Cover of Culture and Public Action by Edited by Vijayendra Rao and Michael Walton
Culture and Public Action
Edited by Vijayendra Rao and Michael Walton


464 pages.
from $35.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9780804747868
Paperback ISBN: 9780804747875


Excerpts and More

How does culture matter for development? Do certain societies have cultures which condemn them to poverty? Led by Arjun Appadurai, Mary Douglas, and Amartya Sen, the anthropologists and economists in this volume contend that culture is central to development, and that cultural processes are neither inherently good nor bad and never static. Rather, they are contested and evolving, and can be a source of profound social and economic transformation through their influence on aspirations and collective action; yet they can also be exploitative, exclusionary, and can lead to inequality.

Culture and Public Action includes case studies from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, which examine the role of culture in community-based development, ethnic conflict, famine relief, gender discrimination, and HIV-AIDS policy. The editors conclude by proposing how a "cultural lens" can better inform future research and public policy on development. Accessible, balanced, and engaging, this book will be of interest to anyone concerned with the relationship between culture and economics, and the design and implementation of development policy.

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About the authors

Vijayendra Rao is senior economist in the Development Research Group of the World Bank. Michael Walton is adviser on poverty reduction and human development in the Latin America and Caribbean Region of the World Bank.

"The observation that cultural norms affect economic development has been made repeatedly, yet it has been very hard to use it effectively, whether for policy or for prediction. The essays in this volume present authoritatively the present state of knowledge and point out new aspects which hold out the prospect of greater usefulness."

—Kenneth Arrow, Stanford University, and Winner of the 1972 Nobel Prize in Economics

"The editors are to be congratulated on having attracted three heavy hitters to their enterprise—Amartya Sen, Mary Douglas, and Arjun Appadurai. And these luminaries have come up with the goods, writing papers any one of which would attract readers. This book will have a diverse readership and it will deserve to do so."

—Dr. Keith Hart, University of Aberdeen

"This impressive collection of essays combines outstanding theoretical essays on the complex interrelation between culture and development with well-researched case studies that ground these observations in the everyday reality of the poor. The book does not seek to resolve all debates on these issues, but rather asks what kinds of agreements are possible that will yield insights to move public action in meaningful ways. It is an invitation to go beyond polemics and to deepen our stakes in the dialogue between anthropology and economics. The introduction and conclusion by the two editors are models of clarity and hospitable thought."

—Veena Das, Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University

"This book provides us with valuable insights into the relationship between culture and development, and with practical advice on the implications of this for development policy. It should be read by all who are interested in reducing poverty and deprivation in our increasingly interconnected world."

—James D. Wolfensohn, President, The World Bank