HomeDevelopment archives: production, use and politicization

HomeDevelopment archives: production, use and politicization

Development archives: production, use and politicization

Archives du développement : produire, mobiliser et politiser

Archivos del desarrollo: producir, mobilizar y politizar

Revue internationale des études du développement n°256 (2024-3)

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Published on Thursday, September 07, 2023


The first aim of this Special Issue is methodological: the renewed interest in development archives raises questions, particularly among young researchers, about how to identify, collect, and use them, and about their limits. The special issue will thus offer a set of methodological reference points to anyone wishing to use such archives. The second aim will be to lay the foundations for a more ambitious project to study development archives from a perspective at the crossroads of “connected history” and “global historical sociology”.


Revue internationale des études du développement n°256 (2024-3)

Guest Editors

  • Yasmina Aziki, historian, Ph.D. from Université Paris-1 Panthéon-Sorbonne
  • Camille Al Dabaghy, political scientist and sociologist, associate professor at Université Paris-8 Vincennes Saint-Denis
  • Quentin Deforge, political scientist and sociologist, post-doctoral researcher at Université libre de Bruxelles


A growing interest in the history of development and its archives

In the field of development studies, a growing literature has been adopting a historical or socio-historical perspective since the 2010s (Badel, 2014; Calandri, 2019; Kott, 2011). This is the case particularly in history: the emergence of global history and of the history of international relations has allowed the renewal of a historiography hitherto focused mainly on national development policies in the context of the Cold War (Ekbladh, 2010; Garavini, 2019; Latham, 2000). This is part of an innovative approach that is required for the question of development to be grasped as closely as possible to the realities in the countries of the Global South, by going beyond the sole prism of states, and by taking an interest in the interplay of hybrid intermediary structures such as transnational organizations, special committees, special interest groups, or experts (Badel, 2014; Frank, 2012; Unger, 2018). This trend can also be observed in the other social sciences. For example, the continuity between colonial administration and development policies can thus be studied by examining the case of the European Union (Dimier, 2014). At the crossroads of these disciplines, this interest in the past of development has also led to an interest in development nostalgia (Lachenal and Mbodj-Pouye, 2014), its “memory” (Brun and Fortuné, 2022), or the way “global” policies have marked social history in the South (Daklhi & Bonnecase, 2021). At the same time, at the frontier of the academic field, development professionals – whether active or retired – have also sought to restore the memory of development administrations and professionals (Pacquement, 2021), thus helping to construct their own narrative.

While seminal works in development studies have remained rather silent on the historical material used (Escobar, 1995; Rist, 1996), a corollary to this growing interest in a historical perspective has been the use of a great variety of archives. In history, this has led to opening the archives of international organizations (Herren, 2014), sometimes linking them with those of countries in the South (Aziki, 2019; Blanc, 2019). In other disciplines, researchers have resorted to documents that are not strictly speaking archives (i.e. preserved, classified, and inventoried by dedicated institutions): internal documents made public by development organizations in the name of transparency (Schrader, 2019), documents thanks to which, under the term “grey literature,” the evolution of a project can be traced (Parizet, 2016), private archives belonging to diplomats and experts from countries of the South (Thornton, 2021), or U.S. diplomacy archives that can be found on Wikileaks (Deforge and Lemoine, 2021).

