Understanding Contemporary Development: Tanzanian Life Narratives of Intervention

  • Robert Ahearne

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis investigates the perceptions of development held by the supposed beneficiaries of various interventions over time. Development (or maendeleo) has been central to Tanzanian political discourse since the late-colonial era and is still drawn on by government, Civil Society and Non-governmental Organizations alike. This research investigates the period from late-colonialism until the present day, discussing the way in which wazee (older people) in South-Eastern Tanzania interpret development. In other words, this thesis centres on the views held by a group often overlooked in development research in a region that is similarly sidelined. In order to delimit the study in certain important ways, this thesis is framed by three dimensions that are seen as critical to reading development: materiality, place and 'the past'.Material aspirations are seen as significant herein and are placed alongside the material inequalities between people and places that help to frame older people's readings of development. These inequalities are partly played out in the differences between places, as in two proximate villages in South-Eastern Tanzania, and the perceptions of place and space are also fundamental to interpreting development. History/'the past' and the way in which this is understood and represented is a third and equally important dimension which structures the way in which development is understood by older people, based on their experience of 'the past' rather than through historical distinctions imposed from 'outside'. This thesis offers a multi-disciplinary approach to investigating development, and demonstrates that a thorough engagement with people who have lived through numerous different eras and experienced various interventions, generates complex, place-specific readings of development. Through ethnographic research I have been able to demonstrate the importance of 'localized' knowledge although many of those who were interviewed draw from attendant discourses at regional, national and global scales in order to exemplify their arguments. Development is largely understood through absence rather than presence by wazee in South-Eastern Tanzania and with far greater complexity than is often allowed for in more mainstream research into development. Expectations for development have been created over time by various promises of intervention but the perceived failure of many such attempts is seen to further emphasize the absence rather than the presence of development, with older people arguing that they are isolated and ostracised and written out of contemporary development and materially poor. The value placed on uncovering voices that are otherwise lost from debates cannot be overemphasized and this illustrates that development tropes appear far different when the perspectives of wazee are fully analyzed. This thesis, then, challenges mainstream discourse and conventional histories of development and argues for a more engaged and grounded reading of the concept.
Date of Award1 Aug 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorUma Kothari (Supervisor) & Sarah Bracking (Supervisor)


  • Development
  • Maendeleo
  • Tanzania
  • Materiality
  • Place
  • History
  • Ujamaa
  • Villagization
  • The Past

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