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Empowerment, participation and gender equality within PNPM-Mandiri Perdesaan: rhetoric and reality

Nicholas Metheralll


The language of the global development discourse or “developmentspeak” should be analysed critically (Cornwall 2010). Transferring academic and technocratic phrases to the field often comes with its own perils. This is especially true in the case of Indonesia where Anglophone dominated buzzwords often become imposed like stamps of approval. Many more of these terms become loan words, closely associating the project with the external agency which prescribed them. “La Langue de bois” the language of evasion, observed by Rist (2010, p.4), uses such buzzwords to blur and substitute real meaning with an “absence of real definition” and a strong “normative belief in what the notion is supposed to bring about”. A buzzword gains power through being vague and inoffensive, yet also having a capacity to hold a number of different possible meanings, and importantly, doing so while reflecting a normative lustre (Cornwall 2010). It is these qualities which not only deliver power to buzzwords but also leave them vulnerable to being distorted and used as tools for political agendas rather than for genuinely progressive social movements. This paper examines the extent to which the terms and values of PNPM-Mandiri Rural, such as “empowerment”, “participation”, and “genderequality”; reflect either rhetoric or reality within a particular village context in Indonesia.

 1He took part in an internship program in Institute for Research and Empowerment (IRE) Yogyakarta in 2011.

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