are at the same time practical needs for the project participants and policy needs of the organizations involved (in Mosse’s case the Indian and UK government, Indian corporations, etc.).

Brinkerhoff would incite managers to be context sensitive, contrary to Mosse’s call to reduce their roles. These two views are mutually exclusive, either it is possible to reduce the “mantle of neutrality” or to modify the underlying ambition.  When discussing new development tools for the role of the state, Brinkerhoff labels Grammig’s results “postmodernist“.  Most likely, he mistakes relativist premises of postmodernist research with interactionist analysis and the premise that project protagonists are in control of their endeavour.  A case of research design excluding the objects research tries to get to.

Copestake defines organizational changes that alter functional roles.  He seeks to derive functional remedies for the empirical demonstration of mutually dependent understanding between project participants while he acknowledges “there is no avoiding”.  Copestake would also assume that Brinkerhoff’s hope is impossible. 

Between the citations in the Oxford Handbook on Public Policy and in the Handbook of Globalization, Governance and Public Administration obviously social sciences and its objects are not the same.  That the same case studies are used to argue opposite conclusions is not uncommon. 

This book is a continuation of my PhD research at the EHESS in Paris.  Below is the PhD in French with a more theoretical focus. 

Introduction - object, method, research              page 1

Project ethnography  - informal sector artisans Chad  page 75

Project ethnography  - cogeneration engineering Mexico    page  250

Conclusion - interface, exchange autonomy, alterity, institutions  page 370


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