Desire for Development: Whiteness, Gender, and the Helping Imperative

Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press, 4 . 2007 . - 191 .

In Desire for Development: Whiteness, Gender, and the Helping Imperative, Barbara Heron draws on poststructuralist notions of subjectivity, critical race and space theory, feminism, colonial and postcolonial studies, and travel writing to trace colonial continuities in the post-development recollections of white Canadian women who have worked in Africa. Following the narrative arc of the development worker story from the decision to go overseas, through the experiences abroad, the return home, and final reflections, the book interweaves theory with the words of the participants to bring theory to life and to generate new understandings of whiteness and development work.

Heron reveals how the desire for development is about the making of self in terms that are highly raced, classed, and gendered, and she exposes the moral core of this self and its seemingly paradoxical necessity to the Other. The construction of white female subjectivity is thereby revealed as contingent on notions of goodness and Othering, played out against, and constituted by, the backdrop of the NorthSouth binary, in which Canadas national narrative situates us as the good guys of the world.

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1 Challenging the Development Worker Narrative
2 Where Do Development Workers Really Come From?
3 Development Is a Relational Experience
4 Negotiating Subject Positions Constituting Selves
Complicating Desire
6 Summing Up Drawing Conclusions


11 - One must rather conduct an ascending analysis of power, starting, that is, from its infinitesimal mechanisms, which each have their own history, their own trajectory, their own techniques and tactics...
158 - Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (London: Routledge, 1992); and Peter Hulme, Colonial Encounters: Europe and the Native Caribbean, 1492-1797 (London: Routledge, 1992).
10 - The individual is not to be conceived as a sort of elementary nucleus, a primitive atom, a multiple and inert material on which power comes to fasten or against which it happens to strike, and in so doing subdues or crushes individuals. In fact, it is already one of the prime effects of power that certain bodies, certain gestures, certain discourses, certain desires, come to be identified and constituted as individuals.
58 - McNelly cites the following: . . . [in] the binary opposition between here and there, home and abroad . . . home represents civilization, but also order, constraint, sterility, pain and ennui, while native culture, the far pole of the myth, represents nature, chaos, fecundity, power and joy. The home culture is, moreover, associated always with the ability to understand by seeing, abstractly, while the other culture is associated with black, with the sense of touch, the ability to know by feeling,...
28 - I refer to the strategies of representation whereby European bourgeois subjects seek to secure their innocence in the same moment as they assert European hegemony.
163 - The most empathetic observer can speak objectively about underdevelopment only after undergoing, personally or vicariously, the "shock of underdevelopment". This unique culture shock comes to one as he is initiated to the emotions which prevail in the "culture of poverty".
167 - Eric Lott, Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).
69 - ... power evasion involves a selective attention to difference, allowing into conscious scrutiny even conscious embrace those differences that make the speaker feel good but continuing to evade by means of partial description, euphemism, and self-contradiction those that make the speaker feel bad. The latter, as I have shown, involved the naming of inequality, power imbalance, hatred, or fear.


A former development worker in Zambia (1981-1992), Barbara Heron is an associate professor in the School of Social Work, York University. Her research focuses on whiteness and the helping imperative and how these issues play out in the development context. Barbara Heron has published in the Journal of Gender Studies, International Social Work, and Critical Social Work.