These shifts open up promising avenues for future research. First, they allow for a decentering of development in the wake of “connected history” (Subrahmanyam, 2014) and “global historical sociology” (Go and Lawson, 2017). Using archives from the South is in line with “provincializing” the North (Chakrabarty, 2006) in order to grasp the emergence of development as a transnational political project, from the representations, practices, fields of experience, and horizons of expectation (Koselleck, 1987) of Southern societies. The history of development as the “diffusion of theories and practices from the Global North to the Global South” (Macekura and Manela, 2018, p.11) is thus relinquished. Secondly, these shifts open up the way to a “new genealogy” of development (Thornton, 2023), which goes beyond a historiography focused on the post-Second World War period and decolonization (Unger, 2018), thus masking the colonial roots of development (Cooper, 2010). From a less Euro-centric perspective, this allows seeing how certain diplomats or experts in the South have been not only subjects but also actors in the political construction of development (Prashad, 2008; Thornton, 2021). The diversification of materials also makes it possible to shed light on political struggles, with the competition, negotiations, and variations to which the Western development project gave rise (for example the competition between the Western project and the Soviet one during the Cold War, Westad, 2007). Lastly, and this is a particularly important stake in this special issue given the omnipresence of development actors in the countries of the South in sectors as diverse as educational policies, agricultural development, or even health, the use of these archives opens up the possibility of proposing a history of the extraversion of post-colonial states (Bayart, 1999) through development aid. These archives are therefore apprehended here as a part of the history of the Global South, which is often preserved in the North, a situation which should be examined.

Questioning the production and use of development archives

However, so far, these dynamics have not been accompanied either by reflective work or by an in-depth methodological discussion of these types of materials (their selection, their use, and their limits), as may be the case in history, for example, where some researchers propose a critical study of archives as a necessary prerequisite for their use (Anheim, 2019; Derrida, 1995; Foucault, 1969). The aim of this special issue is therefore to focus on these questions and to allow this renewed work on development to be based on a critical examination of the materials. This special issue therefore invites contributors to apply questions from several academic spaces to the field of development studies. It is thus based on the hypothesis that development archives, while lending themselves to more general questions, come with specific stakes. These stakes can be linked to the multiplicity of actors intervening in the name of development, to the specificity of North/South power relations in development projects, in particular to the centrality of knowledge and writing in legitimizing the asymmetries that underpin development aid, and, incidentally, to the fact that some of these actors have the financial and technical ability to produce, disseminate, and even impose their own historical narratives of development.

A first way of approaching the question of development archives is to ask which archives – and more broadly which historical materials – are or can be used, but also which are not. When it comes to archives, what should be done with the longstanding call made by the social anthropology of development to tackle “the entire development chain” (Copans, 2011)? What is at stake here is the multitude of actors involved in development policies, from the headquarters of aid agencies to local fieldwork and to the offices and ministries of Southern capitals, from “financial backers” to so-called “beneficiary” populations and institutions, and from NGOs to the “service providers” that are consulting firms. At the crossroads of the call for a “symmetric anthropology between the developers and the developed” (Lavigne-Delville, 2011) and of the call to symmetrize and connect historical sources, and to work on “equally balanced” archives (Bertrand, 2014, Piton, 2022), how can the archives of the “developers” (North and South) and of the “developed” be integrated?

A second way of approaching the question of archives in the historiography of development is to ask how they are used, or more precisely, how the analysis of their conditions of production and accessibility can be linked to the study of development. While reflecting on the use of archives in political science is stimulating (Garrigou, 1989; Gayon, 2016), it is on the side of history and colonial history in particular that there seems to be the most food for thought. The political struggles over the opening and declassification of pivotal archives for colonial and postcolonial history attest to this (Thénault, 2022). At the heart of the archival turn, anthropologist and historian Ann Laura Stoler has defended an ethnographic approach to colonial archives as devices for the production and authentication of knowledge incorporating and consolidating power relations, as instruments of government, in opposition to an extractive approach to archives which consists in poring over them, digging for names, events, and facts whose veracity is weighed up (Stoler, 2002). This calls for taking into account not only the conditions of production of documents, but the political and social conditions of their (non-)archiving, (non-)preservation, and (non-)accessibility (Poncet, 2019). This calls for thinking about “what society does to archives” as it shapes archival operations, and “what archives do to society” (Poncet, 2019) in particular by building social groups, but also by making some of them invisible, by depriving them of a written relationship to the past, thus further consolidating domination – this is the meaning of the postcolonial and feminist critique of archives (Burton, 2003; Joseph, 2004; Pouchepadass, 2008; Spivak, 1988). Going “from archives as sources to archives as object” (Stoler, 2002) leads to shedding light on the “developmentalist situation,” in the wake of the “colonial situation,” the modalities and categories of the exercise of power, their evolution over time, based on the archiving practices along the development policy production chain, in other words, based on the structuring and materiality of development archives. This approach seems particularly promising to examine the way in which development actors produce a certain narrative and consequently a certain political representation of development through their archives. The power relations reflected and reinforced by this narrative can thus be examined (Duclert, 2015), for example between international organizations and national actors in the field of development.

