Rethinking Frameworks, Methodologies, and the Role of Anthropology in Development Induced Displacement and Resettlement (DIDR)

Advanced Seminar

September 25–29, 2005

The World Bank calculates that development projects displace approximately 10 million people a year. Families and communities are displaced by capital-intensive, high-technology, large-scale projects that convert farmlands, fishing grounds, forests, and homes into reservoirs, mining operations, industrial complexes, tourist resorts, and other uses that favor national or global interests. Designed to spur economic growth and spread general welfare, many of these projects leave locals permanently displaced, disempowered, and destitute. The extent to which development can be carried out both ethically, democratically, and effectively was a central concern of this Advanced Seminar organized by Tony Oliver-Smith in September 2005.

According to Oliver-Smith, current trends suggest that development will continue to stress large-scale projects that result in the resettlement of large numbers of people. The trauma and hardships experienced by these displaced populations pose moral questions about the nature, scale, and ethics of development. Generally, development is based on the premise that increased income will ultimately enhance living standards, justifying the displacement of communities. Oliver-Smith pointed out, however, that "although the process may be defined in economic terms, resettlement is fundamentally a political phenomenon, involving the use of power by one party to relocate another."

Seminar participants included anthropologists working in the fields of economic development, medical anthropology, urban anthropology, ethics, conservation, non-governmental organizations, and human rights. Oliver-Smith noted, "The seminar gained particular salience in view of its convening within three weeks of the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast and the massive subsequent displacement and highly questionable resettlement of hundreds of thousands of citizens of New Orleans." To explore the relevance of the Seminars proceedings for this urgent situation, Gregory Button, a participant in a 1997 Advanced Seminar on disasters who had just returned from working with evacuees in the Houston Astrodome, was invited to brief the participants. "Dr. Button became a full-fledged participant and was instrumental in the drafting of a Declaration on Disaster Recovery," an important product of the Advanced Seminar, reports Oliver-Smith.

A critical result of the Advanced Seminar was an assessment of the evolving nature of social and environmental advocacy. Displaced and resettled peoples are now developing novel strategies to defend their own rights by invoking international human rights covenants. Political power is also emerging in non-governmental organizations and private institutions. In both cases, the necessity of relocating people is accepted, but the scale of development projects that create major disruption for people, their ways of life, and their environments is challenged. Despite these new forms of empowerment, however, participants in the Advanced Seminar concluded that development continues to favor large-scale infrastructural expansion over ecological and cultural concerns. As Oliver-Smith observed, "renewed efforts by national governments and private interests to promote development projects without significant legal and economic protection are threatening increasing numbers of people and communities." Accordingly, the seminar assessed the role of anthropologists as both participants and observers in development-induced displacement and resettlement.

Anthony Oliver-Smith, Chair Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Florida Conservation and the Displacement of Indigenous and Traditional Peoples
Gregory Button Adjunct Professor, School of Public Health, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor Report on Katrina Evacuees in Houston
Michael M. Cernea Research Professor, Department of Anthropology, George Washington University Why Social Objectives Cannot Leap Over Economic Hurdles
Dana Clark President, International Accountability Project, Berkeley, CA Power to the People: Moving Towards a Rights-Respecting Resettlement Framework
Chris de Wet Professor, Department of Anthropology, Rhodes University Can We Deal With the Ethical Tensions Inherent in Development-Induced Resettlement?
Theodore E. Downing Research Professor of Social Development, University of Arizona How Disasters and Development-Induced Involuntary Displacements Dismantle and Reconstitute Societies
William Fisher Director and Professor, IDCE Department, Clark University Local Displacement, Global Resistance: Transnational NGO Networks, Antipolitics, and DIDR
Barbara Rose Johnston Senior Research Fellow, Center for Political Ecology, Santa Cruz, CA Reparations and Development-Induced Disasters
Satish Kedia Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Memphis Forced Displacement and Health Consequences: Lessons for Policies and Planning
Dolores Koenig Professor, Department of Anthropology, American University Urban Relocation and Resettlement: Distinctive Problems, Distinctive Opportunities
Thayer Scudder Professor Emeritus, Division of Humanities and Social Sciences, California Institute of Technology Resettlement Theory and the Kariba Case

Sponsored by Paloheimo Foundation

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