Surviving well together: Postdevelopment, maternity care, and thepolitics of ontological pluralism

Katharine Mckinnon, Stephen Healy, Kelly Dombroski

Research output: A Conference proceeding or a Chapter in BookChapterpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Critical development scholarship is moving past a position of critique, into explorations of the practice of post development. In this chapter we explore engaged research as an example of practice. We discuss which are attuned to what community economies scholars call the goal of ‘surviving well together’. The concept of surviving well together requires us to think not only about what is required for an individual, household, or community to meet their needs, but also what is required in order to thrive, to lead a worthwhile and satisfying life, and to enjoy well-being with human and non-human others. Surviving well together requires a constant reprisal of ethical negotiations with our human and non-human others, across boundaries of majority and minority worlds, cultures, species, and consciousness. Working through three examples of engaged scholarship, this chapter outlines a feminist postdevelopment research practice, founded upon a postdevelopment concern for what de Sousa Santos calls ‘cognitive justice’ and a move beyond a monoculture of knowledge and practice. Through our examples we elaborate three core strategies. First, a recognition of multiple ontologies is essential. We discuss an action research project that sought to design community-based indicators for gender equity in Melanesia. Building a language for gender equality with community provided an opportunity to challenge conventional understandings and open a space for other aspirations and ways of being to be valued. Our second strategy is based in the recognition that we live and work in bodies that are also constructed differently in those multiple worlds. This awareness of the ‘the body multiple’ comes from Kelly Dombroski’s work on early child care and breastfeeding practices in northwest China. Her work with mothers and health practitioners shows that it is possible to make space for multiple ontologies not only in relation to discursive interventions, but also in relation to the body. In the context of maternity and early childhood care, it is possible for parallel, co-existing realities to exist within the same room and within the same body. In the final section of the chapter we consider the political dynamics of postdevelopment scholarship. We discuss a collaborative emerging research project in Laos. Our challenge here is how to formulate a feminist postdevelopment practice based on multiple ontologies and the body multiple knowing that there is little room in the structure of the development industry for the uneasiness these multiplicities introduce. Especially in the realm of health care, where biomedical knowledge and strict adherence to guidelines for clinical practice have implications around life and death, it is not so easy to trouble knowledge hierarchies. Thus, quiet solidarity and gentle subterfuge are sometimes required. We conclude with the reflection that postdevelopment research practice requires us to ‘stay with the trouble’, as Donna Haraway puts it. For us, a commitment to staying with the trouble does not mean giving up on ‘doing something’ but it means committing to a path that transforms development and even postdevelopment as we knew it. For us ‘staying with the trouble’ means an approach to learning and acting together in the world where we too are implicated; it means identifying our collective stakes in surviving well together.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPostdevelopment in Practice
Subtitle of host publicationAlternatives, Economies, Ontologies
EditorsElise Klein, Carlos Eduardo Morreo
Place of PublicationUnited Kingdom
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9780429492136
ISBN (Print)9781138588653
Publication statusPublished - 17 Apr 2019
Externally publishedYes


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