Journal of South Asian Development
http://sad.sagepub.com The Rationale of Self-help in Development Interventions: A Case Study of a Self-help Group Programme in Tamil Nadu Tanya Jakimow JOURNAL OF SOUTH ASIAN DEVELOPMENT 2007; 2; 107 DOI: 10.1177/097317410600200105 The online version of this article can be found at: http://sad.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/2/1/107
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Journal of South Asian Development 2:1 (2007): 107–124 Sage Publications Los Angeles/London/New Delhi/Singapore DOI: 10.1177/097317410600200105
The Rationale of Self-help in Development Interventions: A Case Study of a Self-help Group Programme in Tamil Nadu∗ TANYA JAKIMOW Australian National University Canberra Australia Abstract Self-help is often perceived as a valuable, if not essential, element to development programmes. At the same time, as a concept it has generally escaped scrutiny. Two types of claims are made about the benefits of self-help programmes. First, it is suggested that selfhelp empowers its participants more so than other externally directed or implemented programmes. The second less vocal claim is the compatibility of self-help with cost-reduction strategies: both in terms of material costs and costs to the prevailing social and economic structure. This article explores these two claims through a case study of a self-help group (SHG) programme in Tamil Nadu, India. It argues that although empowering outcomes are stated as the rationale for self-help, these are often neglected in favour of achieving cost-reduction ones. This is an outcome of the concept of self-help being absorbed into the practices and discourses of the dominant development paradigm. Self-help has thus been divorced from its role in enabling self-direction, and has become the rationale for pressuring the marginalised to take responsibility for improving their own condition within a non-negotiable economic and social structure.
elf-help has become an increasingly popular approach to development interventions. The ‘self ’ in this case is any unit that is a recipient of development assistance: be it the individual, ‘community’ or nation-state. Self-help is intended
∗ I would like to thank Dr Patrick Kilby for his helpful comments on an earlier draft of this
article, and for the comments and suggestions of three anonymous referees of JSAD. I am greatly indebted to the management and staff of TNN, my interpreters and especially the members of the SHG programme for generously giving up their time to help me in this project. Downloaded from http://sad.sagepub.com at Universitat Jaume 1 on April 2, 2009
to put the recipient in the driver’s seat of their own development, enabling the marginalised help themselves. It thereby overcomes the paradox of ‘assisted autonomy’, helping people without undercutting their autonomy (Ellerman 2002). Its compatibility with other development paradigms—namely, participation and empowerment—has helped make self-help a recurring theme, almost to the point where it is conceived as essential in ‘enlightened’ development projects. It is this presumed importance that makes it essential to analyse the relative merits of self-help. Two types of claims are made about such programmes. To begin with, it is suggested that self-help empowers its participants more so than other externally directed or implemented programmes. The second, less vocal claim, is the compatibility of self-help with cost-reduction...
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