HomeTravelling models in the development industry put to the test of contexts

HomeTravelling models in the development industry put to the test of contexts

Travelling models in the development industry put to the test of contexts

Les modèles voyageurs de l’industrie du développement confrontés à l’épreuve des contextes

Los modelos viajeros de la industria del desarrollo confrontados al desafío de los contextos

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Published on Monday, February 15, 2021 by Céline Guilleux


Les « modèles voyageurs » sont des interventions standardisées d’ingénierie sociale typiques de l’industrie du développement. Élaborés par des experts internationaux, portés et financés par des institutions de développement, ils sont exportés massivement vers les pays à faibles revenus, dans des configurations relativement similaires quels que soient les contextes. La dissémination de mécanismes miracles standardisés, dans de multiples pays, conduit à des « écarts » entre ce qui était prévu et ce qui advient sur le terrain. Ignorés ou sous-estimés, les contextes, c’est-à-dire les acteurs de terrain (bénéficiaires ou agents chargés de la mise en œuvre) sélectionnent, mettent à mal, démembrent, contournent ou détournent les différents dispositifs du modèle, à travers le jeu de multiples interactions, stratégies et logiques sociales. Cela produit de nombreux effets imprévus et des résultats mitigés, décevants ou éloignés des objectifs initiaux.


Guest Editors


“Travelling models” (Behrends, Park & Rottenburg, 2014) are standardized social engineering interventions that are typical of the development industry. Developed by international experts, supported and funded by development institutions (international organizations, aid agencies, development banks, and NGOs from the North), they have been massively exported to low-income countries, in relatively similar configurations regardless of context. These “ready-to-wear” public policies have taken various forms, on different scales, as illustrated by the World Bank’s payment for performance or the maternal health protocols promoted by Unicef and the WHO (Olivier de Sardan, Diarra & Moha, 2017).

A travelling model is often rooted in an “edifying story,” built around a founding success story in a country of the South (for example, Bangladesh for microcredit or Brazil for cash transfers and social safety nets). Experts use this to create a type of intervention that is supposed to be exported far from its initial context into various contexts. This model is built around a “mechanism” endowed with intrinsic efficiency and the necessary operational “plans of action” for its implementation. It is then disseminated in other contexts by networks of professionals and decision-makers, which are linked to international institutions.

The dissemination of standardized miracle mechanisms, in multiple countries, leads to implementation gaps between what was planned and what happens in the field. In fact, whenever a travelling model is introduced into a context of implementation, it is always a “test” for the former which often turns into a “revenge” for the latter (Olivier de Sardan, 2021). Whether ignored or underestimated, contexts, i.e. the actors in the field (the beneficiaries or those in charge of implementation), select, damage, pull apart, circumvent, or divert the different plans of action in the model, through the interplay of multiple interactions, strategies, and social logics. This produces many unforeseen effects and results that are mixed, disappointing, or far removed from the initial objectives – as illustrated also by the case of microcredit based on the dissemination of the experience of the Grameen Bank (Bédécarrats, 2013), or by the cash transfer programs based on the Bolsa Familia and Oportunidades experiences in Latin America (Olivier de Sardan & Piccoli, 2017; Diaz, 2017).

As an extension of these remarks, this call for papers invites the submission of empirical analyses (case studies) on one or more of the following themes:

The construction of travelling models

How are founding “success stories” transformed into “miracle mechanisms”? What is the “creation” process of a particular travelling model? What are the difficulties, controversies, and negotiations involved in the development of an exportable model?

Individual or collective actors involved in the dissemination of travelling models

Who are the prominent promoters? What type of expertise is involved? How are professionals, journalists, and politicians “enlisted” (Callon, 1986)?

Local actors’ selective adoption strategies

How do implementers in the field follow or circumvent guidelines and protocols? How do target populations react, and what is their perception? What are the conflicts of standards that occur?

Unexpected effects attributable to the contexts in which these standardized interventions are implemented

What “excesses” are travelling models subject to? What are the consequences on the operation of public services, on interactions between state officials and populations, and on relations within local communities? How do implementing agencies respond to reporting such “deviations”?

The travelling models concerned may be on various scales (for example, a large-scale public policy such as decentralization, as well as a specific protocol such as land securitization); they may be related to any field of intervention and all geographical areas may be studied.


Participation in Issue no. 248 (2022-1)

This issue will favor an interdisciplinary, many-angled approach. Authors from all the social sciences may submit papers: sociology, demography, history, geography, political science, economics, anthropology, etc.

The articles (40,000 characters, excluding the abstract and references) in French, English, or Spanish may tackle some of the questions or themes mentioned directly, or through specific case studies. The articles proposed must be original work. They may however have been presented at a conference (with proceedings), as long as they are adapted to the format required by the Revue internationale des études du développement (see the guidelines for authors on the blog for the publications of the IEDES).

The proposals in French, English, or Spanish must present the paper in approximately 4,000 characters (with spaces), 500 words, or one page.

The proposals must include:

  • a title: 70 characters (with the possibility of adding a subtitle),
  • an abstract detailing the research question, the theoretical framework, the fieldwork, and the main results,
  • bibliographical references (not included in the character count).

Each proposal must also include the authors’ first names and last names, their status, and their institutional affiliation, as well as the corresponding author’s email address.

Publication Calendar

Article proposals must be submitted to the editorial office: revdev@univ-paris1.fr.

by March 22, 2021.


The editors of this issue:

The authors preselected by the editors and the editorial committee will be notified the week of 29/03/2021.

The first draft, following the journal’s guidelines for authors, must be submitted to the four aforementioned email addresses by May 10th, 2021.

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; no. 248 2022-1 is expected to be published in March 2022.


Bédécarrats, F. (2013). La microfinance. Entre utilité sociale et rentabilité financière. L’Harmattan.

Behrends, A. Park S. J., & Rottenburg, R. (2014). Travelling Models: Introducing an Analytical Concept to Globalisation Studies. In Travelling Models in African Conflict Management: Translating Technologies of Social Ordering. Brill. https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004274099

Callon, M. (1986). Éléments pour une sociologie de la traduction. La domestication des coquilles Saint-Jacques et des marins-pêcheurs dans la baie de Saint-Brieuc. L’Année Sociologique, 36, 169-208. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27889905

Diaz, P. (2017) Itinéraire d’une « bonne pratique » : la Banque mondiale et les conditional cash transfers en Amérique latine et aux Philippines. Critique internationale, 75, 113-132. https://doi.org/10.3917/crii.075.0113

Olivier de Sardan, J-P. (2021). La revanche des contextes. Des mésaventures de l’ingénierie sociale, en Afrique et au-delà. Karthala.

Olivier de Sardan, J.-P., Diarra, A., & Moha, M. (2017). Travelling Models and the Challenge of Pragmatic Contexts and Practical Norms: The Case of Maternal Health. Health Research Policy and Systems, 15 (Suppl. 1), 60. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12961-017-0213-9

Olivier de Sardan, J.-P., & Piccoli, E. (2017). Cash Transfers: The Revenge of Contexts, An Anthropological Approach. Berghahn.



  • Monday, March 22, 2021


  • modèle voyageur, travelling model, modelo viajero


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

Reference Urls

Information source

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

To cite this announcement

« Travelling models in the development industry put to the test of contexts », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Monday, February 15, 2021, https://calenda.org/842771

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