Guardians of childhood: state, class and morality in a Sri Lankan bureaucracy
Amarasuriya, Harini Nireka
This thesis explores the everyday practices, relationships and interactions in a Probation Unit of the Department of Probation and Child Care Services in the Central Province in Sri Lanka. Using multi-sited ethnography and the ethnographer’s own experiences in this sector it examines how frontline workers at the Probation Unit engage and draw upon international and national development discourse, ideas and theories of children and childhood to engage with colleagues and clients. This thesis takes as its analytical starting point that state agencies are sites where global development discourse meets local practices. Simultaneously, they are sites where ideas and practices of nationalism, class, morality and professional identity are produced and reproduced. State sector employment is an important source of social mobility, gaining respectability and constructing a middle class identity. Thus, maintaining the ‘in-between’ position in relation to the upper and lower classes is an especially anxiety-ridden and challenging process for state bureaucrats. This shapes the particular characteristics of their nationalism, morality and professional identity and influences the way in which they translate policies and engage with institutional and bureaucratic procedures. This thesis examines this process in detail and illustrates its translocal nature. More explicitly it looks at the ways in which development discourse and practice is transformed by the forms of sociality that it engenders. The ethnography illustrates that this process allows for development policies and interventions to be co-opted in particular ways that articulate ideas and practices of nationalism, class, morality and professional identity. Through this cooption, the outcomes of development policies and interventions are transformed in unanticipated ways. The broader social and political process that transforms development policies and practices remains only partially visible to development projects and programmes. The complexity and in particular the historicity of social and political contexts remains outside development project logic and timelines. To understand the relationship between policy and practice or to evaluate development outcomes is meaningless if development is conceptualised as something that stands apart from society. What is most useful to understand, and indeed revealing, is how actors make meaning of development policies and programmes as part of everyday practices in historically situated social and political contexts. The thesis concludes that theorising, analysing or even critiquing development’s transformative potential is misleading as it fails to recognise that what is being transformed is development itself.