This thesis is a phenomenology of understanding in the context of development practice in East Africa. It is framed by stories of my life and work, experiences rooted in European traditions and provoked and expanded in encounter with African traditions.
My question began with methods for dealing with poverty and suffering. Even with all my goodwill and education and the might of large institutions behind me, I found myself part of a series of analytical interventions that seemed to make the problem worse. Yet I would like to contribute to a world where people live together well.
This thesis is the story of how I laid siege to this conundrum, working on it from various angles until I saw development intervention for the incoherent prejudice that it was. How could something as co‐operative as living well with others be achieved by something so domineering as methodical intervention? Western development consciousness has not noticed that other cultures cannot and will not bear such hubris. So I questioned the notion that a good method (or a good institution, analytical technique or moral code) is the first requirement for fair co‐existence. Development, I realised, is conversations that we join, not instructions that we give.
I asked instead how I and others come to agree, a question that many people in my profession have never asked. In a close examination of the way I have come to understandings in my own life, I draw on the work of German philosopher Hans‐Georg Gadamer. His philosophical hermeneutics bring together multiple aspects of understanding: its consciousness, historicity, eventfulness, and linguistic and conversational nature. With the help of African thinkers, I gain more perspective—I take part in understandings that are held, provoked and renewed in conversation across time, geography and entire societies.
Through the journey represented by this thesis I have come to understand that understanding speaks the world, its history, diversity and potential. I have come to know that from understanding comes method, not the other way around. It is an insight that has profound implications for those of us who work in the development field.
|Date of Award
|1 Jun 2009
- action research
- East Africa