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date: 23 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This article explores the value of the study of culture for understanding development. Important advances have been made in recent years in understanding how culture, politics, and development interact. Today, the leading theoretical approach to culture seeks to provide an empirically grounded, mechanisms-based account of how symbols, frames, identities, and narratives are deployed as part of a broader repertoire of cultural “tools.” For politics and development, a central virtue of this approach resides less in its broad policy prescriptions than in its commitment to engaging with the idiosyncrasies of local contexts. This engagement contributes to development policy by enabling careful intracountry comparisons to be made of the conditions under which variable responses to otherwise similar problems emerge. Such knowledge is also important for discerning the generalizability (or “external validity”) of claims regarding the efficacy of development interventions, especially those overtly engaging with social, legal, and political issues.

Keywords: culture, politics, development, development policy, ethnicity, political anthropology

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