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Utopias of development
Author: Stewart Allen

Through an ethnographic study of the Barefoot College, an internationally renowned non-governmental development organisation (NGO) situated in Rajasthan, India, this book investigates the methods and practices by which a development organisation materialises and manages a construction of success. Paying particular attention to the material processes by which success is achieved and the different meanings that they act to perform, this book offers a timely and novel approach to how the world of development NGOs works. It further touches upon the general discrediting of certain kinds of expertise, moving the book beyond an anthropology of development to raise wider questions of general interest.

The author argues that the College, as a heterotopia and a prolific producer of various forms of development media, achieves its success through materially mediated heterotopic spectacles: enacted and imperfect utopias that constitute the desires, imaginings and Otherness of its society.

Founded by the charismatic figure of Bunker Roy, the Barefoot College has become a national and global icon of grassroots sustainable development. With a particular focus on the Barefoot College’s community-managed, solar photovoltaic development programme, this book considers the largely overlooked question of how it is that an NGO achieves a reputation for success.

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Stewart Allen

the country’s social problems. One such organisation that has persistently summoned the spirit of this rural-urban divide is of course the Barefoot College. The College has invoked, in various ways throughout its history, the imagery of the rural ideal and its sometimes-fraught relationship with the outside world. Through the summoning of these binary opposites, the College has sought to project itself as a forwardthinking, progressive, yet ultimately authentic space in contrast to a corrupt and globalised metropolitan imaginary. In the following chapter I argue

in An ethnography of NGO practice in India
Stewart Allen

6 Replication and its troubles In August 2007, as part of the Indian Technical Economic Cooperation (ITEC) and Special Commonwealth African Assistance Programme (SCAAP) agreement, and in conjunction with an international NGO, eighteen solar photovoltaic (PV) systems were installed in the village of Kafenkeng, the Gambia, West Africa, and a further fifty-seven systems in the nearby village of Kankurang by two Barefoot solar engineers (BSEs) trained at the Barefoot College. The vice president of the Gambia inaugurated the systems at a ceremony in September of

in An ethnography of NGO practice in India
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Selling the Barefoot College
Stewart Allen

Introduction: selling the Barefoot College The following is part of a transcript taken from a conference address by the founder of the Barefoot College, Sanjit ‘Bunker’ Roy, during the TED (Technology Entertainment and Design) Global Conference hosted in Edinburgh in July 2011. TED is a global set of conferences run by a private non-profit organisation under the slogan ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’. Focusing on technology and design, cultural, scientific and academic topics, TED speakers are given a maximum of eighteen minutes to present their ideas in the most

in An ethnography of NGO practice in India
Stewart Allen

forms become entwined within, and suggests that the Barefoot College represents a movement towards modernity, but not in the way that we might first imagine. Background to the controversy The Aga Khan Award for Architecture is a prestigious triennial prize established by Aga Khan IV in 1977. It is awarded for outstanding contributions to architecture in areas of the world with a significant Muslim presence. The selection process emphasises architecture that not only addresses people’s physical and social needs but also responds to their environment and culture

in An ethnography of NGO practice in India
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The witnessing of development success
Stewart Allen

success in development work, I suggest that success in development initiatives is, in part, correlated to the number of individuals who witness it, both locally, and more significantly, virtually. I argue that such witnessing plays a crucial role in the enrolment of donors and supporters and in the formation of what Mosse (2005: 18) terms ‘interpretive communities’, which function to maintain a network of consensus through the public spectacle of development change and social transformation. The Barefoot College, however, maintains multiple interpretive communities at

in An ethnography of NGO practice in India
Stewart Allen

5 Circuits of knowledge Lakshmi, forty-five years old, works in the solar workshop of the Barefoot College, assembling and testing lanterns, lamps and charge controllers. She was born in the nearby village of Tilonia, where she still lives with her elderly parents and three children. As a widow, she is the sole household breadwinner. Unable to attend formal school during the day as a child due to her household chores, she enrolled in the local night school run by the College in her village. After completing night school, she worked as a labourer in the marble

in An ethnography of NGO practice in India
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The frayed edges of the spectacle
Stewart Allen

at the Barefoot College as enacted through marginalised persons and material orders, acts to create certain utopian visions of progress, enlightenment, social change and the nation-state. However, the Barefoot College as a development institute that relies on continued funding and support from globalised donors and interpretive communities (Mosse 2005) must also mobilise and make visible these heterotopias within different national and global spaces of becoming. I have argued that it achieves these effects through heterotopic spectacles of development. Throughout

in An ethnography of NGO practice in India
Abstract only
Stewart Allen

material to the social and the environmental. In the narratives of success often put forth by agencies like the Barefoot College, such networks are often suppressed in their promotion of themselves as unique and unparalleled providers of developmental change. Development, as Mosse (2005: 8) has argued, and as we saw in the previous chapter, requires not only the alignment of socio-technical systems, but also the strategic manipulation and translation of disparate elements into a stabilised 68 An ethnography of NGO practice in India narrative of success. Development

in An ethnography of NGO practice in India