Negotiating Development: a psychosocial study of Bangladeshi development workers

PhD Thesis

Beedell, A. 2019. Negotiating Development: a psychosocial study of Bangladeshi development workers. PhD Thesis University of East London School of Social Sciences
AuthorsBeedell, A.
TypePhD Thesis

A complex web of development organisations has emerged from efforts to alleviate the problems of enduring and gross inequalities in formerly Third World countries such as Bangladesh. While the social and economic circumstances of Bangladesh have improved, its democratic institutions have struggled, leading to a so-called ‘paradox’ of development. In this context economists and political scientists question the role of a growing global middle class, while postcolonial critics interrogate the very notion of ‘development’ and advocate alternative ‘post-development’ scenarios. In this milieu it is important to understand how dominant macro-policies and different perspectives affect the material realities of working for development on the ground.

Previous research on the personnel of development aid has revealed a host of ethical, moral and political dilemmas, contradictions and paradoxes associated with aid work not least those faced by feminists within bureaucracies. The literature has tended to focus on international NGO workers from the global north. By contrast, this is a study of 24 English-speaking Bangladeshi individuals who are engaged in development work through NGOs, and other forms of activism within their own country. The aim of the research is to understand how these development workers negotiate the complex dilemmas and conflicting demands, and manage the emotional labour and demands of working for progressive social change.

A psychosocial approach transcends the usual altruism-egotism binary to better understand the actions of and influences on this group, and allows for the interrogation of privilege, power and agency, and the relationships and emotional investments at stake. A narrative methodology helps reveal the conditions in which an individual life is lived and given meaning, and in which the development of the self and others can occur. Analytically, the study draws upon Bourdieusian models of social class distinctions, contemporary theorizations of the politics of emotions, and is informed by British psychoanalytic traditions.

The study found a stratum of reflexive, well-resourced and highly committed workers and activists who skillfully manage the everyday dilemmas of development, albeit at some emotional cost. They are constrained by subjective classed and gendered identities and objective structures of governance. The women in the study were struggling for empowerment and opportunity both inside and outside the workplace despite the equalities discourse espoused by their NGO employers. The significance of family and kin, and wider identifications, compete with the ed framings of a neo-liberal development paradigm and further suggest the need for a re-consideration of the ethos and ethics of ‘development’.

PublisherUniversity of East London
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OnlineApr 2019
Publication process dates
Deposited14 Aug 2019
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