Aid and conditionality

As Marcel Mauss formulated in his essay sur le don and Tomohisa Hattori emphasized, the primary purpose of giving is the initiation or maintenance of social relations – not the allocation of resources (Mauss 1925/2002; Hattori 2001: 637). The same applies to foreign aid, namely, development assistance, military aid, and with some constraints, humanitarian aid too. Foreign aid creates the sense of community among the donor and recipient countries (societies) and, in the ‘statistical case’ of ODA (official development assistance) it maintains durable relationships between the developed and the developing world. Giving and getting foreign aid, let it be a grant or a loan provided on concessional terms, entails ‘social consequences’ among the members of the international community. Equally, foreign aid can be interpreted as a ‘currency’ buying the benevolence, goodwill and cooperation of the recipient. Here, access to information matters as much as on the traditional market. Since donors and recipients are not equal in terms of their economic, financial, military power, the recipient does not have the right to choose how to pay back or return the gift. The donor is aware of the demand on the recipient side knowing quite well what symbolic price – in form of conditions – can be asked in return.

Both Hattori and Nathalie Karagiannis used Pierre Bourdieu’s concept on symbolic domination to describe and interpret aid relation as a practice of establishing social hierarchies (Hattori 2001: 639–640; Karagiannis 2004: 110–115). The pressure that social facts exert upon the members of the society resides in the power of the dominant (Durkheim 1982: 50–59). In aid relationships this ‘pressure’ is embodied in the practice of conditionality, a key element of which is ‘the use of pressure, by the donor, in terms of threatening to terminate aid, or actually terminating or reducing it, if conditions are not met by the recipient. Foreign aid is used as a lever to promote objectives [being different from the stated objectives of the foreign aid itself] set by the donor whom and that the recipient would not otherwise have agreed to’ (Stokke 1995: 11–12).’ The emphasis is placed on the coercive element: on the denial of aid (‘gift’) resulting from non-compliance. More on aid, conditionality and perceptions: Paragi 2012b.

Hattori, T. (2001) ‘Reconceptualizing Foreign Aid’ Review of International Political Economy 8 (4): 633—660

Karagiannis, N. (2004) Avoiding Responsibility. The Politics and Discourse of European Development Policy. London: Pluto Press

Mauss, M. (1925, 2002) The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies. London: Routlege

Paragi, B. (2012b) The Spiritual Essence: Palestinian Perceptions on Foreign Aid, Conditionality and Reciprocity. Journal International Political Anthropology 5 (1) 3-28 Sørensen, G., ed (1993) Political Conditionality. London: Frank Cass

Sørensen, G. (1995) ‘Conditionality, Democracy and Development’ in O. Stokke (ed): Aid and political Conditionality. London: Frank Cass, pp. 392-409.

Stokke, O. ed (1995) Aid and political Conditionality. London: Frank Cass


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