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Whose development? A cultural analysis of an AusAID English language project in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic

Achren, Lynda (2007) Whose development? A cultural analysis of an AusAID English language project in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. PhD thesis, Victoria University.

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Abstract

Since the disintegration in the eighteenth century of their once-mighty ‘Kingdom’ of Lan Xang, the ethnic Lao have maintained a struggle for political and cultural independence against waves of foreign dominance. Over the centuries, the Lao have faced the cultural hegemony of their linguistic cousins the Siamese, the territorial ambitions of the Vietnamese, the ethnocentrism of French colonialists, and the cataclysmic anti-communist imperialism of the United States of America. In this more peaceful era, Lao articulation of their worldview remains constrained by powerful external forces. Engaging in debates within critical development studies and applied linguistics, and drawing on understandings from sociology, this inter-disciplinary study examines how the cultural hegemony of the past is perpetuated in the dominant development discourse and, in turn, enacted at project level. With a particular development assistance project serving as a lens for viewing broader development issues, the study ultimately presents a glimpse of an alternative development possibility. The study thus adds to the voices of those who argue against the exclusive Eurocentric view of modernity, and for the possibility of what Tu Wei-ming (1999) refers to as ‘multiple modernities’. Beginning with an examination of the Buddhist-legitimated socio-political organisation of the pre-colonial Lao, based primarily on the work of Martin Stuart- Fox (1998), the study argues that the pre-colonial worldview has continued to inform the values and actions of the ethnic Lao throughout their history of foreign domination, and despite the more recent political embracing of Marxism-Leninism. Drawing on the work of critical development theorists such as Escobar (1984; 1995a; 1995b), Tucker (1997a; 1999) and Munck and O’Hearn (1999), and illustrated with Lao examples, the study then examines the disjunctions between these values and those of the dominant development discourse with its roots in the Eurocentric notion of modernity, and its current neo-liberal economic agenda. The theme of disjunction features throughout this study, which centres on an AusAID-funded project in the Lao PDR aimed at implementing a competency-based English language curriculum for Lao government officials. As well as the disjunction between Lao values and those of the dominant development discourse, the thesis includes a practitioner’s first-hand insight into the disjunctions between Lao values and the curriculum model, and between the project design and Lao social reality. However, a major aim of this ethnographic study is to give voice to Lao stakeholders at policy, management and classroom levels. Their voices are woven into a series of narratives through which we are afforded insights into the disjunctions between Lao and donor priorities. As a result of these disjunctions, as the three-year AusAID project drew to a close the Lao demonstrated a commitment to the program but revealed a range of political, cultural and pedagogical factors which threatened its stability and ultimate sustainability. These Lao stories, together with those articulating the unfolding of events over the ensuing eighteen months, exemplify the conflict inherent in development assistance. On the one hand the accounts reveal how the unequal balance of power works to stifle the articulation of worldviews other than that of the dominant West, and how development workers inadvertently perpetuate the discourse’s ‘regime of truth’ (Foucault, 1980) that holds the Lao worldview irrelevant in a ‘modern’ world. On the other hand, we hear through the Lao voices how the agency of local stakeholders subverts the imposition of values, so that the English language program better reflects Lao priorities. As the thesis demonstrates, the subversion is in the form of a Buddhist-infused ‘middle way solution’ to the culturally problematic values underpinning the competency-based curriculum, which effectively restructures the approach to fit within acceptable, albeit modified, socio-cultural boundaries. The solution provides a tool for the analysis of the appropriateness of the curriculum model, the project design and, ultimately, the dominant development discourse for the Lao context. Standing as a metaphor for diverse possibilities, the Middle Way Solution suggests the need for development donors and practitioners to engage reflexively in our own practice, and offers a distinctly Lao alternative to the dominant discourse.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD thesis)
Uncontrolled Keywords: AusAID, English language program, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, curriculum design
Subjects: Faculty/School/Research Centre/Department > School of Education
RFCD Classification > 420000 Language and Culture
Depositing User: Bingyan Gu
Date Deposited: 22 Oct 2008 00:43
Last Modified: 23 May 2013 16:40
URI: http://vuir.vu.edu.au/id/eprint/1442
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