Having People, Having Heart: Charity, Sustainable Development, and Problems of Dependence in Central Uganda

Having People, Having Heart: Charity, Sustainable Development, and Problems of Dependence in Central Uganda

by China Scherz


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226119670
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 07/04/2014
Pages: 184
Sales rank: 789,026
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

China Scherz is assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Virginia.

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Having People, Having Heart

Charity, Sustainable Development, and Problems of Dependence in Central Uganda

By China Scherz

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2014 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-11970-0


Introduction: What We Are Doing Here Is Not Charity

"What we are doing here is not charity," Sarah Nassali explained to me as she described the suite of community-based orphan support programs she was managing at Hope Child. The frequency with which she and other employees of Ugandan nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) distinguished their work as being something other than charity, and the lengths they went to avoid creating dependence on foreign funding, evinced an international push for more sustainable, community-owned development (Rahnema 1992; Stirrat and Henkel 1997; Green 2000; Cooke and Kothari 2001; Paley 2001; Li 2007; Kremer and Miguel 2007; Swidler and Watkins 2009). Sustainable development projects, like those run by Hope Child, are intended to have an impact beyond the lives of the projects themselves, and they rely on creating strong community institutions that will exist after the NGO and its resources leave. Nassali's comments not only indexed this new way of thinking about development, but also spoke to the marginal position of the charitable gift—the "handout"—and the specter of dependence within the contemporary philanthropic field.

Hope Child's attempts to avoid handouts ultimately caused tension between its field office staff and the program's beneficiaries and volunteers. Whereas Hope Child staff members were interested in creating support groups for grandparents caring for orphans and in building community-run Early Childhood Development centers for children under age eight, local people wanted farm implements, livestock, school fees, and mattresses. Despite Hope Child's claim that these beneficiaries were the "owners" of the project, they were not able to persuade Hope Child to spend more than 6 percent of its US$375,000 program budget on tangible inputs. While the Hope Child staff, and the donor foundations that supported them, saw refusing handouts as part of a strategy to avoid aid dependence and to promote programs that would yield lasting benefits, the beneficiaries saw these choices as suspect refusals to redistribute wealth, and they echoed a refrain familiar across the African continent: the NGO staff was likely "eating the money" (Bayart 1989).

This book focuses on these tensions and accusations and asks what gifts and dependence, and attempts to avoid them, mean in a community where patron-client relationships serve as a primary ethical compass. In the chapters that follow, I articulate a central international debate on the most effective means for bringing about economic development and social justice, a debate that pits charity against sustainability. In my analysis of this debate I highlight the judgments that rural Baganda make about the programs that result from these alternate ethical orientations.

Interdependence, Development, and Ethics in Central Uganda


One of the core premises of this book is that ideals of independence and self-reliance, which lie at the heart of sustainable development, are socially and historically constructed and, more specifically, that this well-established claim has important implications for rethinking the contemporary ethics of international development and philanthropy. In opposition to the tremendous value placed on independence and self-reliance in many Western cultures, in much of the world personhood is achieved through relationships with other people (Shweder and Bourne 1982; Markus and Kitayama 1991). This is not to imply that Kiganda actors do not act as authors of their own futures; rather, their strategies of self-making involve creating and using networks (which are often hierarchical) to secure support (which is often material).

In Buganda, ethics of hierarchical interdependence occupy an important place in local moral economies, particularly among the rural poor. These ethics of interdependence, which I discuss in greater detail in chapter 2, mean that people with resources stand to gain from their relationships with those who have less; that they have a moral obligation to take on clients; and that people with limited resources must actively try to attach themselves to others as dependents. Within this system, one increases one's standing and sense of being a full person by attaching oneself to others and by acquiring clients, not by becoming "independent." To be dependent on another is not a sign of destitution; as Patrick Chabal and Jean-Pascal Daloz write, "The truly destitute are those without patrons" (Chabal and Daloz 1999, 42).

