Rural Development: Putting the last first by Robert Chambers

By Robert Chambers

Rural poverty is frequently unseen or misperceived by means of outsiders. Dr Chambers contends that researchers, scientists, directors and fieldworkers hardly savor the richness and validity of rural people's wisdom or the hidden nature of rural poverty. it is a hard booklet for all all in favour of rural improvement, as practitioners, teachers, scholars or researchers.

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Concern to avoid inconveniencing respondents when they are busy and exhausted with agricultural activities provides a neat justification, both practical and moral, for avoiding research during the rains. Many factors thus conspire to ensure that the poorest peop~e are most seen at precisely those times when they are least deprived; and least seen when things are at their worst. 21 Rural Development v) Diplomatic biases: politeness and timidity Urban-based visitors are often deterred by combinations of politeness and timidity from approaching, meeting, and listening to and learning from the poorer people.

In Tanzania and Kenya, authoritarian soil conservation measures were so unpopular that they helped to generate and unite political organisations which then struggled for and won independence. In the post-independence decade it was scarcely then a matter of surprise that soil erosion was a non -subject. It was simply not seen or, if seen, not mentioned; thus demonstrating the astonishing human capacity diplomatically to repress and ignore discordant facts. A second reason why some explanations are left out is the inbreeding of disciplines and professions.

1975, p. 275) Such pessimism understates, for a start, the impact of his own book. Critical analysis is good when it reveals processes in ways which change thinking and practice to benefit the poor. The danger is that it becomes inbred, loses touch with reality and practice, and then degenerates into sectarian narcissism and scholastic squabbles as social scientists speak less and less to anyone but themselves. The development administration movement of the 1960s and the mode of production debates of the 1970s both invite questions: who gained and who lost?

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