These stakes are, of course, to be linked with recent questions in African historiography. One may think of the unequal access to sources for researchers in the North and the South, of the sovereignty of archives (Potin, 2015), and of the effects of reality generated by the creation and opening of certain archival collections. This seems particularly important at a time when the digitization of archives has upended their conditions of preservation and accessibility, and when certain international organizations, for the sake of “transparency,” have been digitizing and putting a large part of their archives online, thus maintaining and shaping the memory of their interventions in Southern countries (Chamelot, Hiribarren, and Rodet, 2020; Emmerij, 2005; Fouéré et al., 2020). Lastly, a significant part of the thinking on the power stakes relating to colonial archives (e.g.: Chamelot, 2019) and on the risk of certain archives disappearing (Keese and Owabira, 2020) would benefit from shifting to development archives.

Lines of inquiry

To guide contributions to this special issue, two lines of inquiry are proposed, it being understood that an article may correspond to both.

1 – Development archives: production, preservation, and politicization

- The production of archives and the archiving process

Analyzing the processes and practices through which development actors produce archives is essential to consider their possible uses. How are the documents produced, received, and collected by these actors collected, sorted, organized, and preserved? To what extent are development projects and actors subject to specific archiving processes? Who are the historians and archivists who handle these processes? Are there any private archive entrepreneurs? How do these practices measure up to the wealth of documents, in particular with the development of computers? More broadly, are these archives preserved or are they lost once projects come to an end and the professionals involved in them retire or die? What role do we play as researchers in the constitution of archives, through our investigation or restitution practices, through our relations with social actors who are in need of archives, through our relations with the administrations that produce archives or with the administrations that build, preserve, and provide access to archives? Lastly, are these archiving processes and practices the subject of autonomous treatment among the actors concerned, or are they closely intertwined with certain objectives, for example financial or political?

- Preservation, distribution, and access

A number of questions arise concerning how these archives are preserved and made available. Where are these archives stored? In the case of international organizations, are they kept in the countries of intervention or gathered at their headquarters? To what extent are archived documents searchable and consulted internally, within development aid organizations? What effective access do researchers in the South have to these archives? How is archive digitization implemented? How are digitization choices made? To what extent do projects to save and digitize African, South American, or Asian archives relate to post-independence development policies and projects? To what extent does the risk of “digital imperialism” not amplify developmentalist domination? More generally, to what extent are these issues of preservation, dissemination, and access understood by the various actors as integrated into a broader political dimension aimed at producing the history of development?

- Sovereignty, secrecy, and politicization

These archives can be the subject of power struggles, between states but also between organizations, and more broadly of politicization processes. How do development actors, in the North and the South, use their practices of archive production, preservation, and dissemination to impose their own political representation and their own development narrative? How do the labeling of corpuses, on the one hand, and the legitimization of development institutions or policies, on the other, feed each other? Conversely, to what extent are the archives of development projects subject to secrecy? What is more, to what extent can archives be vectors of independence and reclaiming of a state’s history and memory? What social demands can they be subject to? To what extent are they considered an object of sovereignty? Are development archives the subject of thought in terms of restitution in the same way as colonial archives? Are they the subject of inconspicuous memory battles? To what extent do the social demands around these archives shed light on the uses of development as a political or influence lever? More broadly, in what contexts do development archives become political objects?