The multiplicity of patrons actively competing for clients, and the clients' freedom to move from one patron to another should the first fail to meet their needs, builds a critical flexibility into these relations. Thus, as James Ferguson notes, "The freedom that existed in such a social world (and it was not inconsiderable) came not from independence, but from a plurality of opportunities for dependence" (Ferguson 2013, 226). By acquiring a wide range of patrons, clients are assured of "having people" who can assist them in a variety of ways (Smith 2004), and they also gain a measure of insurance against the fickle fortunes, and hearts, of their patrons.

Ferguson has recently written about the conflict between Western ideals of development and the demands made by Africans seeking to enter into hierarchical relations of patronage. He notes that given Amartya Sen's definition of development as an increase in human freedom "to declare for dependence, to wish for it, to seek it, seems to be a wish for one's own devaluation, and even dehumanization" (Ferguson 2013, 225). This position is troubling for Ferguson, and for me, given the frequency with which such "declarations of dependence" are made by poor people in Africa who are attempting to improve their lives (Ferguson 2013).

In line with Ferguson's recent work, my research on the interactions between charity, sustainable development, and Kiganda ethics of interdependence seeks to unsettle our assumptions about the moral valence of dependence in contemporary sub-Saharan Africa. In so doing, I join Ferguson and other scholars, including sociologists Ann Swidler and Susan Watkins (2007), in their efforts to shift the discussion of "wealth-in-people" in Africa from its focus on why patrons sought to amass dependents (Kopytoff and Miers 1977; Miller 1988; Vansina 1990; Guyer and Belinga 1995) toward why dependents seek to attach themselves to patrons—and the increasing difficulty of securing such patronage in the contemporary moment.

The Gift

In taking up these issues of charity and dependence, one is confronted by the theoretical position—taken by authors such as Mary Douglas, Marcel Mauss, and Pierre Bourdieu—that while charity benefits the giver, it necessarily harms the standing of the person who receives it. Understanding this claim requires some sense of Marcel Mauss's writings on gift exchange. In The Gift, first published as an essay in 1925, Mauss famously posited three obligations—to give, to receive, and to reciprocate—and argued that it is through these cycles of exchange that social relationships are established and maintained and that social status is secured and defended. While Mauss's original intent was to explain the history of the separation between self-interest and altruism, The Gift is often read as advancing an agonistic theory of exchange in which social actors are primarily interested in securing power and prestige through their generosity, which humiliates recipients who find themselves unable to make a return gift, thus making the potlatch a model for all exchange. Jonathan Parry (1986) argues that this common misreading of Mauss is shaped by Malinowski's theories of exchange, which are based on a balanced, self-interested dyad and depend on a vision of humans as rational actors, constantly seeking to maximize their transactions.

It is with this Malinowskian reading in mind that Mary Douglas and Pierre Bourdieu described the inherent violence of charity. In her essay "No Free Gifts," the foreword to a 1990 edition of Mauss's The Gift, Douglas writes, "Though we laud charity as a Christian virtue we know that it wounds" (Douglas 1990, vii). Given the impossibility of reciprocity, Douglas argues that charity yields only the pain of unrepayable gift debt and "does nothing to enhance solidarity" (vii). To some degree, Douglas's analysis reflects Mauss's own writings on charity. In a section titled "Moral Conclusions," he writes, "Charity is still wounding for him who has accepted it, and the whole tendency of our morality is to strive to do away with the unconscious and injurious patronage of the rich almsgiver" (Mauss [1925] 1990, 65). While developing a theory of exchange informed by a dynamic and diachronic theory of practice, Bourdieu maintained this rigid understanding of the structural necessity of reciprocity and, along with it, the moral critique of charity. From Outline of a Theory of Practice (1977) to Pascalian Meditations (2000), unrepayable alms serve as one of Bourdieu's main examples of symbolic violence.

