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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Ethics of Inequality: Charity, Sustainable Development and the Problem of Dependence in Central Uganda

  • Author(s): Scherz, China Rose
  • Advisor(s): Adams, Vincanne
  • et al.

This dissertation explores the interactions between charity, sustainable development, and Kiganda ethics of interdependence in relation to problems of orphan support in Central Uganda. In the first half I describe how financial sustainability has emerged as a guiding principle for international development. As it has done so many non-governmental organizations in Uganda have moved away from providing charitable "handouts" and have instead attempted to foster sustainable community-based institutions. I argue that despite the popularity of these ideas among members of the local and international development communities, Baganda villagers experience these shifts away from charity not as acts of empowerment, but as suspect refusals to redistribute wealth. By contrast, I argue that rural Baganda experience charitable interventions as consistent with their own ethico-moral frameworks. Through this argument I trouble the hypothesis originally put forth by Marcel Mauss concerning the inevitable wounds of the charitable gift. In the second half I move on to examine the modes of subjectivation entailed in each of these ethical assemblages. Here I focus on a contrast between regimes of audit that are at the center of contemporary international development projects and the ways in which a community of Ugandan Catholic nuns engaged in charitable works use narrative and mimesis to shape themselves into subjects who, detached from worldly concerns, learn to trust in, and make themselves accountable to, a divine, rather than an earthly, auditor. Drawing on data collected during thirteen-months of fieldwork in Uganda my dissertation offers a reading of the contemporary philanthropic field that works to unsettle what are often assumed to be foregone conclusions about the ethics and effects of dependency and audit in the post-colonial world.

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