The changing geographies of foreign aid and development cooperation: contributions from gift theory

Abstract: This paper critically evaluates the ways in which Southern development actors, such as India and China, discursively construct the ‘aid’ element of South-South development cooperation. It draws upon gift theory, something that has previously been confined to analyses of Western foreign aid. Four characteristic features of the symbolic regime of South-South development cooperation are identified: the assertion of a shared ‘developing country’ identity; expertise in appropriate development; rejection of hierarchical ‘donor-recipient’ relations; and an insistence on mutual opportunity. All of these set up the positive moral valence of reciprocity, something that stands in contrast to the hegemonic public construction (if not the reality) of Western foreign aid as unreciprocated charity to the less fortunate. The paper then examines what this symbolic regime might seek to ‘euphemise’ or obscure in the realpolitik of South-South relations, including inattention to the contested sub-national politics of ‘development’, and the growing differences amongst the G77 nations. The paper is concerned with the ways in which Southern development actors represent a challenge to the dominant aid paradigm, transgressing dominant cultural categories and social hierarchies of who gives and who receives; but it refuses to take claims of South-South solidarity and mutual benefit at face value. It concludes with some brief reflections on the implications of the emerging visibility and power of the Southern development partners for critical ‘development’ geography.

Post description

  • Publication year: 2012
  • Content type: Research Paper
  • Form of cooperation: Comprehensive (Lines of credit, grants and loans, and technical assistance).
  • Cooperation context: Multilateral
  • Sector: Multisectoral
  • Institution (publication): Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers (Publication)
  • Author (and co-authors): Emma Mawdsley
  • Keywords: South-South development cooperation; Southern development actors (India and China); gift theory
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