Customer Reviews


3 Reviews
5 star:
 (2)
4 star:    (0)
3 star:    (0)
2 star:
 (1)
1 star:    (0)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favorable review
The most helpful critical review


16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A few more comments
In characteristic style, Gene Anderson has written a great review of a great book. I would add (having read ch. 1-6)--along the lines of his comments on Foucault and Weber at the end--that this book draws upon Ferguson's Anti-Politics machine, and shares some of its shortcomings (see Lipton's review in Development Southern Africa ca. 1992): the accounts of the...
Published on July 3, 2008 by ingonyama

versus
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars when thick because too thick
These provocative and ambitious ethnography offers a thick description of development projects in Indonesia. Document analysis, interviews, observations and conversations equip the author with information to form an opinion. Unfortunately, the writing fails to emphasize key examples, events and arguments. The excess of information, examples and focal points obscure the...
Published 6 months ago by J M


Most Helpful First | Newest First

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A few more comments, July 3, 2008
This review is from: The Will to Improve: Governmentality, Development, and the Practice of Politics (Paperback)
In characteristic style, Gene Anderson has written a great review of a great book. I would add (having read ch. 1-6)--along the lines of his comments on Foucault and Weber at the end--that this book draws upon Ferguson's Anti-Politics machine, and shares some of its shortcomings (see Lipton's review in Development Southern Africa ca. 1992): the accounts of the "developers" rest heavily upon a reading of official documents. Li points out repeatedly that conservation interventions avoid confronting the shortage of agricultural land, and thus "render technical" a set of political questions, but I'd like to hear--in the words of development planners--why they avoid the land issue, and how they justify this omission. Li provides great examples of speaking with villagers about the various interventions put in place, but rarely treats development workers in the same way -- they primarily appear through their documents, rather than as positioned social actors in the field. This asymmetry is frustrating -- it's understandable when she's dealing with historical material, but I had hoped the contemporary ethnography would be less textually-focused in its treatment of "developers."
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Development Messes Up Again, March 29, 2008
By 
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: The Will to Improve: Governmentality, Development, and the Practice of Politics (Paperback)
This book is a stunning job of tracking yet another case of failed development. The main ways this book differs from a long, long literature on such matters are, first, that Li provides a long history (going back through the centuries of colonialism), and, second, that she gives an extremely detailed account of the political processes that led to stagnation in rural Sulawesi over the last 10+ years. A national park to preserve biodiversity, various agricultural projects, and a lot of untapped local potential for top-quality coffee and cocoa exports did not add up to success. In addition to presenting a superb job of reporting, Li writes clearly and straightforwardly, without undue social-science jargon.
The problem was the same old one that we have seen in literally thousands of similar case studies: people with "the will to improve" but not the common sense to listen to what the local communities actually think and want and need. Everybody, from the Dutch of colonial times to the NGO's of today, "knows what's best" (shades of Alice Miller and her revealing the sinister side of "for your own good").
What's best often bears a strange resemblance to what's best for the rich developers rather than what's best for the locals. As indigenous people around the world describe the improving enterprise, "We had the land and they had the Bible. Now we have the Bible and they have the land."
Li is generous to the change agents--the colonial missionaries and developers, postcolonial government agents, and international development banks and conservation agencies. She credits them with a genuine desire to do good. Maybe it's just because I'm older and have seen more, but I suspect something else. It seems odd that all the mistakes are in one direction--i.e., to increase the wealth and power of the change agents or their backers.
Li does point out the role of both power games and unthinking prejudice against the poor, the uneducated, and the rural. Few people who have not lived and worked with rural Third World families know just how extremely sharp, competent, and aware these families are. Their poverty is the result not of their incompetence but of centuries of oppression and disease.
There are some limits to this book. I am not complaining--the book is long and detailed, and nobody can cover everything. Still, further work on the problems of Sulawesi is needed. First, there is little biology herein. The desperate need for conserving Sulawesi's biodiversity--its highly endemic flora and fauna--does not come through. The people were displaced from the national park, because of oppressive government and incredibly inept conservation NGO efforts; obviously, they had been coexisting with the biodiversity for at least 60,000 years, and may even have created a lot of it (there has been plenty of time for coevolution here). So somebody should have been working with them to find out what they were doing right, and then pay them to keep doing it. One thing they were doing right is growing some of the world's best coffee in the place. (Sulawesi's coffee is up there with the best of Colombian and Jamaican, and some of it--I hope some of the best--was growing in the park area.) Coffee goes well with wildlife, and good coffee deserves support anyway. Yet no one seems to have done anything to develop the organic/fair trade option (as has been done in many other countries).
Second, Li does not deal with the extensive critical literature on development (except for the Indonesia literature). One misses references to Tom Dichter, Joseph Stiglitz, Thayer Scudder, Jim Igoe, or dozens of others who have chronicled the well-meant (?) failures of development and of international conservation efforts. All the same problems have surfaced everywhere else, including the United States, from Appalachia to Alaska. They are endemic to bureaucratized, top-down, distant-office development plans. Li does point out that this point was being made in Dutch colonial literature 150 years ago--famously in the novel MAX HAVELAAR, still a good read, and, alas, still up to date--as Li points out, colonial policies go on. Meanwhile, many areas of the world develop, but only in so far as local people can take the initiative--find something that works for them, and develop it on their own. Where I work in Mexico, for instance, the government brought in citrus, but the locals found the markets and developed the efficient farming systems.
Finally, there is that motivation question. Change agents are often animated by a complex mix of motives. They want the best for "their people," but they also want to increase their own power and/or wealth, to advance their own agendas, to outcompete rival NGO's or agencies, and, alas, they sometimes want to bully the locals, or to cheat and rip and run. Governments, of course, want to assert power first, whatever else they may want. Li draws primarily on Michel Foucault for her theory, and thus is fine on the latter case--she is very aware of the structural imperatives of bureaucracy and the state. But the former is neglected. Max Weber's theories would have been very helpful here. He saw the emergent properties of bureaucracy (indeed, Foucault seems to have drawn on Weber pretty heavily) but Weber always grounded his theories in individual agency and psychology.
Thus, if you are even slightly interested in development and the environment, read this book! Read it along with some general works on development, and something on the biology of Sulawesi and why this is a desperate problem that goes far beyond the unfortunate people of Li's field work site. And, as you read, think how to reverse the decline of coffee there--I haven't had a really good cup of Sulawesi in years.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars when thick because too thick, February 26, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
These provocative and ambitious ethnography offers a thick description of development projects in Indonesia. Document analysis, interviews, observations and conversations equip the author with information to form an opinion. Unfortunately, the writing fails to emphasize key examples, events and arguments. The excess of information, examples and focal points obscure the arguments.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


Most Helpful First | Newest First

Details

The Will to Improve: Governmentality, Development, and the Practice of Politics
$26.95 $23.58
In Stock
Add to cart Add to wishlist
Search these reviews only
Rate and Discover Movies
Send us feedback How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you? Let us know here.