Current Institutional Affiliation
Research Fellow, Sociocultural Anthropology, Duke University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2008
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, Duke University
Developing Utopias: An Ethnography of Millennium Development

My dissertation examines the competing utopian social phenomena at play in new global development practices that are defined by the Millennium Development Goals and the promise of the end of global poverty by 2015. I take the Millennium Villages Project, as the most visible Millennium Development initiative, for my research domain. The rural communities in Africa chosen as Millennium Villages to demonstrate the eradication of poverty provide ideal sites for observing how a global utopian vision lands in actual development contexts and how local communities and individuals struggle over the situated coordinates of present possibility as they attempt to actualize it in their own contingent lives. The present project builds on previous discourse analysis and institutional ethnography in which I analyze the key terms of hope and utopian imagination that enable the Millennium Villages to work as utopian symbols in the global imagination in ways that support disciplinary strategies of enclosing global hope within a particular neoliberal logic. I now shift my focus to the lived actualities of development in the Millennium Villages by doing two ethnographic case studies and accumulating comparative survey data from four additional Millennium Village sites. My research objective will be to observe the specific practices, ways of thinking and social formations through which different actors attempt to transform present conditions to fit the Millennium Development vision. I concentrate on how activities oriented toward instrumental ends like clean water, roads and health care become sites in which different actors struggle over the ideal social conditions through which to actualize them. My research should show how such paradoxical utopian tendencies (pragmatic interventions securing grand promises of global salvation) operate in Millennium Development practices and how communities rework them, within the constraints of great power asymmetries.