Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Dimensions of Development: Anthropology professor Dr. Susan Vincent launches book

May 8th, 2012

For over two decades, including numerous on-the-ground research trips, StFX anthropology professor Dr. Susan Vincent has traced the development of Allpachico, a village in the central highlands of Peru.

Now, this fascinating research is the basis of her new book, Dimensions of Development: History, Community, and Change in Allpachico, Peru (University of Toronto Press).

In the book, Dr. Vincent, who specializes in the anthropology of development, examines four aid projects in the area, each following distinct international trends, which took place between 1984 and 2008. These trends in development practice are set within the context of wider state and global political and economic systems.

On March 29, friends and colleagues joined with Dr. Vincent to celebrate her accomplishment during a book launch hosted by the Department of Anthropology in the StFX Art Gallery. Dr. Jonathan Langdon of StFX’s Development Studies Program and Department of Adult Education, provided comment on the text. 

Dr. Susan Vincent (centre) joins with colleagues at the book launch on March 29.

“It’s an unusual book in that it traces development in the same place over time,” Dr. Vincent says. “In terms of development, this book really does something that is critically necessary and hasn’t been done before,” she says on the historical trajectory the narrative provides.

Not only does it provide historical context, the book emphasizes that a community’s past experiences inform and influence a community’s approach to new projects.

“Most of the literature on how to do development, talks about strategies and treats the community more or less as a blank state,” she says.

This approach completely ignores how the people, the apparent beneficiaries of the project, understand different aspects of it, based on their own particular history, she says. “You can’t just throw a program or project at a community and expect it will behave as another community has.”

Dr. Vincent acknowledges that it can be difficult to address the needs of communities as access to external support may lead the people to say what potential project sponsors want to hear. Politically and economically marginalized people develop techniques, she says, to deal with powerful outsiders to get needed resources. While sometimes this involves resistance, very often in means they cooperate with the outsiders’ visions.

Dr. Vincent brings a unique perspective to the work. She has been travelling to the same community in Peru for well over 20 years. “It’s only by spending as long as I have in the community and watching the interactions that I get an idea of what is happening.”

Dr. Vincent was undertaking master’s research at McGill University in 1984 when she made her first journey to Peru to look at economic issues. Over time, she became more interested in development projects and how the process of development impacts a community.

Through the years, she has also exposed many students to her research, using her research funding to take four StFX students on three research trips to the country. She has also employed seven university students from Peru.

Three of the StFX students went on to do honours or advanced major degrees in the research area.

Dr. Vincent will use the book as a text next year in her third year course, anthropology of development.

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