Development Imaginaries: Gender and Comparative Aid Chains in Cambodia

Wilks, Mary, Sociology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Bair, Jennifer, Sociology, University of Virginia

Despite a shared aim of improving women’s health, INGOs from the U.S. and Japan implement very different programs in Cambodia. Why? Numerous studies document the key role INGOs play in transmitting global norms, such as civil society, and the adaptation of those norms in local contexts. But, recently scholars have pointed out INGO programming is shaped by the political economy in its nation of origin. This dissertation expands this line of thinking by investigating how national variation impacts INGO programming in Cambodia. I conduct a multi-sited ethnography of ‘aid chains,’ or the links through which programs travel from INGO headquarters, to INGO country offices, and finally to implementing partners. I argue that the gendered health policies, diplomatic priorities, and nonprofit cultures of the U.S. and Japan result in distinct development imaginaries that are manifest in the organization and dynamics of aid chains. I show how each development imaginary articulates in the Cambodian context with distinct outcomes for the content of gender programming, beneficiary and practitioner subjectivities, and state partnerships. I contend that these imaginaries demonstrate that contemporary notions of ‘global best practice’ for INGO programming are in fact reflective of one development imaginary, the dominant one associated with that of traditional Western donors, whose influence may be declining.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Sponsoring Agency:
Fulbright IIENational Science Foundation
Issued Date: