Book review

Lorena Gibson
2021 Commoning Ethnography  
This volume critically examines a ubiquitous and, according to editors Rachel Douglas-Jones and Justin Shaffner, undertheorised aspect of contemporary aid, development, and NGO work: capacity building. Capacity building, which became a prominent feature of development discourses in the late 1980s and early 1990s, is a nebulous concept that does a lot of 'work,' as the editors note in their introduction. At once a goal and a method for achieving that goal, capacity building encompasses a wide
more » ... ge of attributes, including abilities, attitudes, behaviours, conditions, infrastructures, knowledge, relationships, resources, skills, and values. It identifies them as inadequate or insufficient in the present. Then, capacity building seeks to transform them at a variety of levels (individual, organisational, societal) to bring about a desired future. The editors argue that 'capacity building "works" through comparative transformation. It must generate (preferably measurable) insufficiencies which need to be made to appear -an absence that becomes a potential' (page 8). A second argument underpinning this volume, and the reason we decided to review it in Commoning Ethnography, is that ethnographic comparison is a generative approach for engaging with highly mobile concepts like capacity building. Accordingly, the eight ethnographic chapters in this volume take a comparative approach in attending to the contested, transformational, futureoriented 'work' that capacity building seeks to do in diverse settings.
doi:10.26686/ce.v4i1.5157 fatcat:zqbhdsgtgfctvk3irzpag3ojbm