Department of Sociology
Abstract: Lightly drawing from Latour’s notion of social actants, I will personify evaluation systems to sharpen attention to the powerful role they play in the everyday lives of international development professionals and the organizations they animate with their labor. Presenting data from ~50 interviews with professionals in East Africa and Washington DC, I will describe the pressures exerted by the ‘outspoken boss’ regarding the incorporation of ‘gender and women’s empowerment’ in a recent agricultural development initiative. I argue that greater attention needs to be paid to evaluation systems as a form of neocolonial governance, with their importance amplified by the ‘evidence-based decision-making’ climate of international development. I offer description of how evaluation shores up its power through a set of practices and processes around indicator definitions, targets, and compliance to contracts. Ultimately, I find methods of sex-disaggregated data combined with contractual targets for women’s participation focus attention on numerical benchmarks over the social transformation of gender relations. Although gender professionals view quantitative indicators as inadequate for capturing the underlying causes for gender relations and the realities of women’s lives, they utilize them to “make the case” for gender programming in possibly unenthusiastic communities and organizational contexts. Simultaneously, professionals throughout the system describe consistent organizational pressures for easy-to-demonstrate results, closing the space for concerted empowerment programming.