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Knowledge societies and planetary cultures: The changing nature of consultancy in human development



The sources for this paper include recent writing on the sociology and anthropology of knowledge and on international technical assistance. It also draws on recent work on the changing nature of international consultancy in human development. The paper locates consultants as servants of knowledge societies, not as producers of knowledge, but as mediators between knowledge producers and users. In this, consultancy is seen to be an educational process On ever shorter contracts, restricted by broker terms and resources, by the rules that govern the conduct of their work and by their existing knowledge, international consultants contribute, at several levels, to the consolidation of what might be described as planetary dimensions of culture. New pressures include the building of local capacity and, working in teams (often multinational teams), the serving as hidden-hand facilitators in participatory planning and development processes. Over time, these concepts are converted into rhetorics of altruism, strengthening human resources, non-discriminatory gender or ethnic policy, and ensuring the relevance of the intervention planned or undertaken. Such strategies are critical components of competitive tenders If properly presented, they become essential indicators of added value as first donors and then brokers of consultancy services compete to obtain work. To comply with terms of reference and, if desired, to fulfil these additional requirements, international consultants have to engage their partners (donor, broker, team members, host, client and end-user groups), all of whom have different stakes in the process, through the medium of discourses acceptable to them. Overall, money is the force driving all stakeholders in the consultancy game. This leads to a funnelled reconfiguration of information received, by whatever means, into narrowly defined presentational forms that will optimise the chance of winning and securing cash. With the consensus of all partners, this reduction occurs at all levels of discourse (substantive, affective, linguistic). The closer it is to the locus of the fund allocator, the more restricted and yet, increasingly formally written, the more durable it becomes The logical planning framework is globally recognised as the vehicle for conveying in compressed form the content of consultancy reports. The cryptics of the prescribed content of its byte-sized, isolated cells are universally recognisable. If carefully polished, they ensure funding. They are readily transferable. The implications for knowledge, planetary culture and its other educational processes are discussed, as are the limited efforts to ensure accountability. Copyright (C) 1997 Elsevier Science Lt

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