Realigning the Political and the Technical: NGOs and the Politicization of Agrarian Development in Bolivia

Abstract

This article engages with critiques of development intervention as de-politicizing, and with viewpoints that argue that politicization often neglects technological aspects. We examine how particular definitions of the political and technological field play a role in the growing conflict between non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the so-called post-neoliberal Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) government in Bolivia. We show that NGOs appear to have found the space to respond to public confrontation and adapt their interventions to post-neoliberal politics. While the MAS government is making efforts to bring the state back in, NGOs are trying to accommodate to a highly politicized environment by highlighting their technical strengths, and filling the current void by providing technological services. The analysis shows how, in development processes, the boundaries between the political and technical domain are not fixed. Rather, they are continuously redefined in a process in which actors shift their activities (concrete practices as well as discursive justifications) between these domains.

Abstract

Cet article répond à ceux qui critiquent les interventions d’aide au développement comme étant dépolitisantes, et à ceux qui disent que la dépolitisation néglige souvent les aspects technologiques. Nous analysons le rôle que les définitions spécifiques des domaines politiques et technologiques jouent dans le conflit croissant entre les ONG et le gouvernement soit-disant néo-libéral MAS en Bolivie. Nous montrons que les ONG semblent avoir trouvé un espace pour répondre à la confrontation publique et pour adapter leurs interventions aux politiques néo-libérales. Tandis que le gouvernement MAS s’efforce de ramener l’Etat dans le débat, les ONG s’adaptent à un environnement hautement politisé en soulignant leurs forces techniques et en comblant le vide actuel dans la prestation de services technologiques. L’analyse montre que dans les processus de développement les frontières entre les domaines politiques et techniques ne sont pas figées. Au contraire, ces frontières sont constamment redéfinies lors d’un processus au cours duquel les acteurs font alterner leurs activités (pratiques concrètes et justifications discursives) entre ces domaines.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Living Well, Vivir Bien in Spanish, is inspired by the Andean concept of reciprocity and equity where people do not want to live better than anyone else but to live well together (collectively).

  2. 2.

    Examples of such NGOs are the Centre of Legal Studies and Social Research (CEJIS), the Centre for Research and Promotion of Farmers (CIPCA), Loyola Cultural Action (ACLO) and more recently the Communication Centre for Andean Development (CENDA).

  3. 3.

    Researchers isolated and tested different microorganisms for different purposes (plant growth, fertilization, disease control).

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Acknowledgements

We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Collaborative Crop Research Programme (CCRP) of the McKnight Foundation and Wageningen University. We would like to thank to Dr. Barry Cannon and Dr. Håvard Haarstad for their helpful comments and support. In Bolivia, our thanks go to the organisations and individuals who shared with us their views on rural development and social transformation.

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Cordoba, D., Jansen, K. Realigning the Political and the Technical: NGOs and the Politicization of Agrarian Development in Bolivia. Eur J Dev Res 28, 447–464 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1057/ejdr.2015.12

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Keywords

  • non-governmental organizations
  • Bolivia
  • politicization
  • MAS government
  • post-neoliberalism
  • neocollectivism