2 – Development archives: materials, methods, and reflexivity

- A variety of “development archives”

The works identified show that a very wide variety of documents is used. They may come from archival collections (private or public) in the strict sense of the term, but also from actors who produce or receive them: documents produced by administrations that are not archived or that are not found by researchers in archives (in particular the “grey literature” relating to development projects and public policies – programmatic documents, evaluations, meeting minutes, etc.), press clippings and online publications, correspondence and emails, resumes, oral archives, etc. How have the types of traces used evolved? How is the heterogeneity of these materials apprehended and tackled? To what extent are these materials made public after having been analyzed? Are some materials more legitimate than others? To what extent does the heterogeneity of available materials and the value attached to them contribute to reproducing power relations, for example between the “developers” and the “developed”?

- Methods and practices

The literature review on development also leads to identifying several aims assigned to using these archives: mapping an expert space, documenting a local project, studying a circulation process and a project negotiation process, tracing practices, careers, and professional groups, grasping the categories that underlie development policies, and reconstructing the evolution of an intervention paradigm. The aim is to objectivize the methods used and to discuss their replicability, but also to reflect on how the data present in these archives can be systematized and objectivized. How can documents that are not archives in the historian’s sense (classified and inventoried by archivists) be rigorously used? How does the data from the digital work of development actors open up the way to new methods? An important stake here is to question and propose methods to objectivize the construction of development as a political project. For example, how can conflicts and negotiations between several distinct projects or between several political representations of development be conveyed?

- Reflective activism

This line of inquiry also aims to open up an examination of researchers’ more or less extractive or ethnographic relation to archives, and of how they take into account the production, preservation, and logic of archives (and not only of their contents) in the analysis of their research objects. What archives do they seek out, find, select, and ultimately use, and why? Are there archived documents that they do not see or do not use, and, if so, why? What effects of reality do the differences in nature between Northern and Southern sources produce? What diplomatic and strategic stakes does the access to archives highlight? In the archival collections used, what does the sorting and classification logic say about researchers’ objects? What regularity can be observed when it comes to what can and cannot be said? Who is talked about and who is not, but also which scribes appear clearly and which are expunged? What makes an event and what does not? What and who is deemed important? What regime of truth and what regime of historicity thus take shape? What micro-resistances emerge? What sticking points appear? What is the moral and political project that is underpinned by these conventions, categories, and regularities? Through their utilization of archives (digitization, use, and dissemination), how do researchers take part in the moral and political projects of the “developers” and the “developed,” in the North and the South? Lastly, depending on the archives available, to what extent do research practices contribute to reproducing the mechanisms of invisibilization of certain actors, particularly in the South, and more broadly to reproducing the power relations specific to development activities?

Expected proposals and aims of the special issue

Through the various contributions selected, the issue will pursue several aims.

The first aim is methodological: the renewed interest in development archives raises questions, particularly among young researchers, about how to identify, collect, and use them, and about their limits. The special issue will thus offer a set of methodological reference points to anyone wishing to use such archives.

The second aim will be to lay the foundations for a more ambitious project to study development archives from a perspective at the crossroads of “connected history” (Subrahmanyam, 2014) and “global historical sociology” (Go and Lawson, 2017). Studying the archives between the “developers” and the “developed” somewhat symmetrically, with the aim for example of renewing the history of post-colonial states, requires a finer knowledge of existing archives, and a consolidation of the methods to use them. It also requires knowing how and by whom these archives were constituted and to what extent they give a voice to actors from the South.

Lastly, the third aim will be to provide North-South food for thought on the preservation of archives and more broadly on the memory of development. One of the hypotheses on which this special issue is based is that there is a significant asymmetry in the ability of researchers from the North and the South to have access to these archives, meaning that a part of the history of Southern states and societies is thus inaccessible. This special issue will lead to objectivizing this access asymmetry, and will lay the groundwork for reflective work on the preservation, access, and possibility of returning these archives. It therefore participates more generally in nurturing a collective effort of reflexivity on the epistemological, methodological, and ethical fundamentals of the social sciences in the post-colonial context (Fouéré et al., 2020).

