Experiencing Development: Corporeal Tensions And Grassroots Activism In South Africa's Limpopo Province

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The Anthropology of Development has studied international aid from numerous perspectives, e.g. development as discourse, transnational processes, and NGO intervention. My dissertation extends the analytic reach of the Anthropology of Development, and will benefit development practice, by focusing on interpersonal dimensions of development practice. Based in Tsonga- and Pedi-speaking areas of South Africa, my case studies include an evangelical church established by an Afrikaner missionary from Cape Town for the purpose of spiritual enlightenment, an HIV-AIDS awareness NGO run by a nun from Ireland, and a school-based project facilitated by a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer (PCV) designed to improve local teaching methods. Collecting information on interpersonal relations between the activists and villagers involved spending time in work spaces and, where applicable, host family settings. My interlocuters and I described interactions, noting corporeal evidence of comforts and discomforts. Following perceptions of grief and relief to conscious statements and social practices revealed the significance of embodiment in international development work. To understand the context for the corporeal perceptions, I accompanied the activists and villagers to their respective social 'hangouts'. Attending 'alcohol parties' sponsored clandestinely by the missionary's congregants, frequenting family funerals and weddings of the nun's co-workers, and accompanying the PCV's colleagues to their homes and favorite bars helped me discern patterns in how village embodiment worked in everyday gendered and generational situations. With the exception of the PCV, the activists did not fraternize with villagers outside of work. Instead, I observed their interaction styles, for example, during church retreats and PCV parties. Defining her social space as a relief from village work, the nun closed-off her personal life to her village interactants and to me. However, spending time with her religious ex-patriots gave me access into the nun's interaction context. Villagers and activists differently value interpersonal contact, with their most spontaneous of gestures respectively expressing comfort and discomfort with physical intimacy. These different expressions of intimacy cultivated incompatible senses of trust, truth, and assistance, confounding relationships and aid work. Development falters as much from pragmatic activity as from articulated discourse.

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