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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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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 ‘BunkerRoy, 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

previously leased from the Indian government for the token sum of one rupee per month. Due to a desire for expansion, and also for An award controversy 47 a secure base that did not rely on the vagaries of the government’s generosity, the College purchased a new plot of land on which to construct a custom-built campus to fulfil the growing needs of the centre. To this end, they hired a young, newly qualified architect from New Delhi named Neehar Raina. Raina was introduced to the director of the Barefoot College, Bunker Roy, through a close friend of his who had

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

, new anxieties. Indeed, this last point highlights the tensions inherent to the theoretical framework of this book and development institutions more generally. That is, how Foucauldian forms of discursive power interpenetrate with the structurating silences of the spectacle, a phenomenon which enables some social actors, such as Bunker Roy, to mobilise and modify the historical conditions within which they operate. However, such tensions between the acting social agent and Conclusion: the frayed edges of the spectacle 159 determining structural context only exist

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

education institution that the founder of the Barefoot College, Sanjit ‘BunkerRoy (henceforth Bunker), formed many of the relationships that were to sustain his vision of an integrated and professionalised rural development organisation with the aim of melding urban expertise with traditional rural know-how. Bunker Roy was born in the industrial city of Burnpur in West Bengal to an affluent Brahmo Bengali family (Winston 2015). His father was a mechanical engineer, while his mother, Aruna Roy, acted as a trade commissioner for India and Russia. From 1956 to 1962 Bunker

in An ethnography of NGO practice in India
Stewart Allen

objects and silent performers that help shape our lives. As noted previously, each country that the College works in is coordinated on the ground through a local NGO, representatives of which are persuaded and enrolled to the Barefoot approach through presentations and seminars given by Bunker Roy at various international development conferences. It was during one such conference in 2006 that Bunker met with the founders of a UK-based international non-profit-based organisation, and came to an agreement regarding the solar electrification of several villages in the

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

suppliers when periodic repairs were needed, Bunker Roy asked whether several members of his own staff might be trained in the maintenance of the systems. Following their established tradition of working with ‘appropriate technologies’ – that is, using technology that can be understood, operated and maintained by uneducated persons without the need for external assistance, a process they have termed the ‘demystification’ of technology – the College moved to becoming a village-level capacity builder in the manufacture, installation and maintenance of solar PV systems. On

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

added reverence – hushed tones and discreet photographs were the norm. While the College welcomed these visits for the exposure they provided, they were not the highest profile visitors and certainly did not warrant the attendance of section heads, or indeed Bunker Roy himself. Rather, such appearances by senior staff were reserved for media appointments, or more rarely, visits from foreign and domestic dignitaries, such as the wife of the Bhutanese prime minister, the Prince of Wales or latterly the Dalai Lama. During these engagements, the trainees were encouraged

in An ethnography of NGO practice in India
Stewart Allen

modernist knowledge without due thought to understanding. Such teaching and learning methods serve to silence the woman and gain her acquiescence for the continued spectacle of the transformation of subaltern subject to modern subject. The manufacture of solar lanterns and lamps then occurs in parallel with the manufacture of subjects, the visibility of which is an essential component for the continuing success of the project. Neoliberal tigers Bunker Roy, director of the Barefoot College, has a knack for coining memorable phrases. He describes the African solar trainees

in An ethnography of NGO practice in India