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The contributions of applied anthropology to peasant development

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The contributions of applied anthropology to peasant development

Author: Durston, John Physical Description: páginas. 99-114 Date: December 1996 ECLAC symbol: LC/G.1943-P


The present surge of interest in participative rural development projects based on peasant communities differs from similar past experiences in that it forms part of a broader tendency to decentralize social management, to enhance the role of the beneficiaries of social policies, and to give them a bigger say in their implementation. In order to avoid repeating the failures of past decades in programmes designed to reduce rural poverty, it is necessary to incorporate elements of modern applied anthropology in programmes for the training of extension workers and in the explanatory models of specialists formulating rural development projects. The practical contribution that applied anthropology can make stems not only from the experience of anthropologists in development projects but also, and above all, from a knowledge of the empirical reality revealed by academic anthropology. Although some anthropological concepts are already being used in some other disciplines, they usually correspond to outmoded theories already discarded by many anthropologists. This article identifies some of these "anthropological myths" and explores ways in which the new perceptions of anthropology could be applied to some of the commonest components of rural development projects. The concepts used in this dual task include the development cycle of peasant households, kinship as a reserve of mutual aid, the community as a referent of prestige, and ethnic identity as a social resource.