The Will to Improve: Governmentality, Development, and the Practice of Politics

The Will to Improve: Governmentality, Development, and the Practice of Politics

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By (author) Tania Murray Li

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  • Publisher: Duke University Press
  • Format: Paperback | 392 pages
  • Dimensions: 152mm x 229mm x 25mm | 499g
  • Publication date: 1 July 2007
  • Publication City/Country: North Carolina
  • ISBN 10: 0822340275
  • ISBN 13: 9780822340270
  • Illustrations note: 13 illustrations, 3 figures
  • Sales rank: 79,640

Product description

The Will to Improve is a remarkable account of development in action. Focusing on experts' attempts to improve landscapes and livelihoods in Indonesia, Tania Murray Li carefully exposes the practices that enable experts to diagnose problems and devise interventions, and the agency of people whose conduct is targeted for reform. Deftly integrating theory, ethnography, and history, she illuminates the work of colonial officials and missionaries; specialists in agriculture, hygiene and credit; and political activists with their own schemes for guiding villagers towards better ways of life. She examines donor-funded initiatives that seek to integrate conservation with development through the participation of communities, and a one-billion dollar program designed by the World Bank to optimize the social capital of villagers, inculcate new habits of competition and choice, and remake society from the bottom up. Demonstrating that the "will to improve" has a long and troubled history, Li identifies enduring continuities from the colonial period to the present. She explores the tools experts have used to set the conditions for reform - tools that combine the reshaping of desires with applications of force. Attending in detail to the highlands of Sulawesi, she shows how a series of interventions entangled with one another and tracks their results, ranging from wealth to famine, from compliance to political mobilization, and from new solidarities to oppositional identities and violent attack. The Will to Improve is an engaging read - conceptually innovative, empirically rich, and alive with the actions and reflections of the targets of improvement, people with their own critical analyses of the problems that beset them.

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Author information

Tania Murray Li is Professor of Anthropology and Senior Canada Research Chair in Political Economy and Culture in Asia-Pacific at the University of Toronto. She is the author of "Malays in Singapore: Culture, Economy, and Ideology" and the editor of "Transforming the Indonesian Uplands: Marginality, Power, and Production."

Review quote

"Tania Murray Li brilliantly combines the analytic rubrics of Foucault, Marx, and Gramsci to explain 'the will to improve' as an essential though poorly understood component of rule in Indonesia. This is not your grandmother's ethnography: the well-written chapters are packed with the conflicts, contestations, and uncertainties that characterize power relations. Deeply engaged with the processes and practices that shape peoples' lives, Li's book should be required reading for scholars interested in how power works and for development practitioners everywhere."--Nancy Lee Peluso, author of Rich Forests, Poor People: Resource Control and Resistance in Java "Magisterially linking the contradictions of peripheral capitalism with the limits of governmentality, Tania Murray Li offers a view of developmental rule that draws productively on Gramsci and Foucault. She provides perhaps the most brilliant account to date of neoliberal development in action. A tour de force."--Michael Watts, Director, Center for African Studies, and Class of 1963 Professor of Geography, University of California, Berkeley "The Will to Improve is an exceptionally valuable and well-conceived book. It speaks to some of the most significant theoretical discussions of recent years, effectively linking studies of 'governmentality,' debates about neoliberalism, and the increasingly rich literature on the social history of colonialism."--James Ferguson, author of Global Shadows: Africa in the Neoliberal World Order

Back cover copy

"Tania Murray Li brilliantly combines the analytic rubrics of Foucault, Marx, and Gramsci to explain 'the will to improve' as an essential though poorly understood component of rule in Indonesia. This is not your grandmother's ethnography: the well-written chapters are packed with the conflicts, contestations, and uncertainties that characterize power relations. Deeply engaged with the processes and practices that shape peoples' lives, Li's book should be required reading for scholars interested in how power works and for development practitioners everywhere."--Nancy Lee Peluso, author of "Rich Forests, Poor People: Resource Control and Resistance in Java"