There are certainly situations in Uganda and elsewhere where gifts are made either partially or primarily to secure a return, whether in the form of material reciprocity, as is often the case when the poor give to the rich, or in the more elusive yet no less significant form of gratitude, loyalty, respect, obedience, or conversion, yet this is not always the case. In opposition to structural arguments concerning the necessary violence of charity and the ubiquity of "gift debt," this books calls for closer attention to the role that particular sociohistorical conjunctures play in shaping how givers and receivers understand these acts of charitable giving. In line with Maurice Godelier (1999), I argue that while gifts do entail the simultaneous production of inequality and solidarity, these opposing dynamics are brought together in a wide range of situations that influence the effects of any given exchange. In this argument I hope to challenge distinctions between self-interest and altruism, which have shaped many of the contemporary readings of Mauss that focus on the self-interested nature of calculated reciprocal gift exchanges (Blau 1964; Firth 1967; Douglas 1990). These readings ignore Mauss's fundamental insight that the division between self-interest and altruism is a product of modern economics (Parry 1986), not a timeless truth. There is much at stake in this argument, not only for the anthropology of exchange, but also for more pragmatic discussions concerning the effects and moral valence of philanthropic giving.

Development, Humanitarianism, and Charity

This discussion of charity expands a set of anthropological conversations about aid that until recently (Bornstein 2012) largely centered on development and humanitarianism. While humanitarianism, and to a lesser extent development, originally emerged in relation to notions of Christian charity, there are important differences between development, humanitarianism, and charity that extend beyond—but are not necessarily congruent with—a distinction between the religious and the secular. These differences can be seen in their differing orientations toward time, hierarchy, the motivation for providing aid, the figure of the recipient, and assumptions about human agency.

In terms of time, development is shaped by a future-oriented teleological narrative, which envisions humanity moving toward a common future of modernity and mass consumption (Rist 2003). Humanitarianism, by contrast, is oriented toward the immediate present, the emergency, the crisis, and it operates with only limited thought for the future (Calhoun 2010). While the temporality of charity is closer to that of humanitarianism than to that of development in its primary goal for the intrinsic good of an act of giving in the immediate present (Scherz 2013), it does not require an exceptional moment of crisis (Redfield 2010) and may in many cases be oriented toward ordinary, not extraordinary, suffering.

These logics of care also differ on questions of hierarchy. In its most idealized form, development is conceived as eliminating hierarchy. This, of course, requires us to ignore the fact that capitalism relies on inequality as the engine for competition and growth and that it by no means guarantees that everyone will benefit equally from the system (Rist 2003). Humanitarianism also seeks to eliminate hierarchy, but here this operation is performed by categorizing all people as sharing a common humanity while nevertheless participating in the politics of life, which ironically creates and reinforces hierarchies between the providers and recipients of aid and between expatriate volunteers and their local counterparts (Fassin 2007; Redfield 2012). By contrast, charity sees poverty and inequality as persistent qualities of a fallen world, unlikely to be completely resolved through human action.

This speaks to key variations in the sense of human agency and the envisioned scope or reach of aid. Development practitioners seek to remake the world and its subjects through planned interventions, be they dams or new markets. Although shifts away from development and toward "poverty reduction" have tempered some of the enthusiasm found in the works of early development theorists like Walt Whitman Rostow (1960), the hope persists that the world can be made substantially different through human action. While the scope and aim of humanitarian assistance were originally quite limited, the recent conjoining of humanitarianism with human rights and military intervention has greatly expanded the scope of these previously limited operations (Rieff 2002). As I argue in chapters 4 and 6, givers of charity often conceive of the worldly effects of their gifts and their own ability to change the future in far more limited terms (Scherz 2013).