This special issue is part of a unitary conception of the social sciences. While proposals are expected in history, researchers in sociology and political science using archives are also strongly invited to submit their proposals. This issue will also lend itself to proposals from less obvious disciplines, such as, for example, from economists or demographers who use such archives with a quantitative approach, or anthropologists who have been led to take an interest in an archiving process. This special issue will seek to bring together proposals relating to different types of archives, institutions, and processes: written archives, oral archives, local institution archives, international organization archives, personal archives, press archives, etc. The aim is also, as far as possible, to bring together contributions relating to different geographical areas, so that this special issue may have a scope that is both global and comparative.

Several special issues published in recent years can be used as references, though they may not have been directly related to development archives. In particular, there are several special issues on development, such as in the journal Politique africaine on the “remains” and the “ruins” of development (Lachenal and Mbodj-Pouye, 2014) and in the journal Anthropologie et développement on the “memory ” of development (Brun and Fortuné, 2022), and several more general issues, in the Journal of Global History on international organizations and decolonization (Muschik, 2022), in the journal Critique internationale on international organizations as a field for the socio-history of globalization (Kott, 2011), or in the Revue Tiers Monde on writing history in developing countries (Maurel, 2013).

Submission details / Participation

The authors agree to read the editorial policy of the Revue internationale des études du développement and to comply with the code of ethics and the Guidelines for Authors.

The selection process will take place according to the dates specified in the publication calendar below.

Submitting the proposal

The proposals in French, English, or Spanish must present the paper in 4,000 characters (with spaces), or approximately one page. The file for the proposal must be entitled “AUTHOR’S SURNAME-Proposal-256,” and must include:

  • a title (70 characters maximum, with the possibility of adding a subtitle);
  • an abstract detailing the research question, the theoretical framework, the fieldwork, and the main results;
  • some bibliographical references (not included in the character count);
  • a second file entitled “AUTHOR’S SURNAME-256-info,” including the author’s first name and last name, their status, their institutional affiliation, and their email address.

The relevancy of the proposals with regard to this call for papers and their conformity to the journal guidelines will be verified by the journal editors and the editorial team and a preselection of the proposals will be made.

Submitting the paper

The authors whose proposals have been selected will be invited to send a first draft of their article, which must absolutely follow the guidelines for Authors. The articles will then be submitted to a double blind peer review by two external reviewers who are experts on the topic.

The articles (45,000 characters with spaces, excluding the abstract and references) may be written in French, English, or Spanish. They must be original work. They may however have been presented at a conference (with proceedings), as long as they have been adapted to the format required by the Revue internationale des études du développement, but the author must not submit their paper to another journal simultaneously.

The references cited must be presented in APA format.

Publication calendar

The authors agree to comply with the calendar.

The proposals must be submitted by November 3, 2023 to:

  • aziki@gmail.com
  • al-dabaghy@univ-paris8.fr
  • deforge@ulb.be
  • revdev@univ-paris1.fr

The authors preselected by the editors and the editorial committee will be notified by the editorial team the week of November 13, 2023.

The first draft (V1), following the journal’s guidelines for authors, must be submitted by the authors to the aforementioned email addresses by January 20, 2024.

The evaluation process will take a few months; each – anonymous – article will be submitted to a double blind peer review by two external reviewers who are experts on the topic. Requesting a first version of the article does not constitute a commitment on the part of the journal to publish the aforementioned article, which must be approved by the editorial committee, following the different steps in the evaluation process; no. 256 is expected to be published in October 2024.


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  • Friday, November 03, 2023


  • archive, développement, historiographie, matériau de recherche

Information source

  • Béatrice Trotier
    courriel : sr [dot] revdev [at] univ-paris1 [dot] fr


CC-BY-4.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons - Attribution 4.0 International - CC BY 4.0 .

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Yasmina Aziki, Camille Al Dabaghy, Quentin Deforge, « Development archives: production, use and politicization », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Thursday, September 07, 2023, https://doi.org/10.58079/1br4

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