Development Professionals in Northern Thailand: Hope, Politics and Power

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By Katharine McKinnon

"Development" promises higher incomes, better livelihoods, social justice and emancipation, but decades of good intentions have left hill communities in Northern Thailand with high rates of drug addiction and poverty, and a loss of traditional knowledge and values. A former volunteer and development specialist who spent much of her childhood in the region, Katharine McKinnon set out to consider what has gone wrong by studying professionals involved in development work. How, she asks, did the highlands come to be seen as needing development? And why did the presence of well-intentioned developers still leave behind so much apparent misery and hardship?

Returning to the region to conduct an ethnography of development professionals, McKinnon found that the majority were dedicated to ideals of altruism, emancipation and advocacy for local people, and resigned to the inevitable failures and shortcomings that emerge when development efforts are co-opted by geopolitics. Her book is an account of the everyday efforts and struggles of those who 'do' development - consultants, researchers, government officials, NGO workers and village partners. Taking a critical approach to post-development theory, she argues that politics and ideology are an intrinsic part of development work, and argues that an active engagement with the politics of development is essential for professionals hoping to make a difference.


"[McKinnon s book] offers a new way of doing post-development work through an historical ethnography of development professionals working in northern Thailand...Stimulating food for thought." - Kathleen O Reilly

"A tour-de-force of description and ethnographic analysis...McKinnon’s analysis is a valuable contribution to the analysis of Thailand, and debates about participatory development management." - Tim Forsyth

"McKinnon succeeds in producing new insight...The book will be a great addition to any graduate seminars on development geographies, uneven development, social theory, and organisation studies because of its ability to articulate with clarity a post-development and post-structural perspective on development." - Sean Tanner


Katharine MCKINNON is a lecturer in the human geography program at Macquarie University, Sydney, where she teaches Asia-Pacific development and geographic theory.


Asian Studies Association of Australia: Southeast Asian Publications Series
Publication Year: 2012
280 pages, 229mm x 153mm
ISBN: 978-9971-69-522-4, Paperback

NUS Press