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With one hand they offered the poor an alms, with the other they opened a prison. —Gustave de Beaumont The concepts of famine produced with the shift to the episteme of modernity have generated specific practices of aid. These practices are variously presented as global food aid, emergency famine relief, and development programs. These distinctions play an important role in negotiations between donors and implementing agencies. Agencies rely for their identity on particular constructions, each having concern and legitimacy historically in a particular area. The distinctions can be crucial in policy making and when matters of power and control are disputed between the different agencies involved.1 However, the disciplinary processes are similar, whether it is food aid, famine relief, or development that is the legitimizing discursive framework. Practices of aid, like famines themselves, benefit some groups at the same time that they make victims of others.2 Powerful groups exploit those less powerful. Particular aid practices, such as food for work programs, produce and reproduce these power relations. Food for work (FFW), in which food aid is distributed not as a gift but as a payment for work performed, has grown up as part of the food aid process. Here the priorities of the implementing agencies (internal and external) and the donor and recipient governments are inscribed 67 4 Practices of Aid on the bodies and in the work of those employed on the schemes. The “failure” of food aid programs is central to their “success”— they produce and reproduce relations of dependency between first and third world states and within those states. Foucault contends that the failure of prisons to rehabilitate offenders is best seen as part of their achievement.3 Prisons produce political consequences, disqualifying a whole range of political action by redefining it as criminal . The failure of food for work programs to improve agriculture or the environment ensures their continuation as a disciplining process. According to Mark Duffield “relatively little attention has been devoted to the study of relations of accountability and power in relief operations.”4 This chapter begins to remedy this, looking at the workings of aid from a Foucauldian perspective in terms of discursive and disciplinary practices.5 I discuss global food aid discourse before turning to famine relief in Ethiopia and Ireland and food for work practices in Eritrea. GLOBAL FOOD AID Discourse is socially embedded and institutionalized in its interactions with other social practices. Foucault was interested in exploring why, irrespective of what grammatically could be said at certain periods, certain things and not others were said, and how the limits of things said were transformed from one era to another. This is distinct from a notion that treats discourses as groups of signs referring to signifieds. Discourses do more than use the signs of which they are composed to designate things, and “it is this more that renders them irreducible to the language and to speech” and makes them instead “practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak.”6 At a particular period in time, for a specific social group, there are rules that define the limits and forms of the sayable and the conservation , memory, reactivation, and appropriation of discourses.7 Certain things can be said in specific domains of discourse (scientific, literary, etc.), and certain things said will be remembered and reiterated while others will be forgotten or repressed. Some things said in the past will be regarded as valid and not others, and these things will be reconstituted in different ways. Prescribed individuals and groups will have access to particular discourses, and relations of authority will be defined; there is a struggle for control of discourses. This approach runs counter to the traditional study of discourse as 68 · practices of aid “a pure surface of translation for mute objects; a simple site of expression of thoughts, imaginings, knowledges, unconscious themes.”8 It negates the view that supposes “that all operations are conducted prior to discourse or outside of it, in the ideality of thought or the silent gravity of practices; that discourse, consequently, is no more than a meagre additive . . . a surplus which goes without saying, since it does nothing else except say what is said.”9 On the contrary, discursive practices are bound up with other social practices and together constitute relations of power/knowledge. Specific power relations make possible particular forms of discourse: Each society has its régime of truth, its “general politics” of truth: that is, the types of discourse...


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