The Personal and the Professional: Aid workers’
relationships and values in the development
To cite this article: Anne-Meike Fechter (2012) The Personal and the Professional: Aid workers’
relationships and values in the development process, Third World Quarterly, 33:8, 1387-1404, DOI:
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/01436597.2012.698104
Published online: 09 Aug 2012.
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The Personal and the Professional:
Aid workers’ relationships and values
in the development process
ABSTRACT This introduction, and the special issue as a whole, consider how the
personal and the professional are interrelated, and how they matter for aid work.
Taking up Chambers’ call for the ‘primacy of the personal’, this paper explores why
the personal often remains un-acknowledged in development studies, even though
its salience for aid workers is well-documented, for example, in the growing
popularity of their blogs and memoirs. One possible reason for this is an implicit
narrative of aid work as altruistic and sometimes self-sacrificing, which renders it
inappropriate to devote much attention to the experiences and challenges of aid
workers themselves. As the contributions in this volume demonstrate, however,
their personal relationships and values significantly shape perspectives and
practices of aid work. They therefore need to be taken into account in order to
achieve a more comprehensive understanding of development processes.
The question of the relation between the personal and the professional
dimension in aid work is not new. Academics and practitioners have
commented on the relative lack of attention directed at the personal in
development studies. Chambers finds that ‘the neglect of the personal dimension in development at first sight seems bizarre’,1 whereas he proposes, in the
context of participatory rural appraisal, the ‘primacy of the personal’.2 Much
of development research has tended to focus on institutions rather than
individuals, although an incipient emphasis on personal change and agency
may be emerging.3 The situation is remarkable insofar as those involved in
aid work are acutely aware of the relevance of the personal, while ‘formal
development discourses and institutions tend to be anxious, silent, or even
hostile on the subject’.4 The contributions in this special issue aim to
investigate the personal dimension and its relations with the professional, and
to explore their potential relevance for aid work. This introduction will
outline how the personal has been conceptualised in existing literature, and
Anne-Meike Fechter is in the Department of Anthropology, University of Sussex, Falmer, Sussex BN1 9QN,
UK. Email: [email protected]
Third World Quarterly, Vol. 33, No. 8, 2012, pp 1387–1404
ISSN 0143-6597 print/ISSN 1360-2241 online/12/081387–18
2012 Southseries Inc., www.thirdworldquarterly.com
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