Hope and Insufficiency

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesOrganisation and participation in conference


Wenner Gren International Workshop 20th – 22nd May 2015 Capacity building is a central concept at work in many projects that come under anthropological scrutiny, from institution building and national development to individual and community transformation initiatives. It is a concept of hope: full of potential, a prelude to possible futures. Objects of past capacity building reveal perceptions of insufficiency, an absence. Looking forwards, it announces itself as a pragmatic of change. But what is capacity, who defines it, and how is it built? Despite its near global ubiquity, capacity building’s effects, intended or otherwise, have not been systematically examined or theorized within the social sciences. By not taking the promises of capacity building for granted, by investigating the manner in which desired futures are implemented, we aim to advance theoretical understanding of its ubiquity and develop anthropological purchase on its persuasive power. This workshop brings into dialogue scholars whose combined work offers a comparative basis for analyzing the conceptual labor of capacity building. Attending to its promises of hope and politics of insufficiency, we examine capacity building’s work in three core contexts: development agendas, infrastructural settings, and inter-personal worlds. We organize discussion along two axes of engagement. First, who or what has the right and ability to define what capacities are desirable? Second, we focus on the building of capacity as an act of reforming social relationships. The workshop thus seeks new anthropological ground from which to advance the first edited volume dedicated to theorizing capacity building in ethnographic comparison.
Period20 May 201522 May 2015
Event typeWorkshop
LocationCopenhagen, DenmarkShow on map


  • capacity building
  • ethnography
  • comparative
  • assumptions
  • hope
  • insufficiency
  • development
  • infrastructure
  • futures