Serious, Responsible, Important and Accessible

These are the words used by Professor Henry Bernstein, one of the judges, to explain why Displaced: the human cost of development and resettlement was the “very worthy winner” of the Edgar Graham Book Prize 2013. The prize is awarded by the Department of Development Studies at SOAS, University of London for a work of original scholarship on development in Africa and Asia.

Chair of the judging panel, Professor Naila Kabeer, welcomed everyone to the award ceremony on Thursday 7th November at SOAS, and outlined the judging process.  Henry Bernstein then went on to explain why the judges chose this book.

“This is an intellectually serious book in its subject matter, its methodology of oral testimony, and the integrity of how it presents its findings. It is also much more accessible than many academic works: it will be read by, speak to, and inform a wide audience. The methodology, pioneered by Olivia Bennett at Panos, is of considerable interest and the book represents the fruit of significant effort and commitment over many years. It reminds us that ‘development’, as any major social change, involves human drama which we need to know about and consider in the words of those who experience it. This is a nuanced work that is politically responsible as well as intellectually important. We would like to see more books of such quality being nominated for the prize in future.”

Olivia Bennett accepted the award on behalf of herself and Dr Christopher McDowell, who was unable to attend through illness.  She thanked the judges, representatives from SOAS and the audience and declared: “we’re extremely pleased, not least because it raises the profile of the book, and should gain it a wider readership, and so amplify the voices of the displaced within it… but also because it is an endorsement of the use of oral testimony.

In full below are the excellent acceptance speeches by Olivia and Chris. Olivia talked about the process of oral testimony as well as the key themes and insights emerging from the resulting interviews, notably “the centrality and complexity of non-material factors in displacement”. She went on to explain that the overwhelming sense from the interviews with the resettled was “the sense of powerlessness and loss of control over their lives that losing their land brought – and the great difficulty experienced in regaining a sense of agency and autonomy.” She concluded her speech by describing how the collection and communication of oral testimonies can “begin to close the gap between those devising policy and those living with its consequences.”

Dr Laura Hammond, director of Development Studies at SOAS, delivered Chris McDowell’s speech, which provided a powerful political overview of development-induced displacement and highlighted the difficulties of policy influence in this sector. In this context, Chris stated, “What we can do however, and this is what Olivia and I have sought to do in Displaced, is to keep telling the human story in as much of its complexity as we can. To reveal and examine the impacts of the profound changes that resettlement brings at the level of the individual, within families, between genders and across societies both immediately and through generations.”

He concluded, “If there is one direct policy recommendation in the book, then it is an ambitious one, that involuntary resettlement in the development process should give way to resettlement-with-consent as the basis for development decision-making.”

Olivia Bennett EG Prize Acceptance Speech

Chris McDowell EG Prize Acceptance Speech

Copies of Displaced (including e-books) are available from Palgrave.com and other sites. All royalties to Oral Testimony Works to support further oral testimony projects with marginalised groups around the world.

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