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.
Capacity Building across Cambodian Worlds
Casper Bruun Jensen
Minor Traditions, Shizen Equivocations, and Sophisticated Conjunctions
Casper Bruun Jensen and Atsuro Morita
This introduction examines the interrelations between the possible existence of multiple nature-cultures and the indisputable existence of distinct anthropological traditions. After offering some preliminary remarks on the problems with nature-culture, the article offers as an example the complex translations required for the Western idea of nature to gain foothold in Japanese anthropology. Patched together from Western and Chinese notions, Japanese ‘nature’ remains equivocal to this day. This equivocation, however, has also been generative of minor anthropological traditions. As this suggests, the advance of different concepts into new territories holds the potential for shaping ‘sophisticated conjunctions’ in which traditions are mutually modified, allowing new forms of nature and culture emerge.
Infrastructural Transformations in the Chao Phraya Delta, Thailand
Atsuro Morita and Casper Bruun Jensen
In this article, we explore a contrast between terrestrial and amphibious ways of imagining and intervening in deltas, which have given rise to contrasting delta ontologies. Whereas the former originated in Europe and focused on removing water for agriculture, the latter conceived of deltas as extending water flows. In Thailand’s Chao Phraya Delta these incongruent approaches have inspired very different forms of infrastructural development over the last century. Examining the entwined histories of agency of people—engineers, scientists, traders, and kingdoms—and non-humans, such as canals, dikes, and landscapes, we trace how the delta’s ontology was transformed by the gradual layering of partly incompatible infrastructures. In light of increasing floods, the continued sustainability of Bangkok may now depend on amphibious infrastructures lying half-forgotten within this ontological palimpsest.