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I’m happy to announce that the European Society for Oceanists has accepted a panel on Capacity Building, for the 8th ESfO Conference to be held in Sr. Andrews, Scotland in July 5-8, 2010.

Martha Macintyre (University of Melbourne) and I will be selecting up to 10 panelists. We are hoping for a strong mix of academic and practical participants. The panel will have a full day, with participants having up to 30 minutes to present their paper, and with substantial discussion time. We will be encouraging all participants to pre-circulate and comment on first drafts, so as to maximise the quality of the final papers, and the session’s discussions in Scotland.

Our panel’s description and call for papers is included here, and the ESfO Conference Information is included at the bottom of this post.

Capacity Building : Critical analyses of the new model for knowledge transfer in Pacific Development.
Martha Macintyre and Heather Young-Leslie

Pressures for outside agencies to effect change and demonstrate efficacy to donors have escalated in the last decade. Recipients’ objections to tied aid, liberal ideals of partnership and recipients ‘owning the project’, neo-liberal concerns over external donors’ provision of funds for infrastructure, wages and revenue –all have generated new development objectives that emphasise recipients’ capacity to manage and sustain programs. These objectives are especially prominent in projects, whether bilateral or NGO-sponsored, where previous failures have been attributed to a lack of knowledge, skills and expertise among the local beneficiaries. Corruption, incompetence and other failures of governance, construction and infrastructure building delays, lack of local support, project failure – all may be attributed to inadequate knowledge, skills and/or management expertise.

“Capacity Building” and “Training” are the new standards for most development endeavours. They have gained prominence in aid-projects on law and justice, peace-building, governance, transportation, environmental conservation, HIV, and health systems strengthening . The aim is to enable and inspire selected people to appreciate the particular project’s objectives, to mobilise others to engage in activities required by project implementation plans, to adopt project timelines and accountability structures, and to make the advisors redundant. Likewise, foreign corporations embrace the rhetoric of capacity building in their efforts to localise their workforce. In addition to apprenticeships and training to gain industrial skills and qualifications, companies conduct short courses that encourage workers to adapt to Western employment practices and ideologies. The enthusiasm for capacity building has encouraged AusAID to develop a training program to teach development practitioners how to be Capacity Building Advisors.

This new knowledge transfer-as-development model has yet to receive critical examination. Undoubtedly a medium through which Western ideals of efficiency and efficacy as well as liberal democratic notions of empowerment are meant to be established, in practice, is capacity building significantly different from prior modes of knowledge transfer? How? Does it equalise the power imbalances between counterparts as claimed? How are capacity building advisors experienced by their counterparts? Where is capacity building going, what might it become?

Our session will critically and constructively examine capacity building’s ideals and effects in specific settings. We invite papers from people who have worked on projects where capacity building has been paramount and welcome co-authored papers with capacity builders, their counterparts or donor-partners; papers based on specific project observations and evaluations; papers offering theoretical analyses of the principles and practices of this new model for knowledge transfer.


European Society for Oceanists, 8th Conference
St Andrews, Scotland, 5-8th July 2010

Conference Announcement
The University of St Andrews Centre for Pacific Studies invites delegates to gather for the 8th Conference of the European Society for Oceanists, to be held on 5th-8th July, 2010.
St Andrews is Scotland’s first university and the third oldest in the English speaking world, founded in 1413. Set on a sandy coast, 50 miles from Edinburgh, St Andrews is a small medieval town with a population of 20,000, a third of whom are students. St Andrews is also, famously, the ‘Home of Golf’, and is well provided with pubs, cafes and restaurants.

Conference Theme: Exchanging Knowledge in Oceania
At the end of the 7th ESfO conference, Verona 2008, a round-table of Pacific Islands academics forcefully urged their colleagues to take seriously the consequences of the theme ‘putting people first’: they wanted academics to acknowledge the obligations activated by their relations in Oceania, and to recognize the responsibilities to Oceanic peoples, to the Academy and to Civil Society that come with the exchange of expert knowledge. Simply put, knowledge transfers work both ways, and they wanted academics to act.
Academics face similar calls from Governments, Research Councils, Industry and Policy-Makers to demonstrate explicitly the usefulness of their expert knowledge, and increasingly, ‘Knowledge Transfer’ or ‘Knowledge Exchange’ activities, such as user relevance and public engagement, are key conditions of research funding. Demand for exchanging knowledge into useful activities from all sides entails new conceptual frames and working relations that derive their force from different rationales. Consequently, the exchange value of academic knowledge is becoming determined by the use value others see in it. These moves risk instrumentalizing knowledge and envision re-making anthropology as a science of prescription, rather than a technique of description that acts through re-writing concepts.

Clearly, the moment creates an opportunity for new kinds of social relations in Oceania for the twenty-first century. But these various calls to act will involve facing up to serious questions in re-imagining the continuities of our own academic traditions, and of our relations in Oceania. Can we imagine new collaborative forms of academic practice? How might we best re-describe anthropological methods, relations and knowledge to respond to the aspirations of the ‘knowledge transfer’ agenda? Whether from a position inside or outside a University, what forms of academic practices, relations, ethics and roles are emerging in contemporary Oceania?

Perhaps we might look for answers by addressing a contemporary dilemma that Oceanic peoples and Oceanist academics share: How to re-describe and transfer knowledge and so make their cultural resources useful, effective and resilient in the contemporary world? We might begin by looking at the kinds of ‘knowledge’ at stake.

Questions arise for peoples in the region over the paths to take in creating social forms relevant to current contexts. Development ambitions and legal terminologies are shaping and eliciting new forms of indigenous social lifeØthrough which people also continue to act out their own social analyses of these encounters. What kinds of cultural connections are being made by Oceanic peoples growing up in such a ‘post-tradition’ epoch? What transfers, transformations and appropriations are people making between old and new sources of cultural knowledge?
Questions also arise for academics who have bodies of traditional cultural resources of their own to deal with. What uses are perceived for detailed literatures when research subjects appear increasingly to share fewer continuities with those peoples, practices or places? What kinds of connections between contemporary theories of social life and the rich ethnographic record are anthropologists claiming?

Knowledge exchange in Oceania has always involved two-way traffic. In asking about the emergent properties of reciprocity, responsibility and obligation constituted in academic research relations with Oceanic peoples, what leads and lessons can we draw from the solutions that Oceanic peoples are fashioning for themselves out of this contemporary dilemma? Equally, what roles and capacities are Oceanic peoples fashioning for academics who are interested in the region?

ESfO conferences are renowned for gathering together academics based in different regions of the world: Exchanging Knowledge in Oceania aims to put this gathering of inter-personal and conceptual relations to work in examining what kinds of knowledge transfers between bodies of knowledge are currently going on in Oceania, and what kinds of emergent relations are being formed.

Enquiries: email
Dr Tony Crook
Senior Lecturer in Social Anthropology
Chair, European Society for Oceanists (ESfO)
8th ESfO Conference, St Andrews, July 5-8th 2010

ESfO 2010 Conference Website