Subaltern Voices Series

Speaking & Theorizing from the Disciplinary Margins


Dr. Uma Kothari (Senior Lecturer in the Institute for Development Policy and Management at the University of Manchester)

Topic: “Disguising Race: The Sanitisation of Discourses of Development.”

Date: Thursday, 25 January, 2007


Abstract: This paper identifies some of the silences about ‘race' in international development that mask its complicity with broader historical and contemporary racial projects. Significantly, this concealment is founded upon the assumption that development takes place in non-racialized spaces and outside of racialized histories. The paper is concerned with how ‘race’ is disguised and development discourses sanitized through the use of specialized terminology and criteria whereby race-neutral language continues to distinguish between the different capabilities, characteristics and attributes of Others. Through this cleansing of development terminology, notions of ‘race’ are submerged and the development gaze is diverted from considering how racial differentiations might shape our understandings of key concerns of development, namely the dynamics of poverty and exclusion. Furthermore, however, when a development ethos is framed around a language of charity, empathy, humanitarianism and justice, and the role of developers is seen primarily to alleviate poverty, it might appear irrefutable that motives are wholly noble. This assumption of noble intention goes a long way in silencing the critical appraisal of development interventions and obscuring racialized relations of power while delimiting attempts to theorize concepts of ‘race’ in development praxis. This does not mean that questions of diversity and difference are altogether neglected in development, but through a philanthropic frame, ideas about ‘race’ become subsumed within supposedly more palatable discourses of, for example, ‘culture’ and ‘ethnicity’.

Bio: Dr. Uma Kothari’s is a Reader in the Institute for Development Policy and Management at the University of Manchester. She was educated at Middlesex, Wisconsin and Edinburgh. Her research focuses on two areas: critical, colonial, postcolonial and feminist analyzes of international development discourse; and, transnational migration and Diasporas. This research is strongly characterized by critical, theoretical engagement and ethnographic research. She has developed historical analyses of international development using critical social theories to interrogate mainstream approaches and has developed methodologies for collecting and analyzing life history narratives. Much of this research challenges colonial representations of Third World peoples and places through an analysis of race and racism, an issue that underpins the theory and practice of development but has been largely invisible. She also has research interests in migration, culture and identity, most recently critiquing conventional understandings of cosmopolitanism by demonstrating how transnational migrants embody new kinds of cosmopolitan identities. She has direct country experiences in Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Mauritius, and Mexico. Recent publications include: 'From Colonialism to Development: Continuities and Divergences', Journal of Commonwealth and Comparative Politics ( 2006); 'An Agenda for Thinking about 'Race' in Development', Progress in Development Studies, 6, 1, (2006); 'Critiquing 'Race' and Racism in Development Discourse and Practice', Progress in Development Studies, 6, 1 (2006); (with N. Laurie), 'Different Bodies, Same Clothes: an agenda for local consumption and global identities', Area 37, 2 (2005); (ed. With M. Minogue) 'Critical Perspectives in Development Theory and Practice', Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2002; and (ed. With B. Cooke) 'Participation: The New Tyranny?' (London: Zed Books, 2001).