Knowledge for development? : reflections from consultants and advisors in Bolivia

Borda-Rodriguez, Alexander (2008). Knowledge for development? : reflections from consultants and advisors in Bolivia. PhD thesis The Open University.



Knowledge has been a central part of development discourses in the last 40 years. Development organisations have been concerned with its production and dissemination across developing countries with the purpose of eradicating poverty. This thesis focuses on the processes of knowledge production and dissemination for development in the work of consultants and advisors in two organisations in Bolivia. In particular, it examines and analyses the perceptions and reflections of consultants, advisors, and, to some extent, beneficiaries/clients; how they are framed by institutional and organisational discourses; and the apparent limits to reflexivity within the development assistance field.

The thesis uses qualitative methods and draws on interview and documentary data collected in the east and central part of Bolivia. It examines the activities of consultants and advisors in two organisations: a Bolivian based development consultancy company Centro de Estudios y Proyectos (CEP) and a Dutch development agency (SNV).

Using, as a conceptual framework, the notions of knowledge/power and discourse developed by Michel Foucault and aspects of Jürgen Habermas’s theory of communicative action, the thesis finds that knowledge engagements are heavily framed by dominant development discourses although they are potentially more productive when the different actors share meanings about the world. This, however, is not usually the case, and the engagements are marked by fundamental differences between the actors.

The thesis also finds that consultants, advisors and beneficiaries/clients reflect, learn and hence produce rich knowledge individually but this is not openly shared with their organisational hierarchies because it can potentially challenge the development discourses that frame what the organisations do.

The thesis concludes that, in order to overcome constraints imposed by dominant development discourses, it is necessary to build shared meanings between the actors where these do not exist, while recognising that their differences are also the source of new knowledge.

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