“Democratic Development” in Neoliberal Drag


Contesting Development: Participatory Projects and Local Conflict Dynamics in Indonesia
Patrick Barron, Rachel Diprose, and Michael Woolcock. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2011. ix + 384 pp.


Historians of development routinely mimic in analytical and narrative form the dysfunctions of the development processes and programs we purport to understand. Typically, one of our ilk will trace the origins and trajectory of Country or Institution A’s “development policies” toward Country B (and maybe Countries C and D) or will examine in closer detail the “impact” of one or more development programs. Our narrative focus almost inevitably derives from our archival sources, resulting in top-down accounts of development policies and programs written almost wholly from the perspective of state or institution officials, with assessments of impact, success, or failure reflecting their priorities, rather than the lived experiences of the ordinary people who are both the subject and object of development assistance. Moreover, because drama usually makes for better stories, we often choose policies or programs that contain the seeds of a narrative arc, large programs and projects such as population control, dam construction, or land reform whose success or failure can be more easily quantified in terms of falling fertility rates, megawatts produced, or acres redistributed.

In Contesting Development: Participatory Projects and Local Conflict Dynamics in Indonesia, Patrick Barron, Rachel Diprose, Michael Woolcock, and a team of Indonesian researchers take a different approach. Using a sophisticated research methodology, they analyze the impact of the Kecamatan Development Program (KDP), an initiative initially funded by the World Bank and later wholly by the Indonesian government that was widely lauded within the development community as one of the largest and most successful interventions ever undertaken.

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About Bradley R. Simpson

Associate professor of history and Asian studies at the University of Connecticut and the author of Economists with Guns: Authoritarian Development and U.S.-Indonesian Relations, 1960-1968 (Stanford, 2010). He is currently writing a global history of self-determination since 1945, as well as a history of U.S.-Indonesian international relations during the reign of Suharto (1966-98). Simpson is also founder and director of the Indonesia and East Timor Documentation Project at the nonprofit National Security Archive.