Participation and dynamics in the programs of a nongovernmental organization in a Bangladesh village

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Sciences


Susan Wadley


participatory development, Cultural anthropology, Social structure, International law, International relations

Subject Categories

Social and Cultural Anthropology


This research emphasizes the need for a grassroots perspective on the major factors related to participatory development in Bangladesh. Specifically, it is an ethnographic study of the relationships between the people of a village in Monirampur thana, Jessore district in the southwestern region of Bangladesh, and an indigenous, nongovernmental development organization. The Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), primarily known for its emphasis on nonformal education, operates a savings and credit program along with other income-generating programs.

The research focus includes participation and nonparticipation, the dynamics of the rural development programs, vulnerability as it relates to the most unprotected households which are widow-headed, and employment. This study is located within the larger context of the debate between critical development theorists and the advocates of participatory development. BRAC programs are lauded internationally as being participatory. Critical development theorists, however, argue that these programs merely integrate peasants into capitalist economies and instead favor a solution involving largely agrarian strategies of sustenance and survival.

Not all the materially poor people found it beneficial to participate in the BRAC credit, education, and irrigation programs. Factors which led to participation or nonparticipation included networks, finances, and time. The analysis of BRAC village dynamics reveals disproportionate benefits and power accruing to one kin group in the form of positions, loans, and income. Widow-headed households were held to be the most vulnerable because of the breakdown of traditional support due to increasing poverty and the absence of any other means of targeted support, including from BRAC. The current employment situation for both women and men is analyzed, including the limited BRAC involvement, along with employment alternatives.

It is concluded that most people seem interested in preserving their way of life while improving their standard of living, especially given an increasing population and decreasing resources. Beyond the extant BRAC programs, it is recommended that BRAC allow the members to determine their own development course, in the spirit of participatory development. An appeal is made for solutions to flow from the people at the grassroots and for theory to be grounded in this reality.


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