Participation in development projects in the Global South has become one of the most sought-after activities among American and British high school graduates and college students. In the United States this often takes the form of Alternative Spring Break trips, while in Britain students typically pursue development work during their 'gap years'. Development projects offer students a way to craft themselves in an alternative mould, to have a 'real experience' that marks them off from the cultural mainstream as 'authentic' individuals. The student development craze represents an impulse to resist consumerist individualism, but this impulse has been appropriated and neutralised by a new logic of consumption, transforming a profoundly political urge for change into a form of 'resistance' compatible with neoliberal capitalism. In the end, students' pursuit of self-realisation through development has a profoundly depoliticising effect, shifting their attention away from substantive problems of extraction and exploitation to the state of the inner self.
The 'Real Experience' industry: Student development projects and the depoliticisation of poverty
Hierarchy, Value, and the Value of Hierarchy
Naomi Haynes and Jason Hickel
Many of the communities in which anthropologists work are hierarchically organized, and the people who live in them often describe this arrangement in positive terms. Nevertheless, anthropologists rarely paint hierarchy in a favorable light. This special issue aims to question this tendency with ethnographic insights into social contexts where hierarchy is regarded as a desirable social good. By way of an introduction to the research articles, we explore those aspects of Western thought that make it difficult for anthropologists to take hierarchy seriously. In addition, we develop an interpretive approach that treats hierarchy both as a relational form and as a theoretical model—that is, as a framework for understanding value—drawing in part on our own ethnographic research in southern Africa.