Ventriloquising 'the poor'? of voices, choices and the politics of 'participatory' knowledge production

Andrea Cornwall, Mamoru Fujita

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


The World Bank's Consultations with the Poor made development history. One of the most widely discussed piece of development research ever, the Consultations made much of claims to be participatory and to represent the "voices" of more than 20,000 "poor people" in 23 countries. It findings were used to garland speeches and affirm the overwhelming approval of "the poor" for the bank's policy prescriptions, lending them narrative form and moral legitimacy. More than a decade later, references are still made to the "voices of the poor". As the MDG deadline draws closer, there is talk of repeating the exercise to inform the next round of goals. In this article, we look back at this exercise, and examine the methodology that was used to "listen" to "the voices of the poor". Taking one of the regions where the studies were done, Latin America, we trace quotes through from site reports to synthesis. Our findings offer no surprise to those familiar with what Broad describes as the Bank's exercise of the "art of paradigm maintenance". But it offers useful pause for reflection on the politics of knowledge production and the encounters between international development agencies and those whom they would call their "clients".

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1751-1765
Number of pages15
JournalThird World Quarterly
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2012 Oct 1
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Development


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