Cristiano Lanzano is a social anthropologist at the Nordic Africa Institute (NAI). Lanzano’s research focuses on mining, natural resources and conservation, and the anthropology of sustainable development. In conversation with SweDev’s Alessandro Giacardi, he describes the current Covid-19 and development challenges through an anthropology lens.
Q: The Covid-19 pandemic has destabilized the world’s balance, worsening the situation of the most fragile countries. With this in mind, what do you think has changed and will change within development studies?
A: Even if we are still too close to the pandemic to evaluate its long-term consequences, two main elements emerged. Firstly, travel restrictions have given more space to researchers based in the Global South to speak for their reality and witness the Covid-19 impacts on their territories. This may open opportunities for a less Eurocentric production of academic knowledge in the field of development, but the final outcomes remain to be seen.
Secondly, the pandemic places issues such as global health, associated with global inequalities back on the agenda. The pandemic highlights the role of science and technology and calls for a truly global approach and for a greater integration between social and natural sciences.
Q: You are a social anthropologist focusing on anthropology of development. What does development mean in the context of anthropology and what are you teaching to your students?
A: The relationship between anthropology and development is complex but very stimulating. James Ferguson has provokingly defined development as “the evil twin of anthropology.” Many anthropologists tend to distance themselves from development as a discipline and practice, even if historically we have a lot in common. Especially when western anthropologists conduct research in the Global South, they can often be mistaken for development workers. After all, beside our background, we often share the same interest for certain topics, and networks. When I first did my fieldwork in Senegal, my initial contact was an Italian NGO working there: this shaped the way I looked at reality during fieldwork, even if I tried to be aware of it and develop a critical stance.
Written by Cristiano Lanzano, Senior Researcher at the Nordic Africa Institute and Alessandro Giacardi, Communication and Research Intern at Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) for the Development and Aid Policy Team and SweDev. Edits by Ylva Rylander and Alice Castensson.