Research project

Symbolical violence - Bureaucracy - Partnership

In Burkina Faso, as elsewhere, the disparity in financial resources between Northern and local partners generates imbalances in terms of the exchange between the contributions and rewards expected by each partner. The inherent asymmetry of this form of partnership-patronage is well expressed by the West African proverb: “The hand that gives is always above the one that receives”. This proverb expresses the symbolic violence of the power held by the partner who is in charge of allocating financial aid and resources.

Empirically, this symbolic violence is embodied by the standards of the managerial culture imposed by the bureaucracy of large international agencies. This managerial culture follows a unique model, which is profoundly ethnocentric and generally ill-adapted to the social realities of developing countries: New Public Management, which is at the heart of methods for implementing humanitarian action in the field.

Our investigation in Ouagadougou showed that the instrumentation of action was concomitant with the contract agreements of partnerships, and that it was primarily centred around the administrative management of the means of access to grants and financing agreements, and around the management of budgetary policy rules which organise the accountability of the Burkinabé partners. However, these accounting measures and instruments, and their means of implementation, are not culturally neutral. They produce specific effects which structure action, they impose their own constraints, their own exogenous logics based on predetermined standards of action.

But partners in developing countries, constrained by financial dependence, are not without their own power to react. In response to the symbolic violence of the established order maintained by bureaucratic standards, they counter with various forms of systemic violence. Ultimately, the actors’ ethnocentrism and economic inequality contribute to creating partnership-patronage relationships structured by a contentious cooperation far removed from the egalitarian ideal suggested by the notion of partnership.