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(2016-7) Beyond the binary of ‘developed’ and ‘developing’

By Joss Bennett, Angharad Boddington-Jones, Nicola Helen Dale, Hermione Francis, Sebastian Marco James Notarmarco Pope, Yusufu John Yusufu

In this blog we will address the ways in which anthropology can help us understand development and humanitarian expertise better. Using the work of Lewis’s ‘Time to Abandon “Parallel worlds”’ and Ferguson’s ‘Anthropology and Its Evil Twin’, we point to the self-reflexive view of anthropological enquiry which can identify issues that are unacknowledged and foreground them toward positive change. As a discipline that is ‘hyper-aware’ of its colonial past, we argue that anthropological analysis is intertwined with issues relevant to development and humanitarianism.  As seen in the theoretical angles of Lewis and Ferguson, there is a binary separation of the world into that of ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries in both worlds of anthropology and aid. By questioning the fetishism of the other in this view, we are able to overcome these distinctions and ultimately promote a unified response to global issues such as poverty.

In his work, Ferguson outlines anthropology’s ‘uncomfortable intimacy’ with development, its ‘evil twin’, as he describes the ‘curious dual organisation’ between them (1997: 169). However, we suggest that if anthropology maintains an awareness of its colonial past and ‘a willingness to question the disciplinary identity of anthropology itself’ (1997: 152), an anthropological analysis can provide an insight into development and humanitarian expertise. This is because anthropology provides an interconnection between the ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ worlds since anthropology is interested in studying a particular kind of people, whilst showing how they are linked to the wider world. Ferguson also states that the new critical approach of anthropology rejects ‘the picture of the world as an array of individual societies, each moving through history independently of others’ (1997: 162). This point highlights how modern anthropology can be used in humanitarian and development efforts to combine perspectives of the local and the global, rather than divide them. This can provide a more in-depth understanding of development and humanitarian expertise.

Lewis furthers this understanding by unpacking the historical dichotomy within the Third Sector between international NGOs and domestic non-profit organizations. This binary approach creates a distinction between those working in the ‘developing’ and ‘developed’ worlds and their use of practice and knowledge. He proposes that we should reconsider these boundaries and establish a more unified perspective of aid work in both the developed and developing nations. With our world becoming increasingly interconnected, shared problems such as poverty exist within both developing and developed countries. Combining knowledge and practice from international NGOs and domestic non-profit organisations could be an effective way to tackle these shared problems.

In conclusion, we argue that it is the reflexive nature of anthropological analysis that has allowed it to question the separation of ‘the west’ and ‘the rest’ within the colonial encounter that is at the foundation of the discipline and generate new theories about the interconnectedness of the world.  Anthropology provides an in-depth understanding of how more unified approaches are both positive and necessary as well as being beneficial in solving world problems.


Ferguson, J. (1997) Anthropology and Its Evil Twin: “Development” in the Constitution of a Discipline. In: Cooper F and Packard R (eds) International Development and the Social Sciences. Berkeley: University of California Press, pp.150–175.

Lewis, D. (2014) Heading south: time to abandon the ‘parallel worlds’ of international non-governmental organization (NGO) and domestic third sector scholarship? VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 25 (5). 1132-1150.