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Journal cover: Journal of Organizational Ethnography

Journal of Organizational Ethnography

ISSN: 2046-6749

Online from: 2012

Subject Area: Organization Studies

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Studying development organizations – towards a culture of participation?

Document Information:
Title:Studying development organizations – towards a culture of participation?
Author(s):Julia Vorhölter, (Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Georg-August-University, Göttingen, Germany)
Citation:Julia Vorhölter, (2012) "Studying development organizations – towards a culture of participation?", Journal of Organizational Ethnography, Vol. 1 Iss: 2, pp.178 - 194
Keywords:Anthropology of development, Development organizations, Employee development, Ethnographic case study, Organizational culture, Organizational development, Participation, South Africa
Article type:Research paper
DOI:10.1108/20466741211248840 (Permanent URL)
Publisher:Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Acknowledgements:This article benefited from valuable comments by Nikolaus Schareika and two anonymous reviewers.

Purpose – This article aims to provide new insights to current debates within the anthropology of (participatory) development by presenting a theoretically-informed, ethnographic case study of a development organization in Pretoria, South Africa.

Design/methodology/approach – A theoretical framework is proposed which links recent debates on organizational culture and participatory development. It is based on a thorough review of the literature in these two fields of research as well as on empirical findings from the case study.

Findings – The article shows that organizational culture is a crucial factor in understanding the complexities and failures of participatory development that has hitherto been largely ignored by development analysts and practitioners. Three factors are discussed, which affect an organization's approach towards participation: the influence of professionalization on organizational culture and participation; development brokers as agents of participatory development; and value and mission statements as indicators of an organization's “participatory potential”. The analysis demonstrates that anthropologists need to critically engage with the complexities of development operations, which requires analyzing the concrete practices, (power) structures and institutional incorporations of different development organizations.

Originality/value – The strength and originality of the study lies in its systematic focus on the internal factors of an organization and how these affect the implementation of participatory development. The questions raised in this paper are relevant for further comparative studies of development organizations, particularly those who claim to follow a participatory approach.

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