The last decades have seen an explosion of capacity building efforts in and among development organizations. Infused with a sense of vague universality, capacity building presents itself as a term of encompassment, which is easily subjected to anthropological critique. Here, however, I ask what happens if, rather than delimiting the term, it is extended even further than imagined by its advocates. To explore this question, the article engages in a lateral comparison, which moves between the worlds of Cambodian nannies and bargirls and those of ministry bureaucrats working at the intersection of international development and Cambodian government. This juxtaposition makes visible both the specificity of capacity building’s claims and its blind spots, and it helps us to understand some of what causes them. The lateral movement brings into view a set of incongruent capacities developed by people as creative responses to the divergent demands made upon them by different worlds.
Casper Bruun Jensen is a Project Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology, Osaka University. He is the editor (with Penny Harvey and Atsuro Morita) of Infrastructures and Social Complexity: A Companion (Routledge, 2016) and Monitoring Movements in Development Aid (with Brit Ross Winthereik, MIT Press, 2013).
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