Intimacy Beyond Love: The History and Politics of Inter-Asian Development Aid

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This article proposes that intimacy can be a useful analytical tool to understand how the private and the public, the personal and the political, intersect in development aid projects. Recent anthropological analyses have attended to the personal and moral worlds of aid workers, examining the knowledge practices and ethical dilemmas of "aidland." Some scholars have cautioned that this perspective should not overlook the politics of development interventions. The lens of intimacy can be a fruitful avenue for understanding how "aidland" is always already political—how the personal worlds of aid workers and politics are intertwined. Examining the kinds of relations that define intimacy, and the specific ways that the private and the public intersect in these relations, can show us the particular history and politics of a development regime. Drawing on the case of a Japanese NGO in Myanmar, the article shows how "intimacy" in this inter-Asian form of development aid appeared in terms of "becoming one" (hitotsu ni naru). Ethnographic analysis and historical contextualization reveal nationalist-culturalist and Pan-Asian imaginations that are entangled in intimate experiences of "becoming one" among Japanese and Burmese aid actors. Ultimately, the analytical purchase of "intimacy" lies in calling our attention to how people negotiate similarities, differences, and conflicts in "private" spaces in order to make the ethos of becoming one in "public" possible.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)59-84
JournalAnthropological Quarterly
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 7 May 2019


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