Woolcock, Michael. "Culture, Politics, and Development." HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP14-041, September 2014.

Abstract

Whether in the domains of scholarship or practice, important advances have been made in recent years in our understanding of how culture, politics, and development interact. Today’s leading theorists of culture and development represent a fourth distinctive perspective vis-à-vis their predecessors, one that seeks to provide an empirically grounded, mechanisms-based account of how symbols, frames, identities, and narratives are deployed as part of a broader repertoire of cultural “tools” connecting structure and agency. A central virtue of this approach is less the broad policy prescriptions to which it gives rise—indeed, to offer such prescriptions would be something of a contradiction in terms—than the emphasis it places on making intensive and extensive commitments to engaging with the idiosyncrasies of local contexts. Deep knowledge of contextual realities can contribute constructively to development policy by enabling careful intra-country comparisons to be made of the conditions under which variable responses to otherwise similar problems emerge. Such knowledge is also important for discerning the generalizability (or “external validity”) of claims regarding the efficacy of development interventions, especially those overtly engaging with social, legal, and political issues.