Q: What do the Paris Declaration, the computer game Tetris and a ball of string have in common?

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A: They all appear in my PhD dissertation.

On a taxi ride a few weeks ago, Andy Sumner persuaded me that it was time to dust down my old PhD dissertation and put it out there in the world.  Time to follow Alan Hudson’s example, and give the people what they want… 

Here it is. 

My thesis was a social anthropological study of aid effectiveness efforts in Indonesia.  This meant hanging out with donors in Indonesia, following their attempts to ‘harmonise’ aid work and implement other aspects of the Paris Declaration.  I focused on the relationship between donors and the Government of Indonesia – and the politics that emerges when multiple groups with different interests come together in an uncertain, tumultous and fraught environment.  To cut a long story short, things get very difficult. 

A little exerpt to give you the idea:

Over lunch one day, Marta, a manager with UNDP, alluded to the invisibility of World Bank dominance. She advised me conspiratorially, “You’ve read Gramsci, haven’t you, darling, this is a hegemony!”. For Marta, the World Bank’s interest in dominance could be read from myriad issues in the office, from the vocabulary that World Bank staff used in meetings, to clerical errors over the printing of business cards. Once, when the internet on her computer was running slow, she furiously told me that World Bank staff had diverted the flow to their own computers.

Those currently negotiating the Busan Outcome Document will doubtless have plenty to preoccupy them over the next fortnight, never mind reading dissertations.  But it’s always a chastening reminder to think through the kinds of challenges and conflicts that might play out ‘on the ground’ on the back of these international agreements.   

Whatever the drafters are going through to agree an Outcome Document at Busan, these will only be the beginning of the struggles involved in making aid better.

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