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Hampshire College

Publication Date

Spring 2006

Program Name

Nepal: Culture and Development


For more than two decades now, scholars such as Etienne Balibar and Antonio Negri have argued the ‘total subsumption of capital’; there remains no ‘outside’- all aspects of social life are governed by commodities and wage labor. This process, given impetus by the processes commonly referred to as economic globalization or market liberalization, also came to be synonymous with ‘development’. Imperfect markets, the widely implemented ‘Washington Consensus’ package of economic policies further implied, were far better social mechanisms than imperfect states.

The study and practice of ‘development’ worldwide, however, is in flux. Critiques of the mainstream ‘development’ project, widely implemented in countries categorized as ‘underdeveloped’ after World War 2, have argued that ‘development’, in aggregate terms, has done nothing virtually nothing to reduce poverty levels around the globe, and in fact, has only accentuated poverty by increasing inequality. This critique has now also been incorporated into the mainstream, which can be gauged by the fact that the UNDP’s 2006 edition of the World Development Report is entitled ‘Equity and Development’

Today, with the resulting erosion of many state powers and functions in ‘developing’ countries, such as Nepal, virtually all ‘social’ concerns are mediated through a rapidly expanding ‘civil society’ consisting of NGO’s, INGO’s and humanitarian organizations. The study of ‘development’, however, is still coming to terms with the proliferation of these types of organizations and associated concepts such as ‘self-empowerment’ and ‘participation’ that are now being advocated, as a result of the ‘shift’ in the dominant discourse of development.

The object of this paper will be to trace the history of NGO’s in Nepal, and to analyze their methodologies with respect to issues of social change, justice and equity- as well as to interrogate concepts such as ‘empowerment’ and ‘participation’. For NGO’s to be actually considered a part of ‘civil society’, I will argue, depends on a somewhat radical upheaval of their institutionalized mechanisms, in particular, their funding concerns and the resultant apolitical nature of their work. This will be contrasted with the recent political upheaval in the country, which is starting to be described as a ‘civil society led movement’.


Politics and Social Change | Social Welfare


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