Charity also differs from both humanitarianism and development in the roles that religious injunctions and divine exchange play in motivating the charitable gift. The people described in this book who made charitable gifts thought of these gifts as offerings to God made as acts of supplication, as thanksgiving for blessings received, and, most profoundly, as thanksgiving for the unrepayable gift of salvation. These motivations not only complicate notions of reciprocity, as I discuss in detail in chapter 4; they also differ substantially from the motivations that lie behind aid given for the sake of development or humanitarianism. While ideas of expressing gratitude toward a less specified force may move individual donors to give, both development and humanitarianism are more often influenced by a wide range of secular motivations that, obviously, vary depending on the actors involved. These motivations might include such disparate factors as notions of justice and human rights, the desire to create new markets, or attempts to secure geopolitical alliances. Thinking about charity as an exchange with God also helps us comprehend the distinctive understanding of the recipient of charity as a figure of Christ himself. Rather than thinking of the recipient as a pro-entrepreneur or as a human to whom certain basic rights are owed, in Christian charity the recipient is frequently spoken of as a conduit to salvation or, as just mentioned, standing in for Christ (Matt. 25:31–40).

While there are certainly complex historical and contemporary ideas intertwining with these forms of giving, I see attempts to collapse discussions of these various ethics of care into one another as erasing important distinctions in a way that makes it difficult to understand the actions taken by people and organizations.


These questions about distinction and intertwining of ethics bring us to the core of this book: understanding the ways these different ethicomoral assemblages—or the heterogeneous ways people understand and orient themselves toward something we might imperfectly call "the good" or "the right"—come together in collision, collaboration, coexistence, and compromise.

In thinking through these situations, I draw on an existing tradition of Africanist anthropology that has sought to understand how various groups of Africans and Europeans have negotiated what Thomas O. Beidelman (1986), and subsequently Julie Livingston, called the moral imagination, or "the way we envision possibilities for a morally better or worse world than the one in which we live" (Livingston 2005, 19). In her work on debility in Botswana, Livingston called attention to how debilitating illnesses inspired such imaginative moments by highlighting our universal need for care and our need to explain and understand the social and personal crises that befall us (Livingston 2005). Such concerns are also at stake here as I seek to understand how people envision their relationships with, and responsibilities toward, orphans and other children whose lives raise similar questions of care and crisis. Through his research in Buganda, Mikael Karlström (2004) has also argued that an anthropology of ethics might help counterbalance the focus on the occult in anthropology by demonstrating the role that kwabya lumbe (last funeral rites) and the restoration of the kingship in Buganda have played in helping people productively resolve the sense of moral crisis that reigned in Uganda in the 1920s and again in the 1990s.


Excerpted from Having People, Having Heart by China Scherz. Copyright © 2014 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
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Table of Contents


ONE / Introduction: What We Are Doing Here Is Not Charity
TWO / Genealogies: Accidental Histories of Charity, Sustainable Development, and Kiganda Ethics of Interdependence
THREE / Waiting: The Disappointments of Sustainable Development
FOUR / “Love Is the Answer”: Charity and Kiganda Ethics of Interdependence
FIVE / Performance Philanthropy: Sustainable Development and the Ethics of Audit
SIX / “Let Us Make God Our Banker”: Charity and an Ethics of Virtue
SEVEN Conclusion: The Politics and Antipolitics of Charity and Sustainable Development


What People are Saying About This

Joel Robbins

Having People, Having Heart is a profound ethnographic interrogation of sustainable development and Christian charity in Uganda. Breaking new ground in the anthropology of ethics, Scherz explores how local commitment to the morality of patron-client relationships troubles the ethical ambitions that drive NGO work. In a text that is at once ethnographically complex and exceptionally well argued, and that attends as much to the ethics of institutional as to personal life, she offers the kind of analysis of the politics and morality of aid in the contemporary world that reminds us why anthropology remains a crucial discipline going forward.”

Claire Wendland

Having People, Having Heartis a fascinating and original book that unsettles preconceptions—and social science theories—about the evils of charity. Scherz convincingly shows how Ugandan nuns’ practices of charity, which center not upon autonomy but on interdependence, are a better fitwith the relational ethics of the regionthan are NGO workers’ practices of development. This regional ethics of interdependence prescribes correct (and correctly flexible) relations between patron and client. In such a worldview charity is no insult and independence from others no laudable goal.”

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