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Imperialism and educational projects edit

Current word count: 1690 words

Introduction edit

Imperialism has left its lasting impression on many of our systems in society today, with roots bound in the imposed colonization from the West onto underdeveloped countries. Discussing neo-colonialism separates the discourse of imperialism from purely a historical sense, supposedly post-colonial countries, even now, remain culturally and economically dependent on imperialist ideals. This essay will specifically discuss how imperialism is reflected in educational development projects following a Western academic structure. Analysing the great importance of how globalisation affects youth during a vulnerable time of learning about their world. Both the positive and negative perspectives of the education schemes will be discussed, through analysis of scholars thoughts and the basis of an organization’s goals. From doing this, it provides the ability to assess as to what extent educational development projects are a form of academic imperialism.

Literature review edit

Certain scholars argue that the decolonisation of European empires after the Second World War, and later that of the Soviet Union, marked the beginning of the post-imperial era.[1] Following this line of argumentation, as imperialism is no longer existent, imperialism in education cannot be a contemporary issue. On the other hand, however, certain scholars, such as Furedi, argue that though this may be a post-colonial era, it is not post-imperial.[1] Imperialism is not necessarily formal (defined as when an imperialist country gives up sovereignty and is incorporated into the state or empire of the imperialist power).[1] Indeed, in more recent decades, scholars have defined imperialism as a broader concept to also include informal imperialism. Galtung, for instance, describes imperialism as a relation between a Centre and a Periphery (such as countries or communities), each containing their own centres (dominant or ruling group) and peripheries. This relation is such that the interests of the centres of both the Centre and Periphery are in harmony, there is more disharmony of interest between the respective core and periphery of the Periphery than the Core, and there is also disharmony of interest between the peripheries of the Centre and Periphery.[2] Using definitions of imperialism such as Galtung’s therefore allows for the identification of forms of imperialism in the modern world.

The different arguments regarding the existence and cause for educational imperialism predominantly lie in the two essential conflicting views of the causes of imperialism. Though these theories have faced criticism over time, many theories as to the causes of imperialism, and ensuing implications in terms of imperialism in education, have often been based on them.[2] For instance, David S Landes’s theory of imperialism bears much similarity to Schumpeter’s, and Hamza Alevi’s, as well as Harry Magdoff’s are derivations of Lenin’s.[2]

On the one hand, Schumpeter argues that imperialism is the result of man’s psychological, irrational and instinctual inclination to war, leftover from an era in which it was necessary for survival. According to Schumpeter, therefore, capitalism counteracts imperialism, as it provides an outlet for this instinct through healthy competition and eliminates economic reasons for conquest, since free trade allows all nations to have equal terms in the global market. Consequently, the spread of schooling systems encouraging capitalism (such as Western school systems) actually diminishes the incidence of imperialism.[2] This concurs with Neoclassical development theory, in which schooling is a liberating element.[2]

Lenin, conversely, claims that imperialism is an inevitable development of capitalism, occuring when the capitalist system transitions from competitive to monopolistic and oligopolistic conditions, as it forces monopolies and giant oligopolies to expand to survive. Therefore, global education policies from the West, which promote capitalism, are viewed by Lenin as bringing countries under the influence and control of advanced countries’ monopolies, allowing for greater imperialism and exploitation.[2]

This ties into arguments from neo-Marxists and dependency theorists, such as Andre Gunder Frank, who argue that certain countries have been made dependent by capitalism, the IMF and World Bank (which are US dominated), restructuring the world economy for the continued flow of wealth to the West.[1] However, this dependence is often ‘voluntary’, a powerful group within dependent countries will maintain close commercial and cultural relationships with the dominant countries. Consequently, positive effects of education are felt solely by the powerful core, whilst education for the periphery is used by the core to perpetuate the current hierarchy, thus allowing for educational imperialism to occur.[2] Certain scholars have rejected the idea of cultural imperialism, particularly through schooling, because it assumes that local cultures are passive. Tomlinson, for instance, argues that the diffusion of Western education and culture is mediated by local culture, and thus its negative impacts, including imperialism, cannot occur.[1] However, taking into account the influence of the core within a dependent country, the local culture may not in fact be changing the incoming Western education to reduce educational imperialism, rather to perpetuate it and the current socio-economic structure.[2]

Research question edit

In 2015 the United Nations set 17 so-called Sustainable Development goals (SDGs) as a ‘blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future’.[3] These goals cover an array of areas which the UN have identified as needing improvement in the developing world, one of these areas in particular which SDG4 focuses on is the educational circumstances in third world countries. In the words of the UN they aim to ensure all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development through a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciating cultural diversity.[4] Generally, the actions of the UN are not questioned in society however in this discussion regarding academic imperialism it is important to reflect on whether this educational intervention is an effective platform for genuinely improving education or whether it is an undeniably interfering form of neo-colonialism feebly disguised as globalisation.

Rather than just cynically assuming that the United Nations goals for intervention are purely to retain and further the control of its leading countries we should also consider that the UN is genuinely trying to achieve what they set out in their Education for All Agenda. The United Nations acknowledges that sustainable development is critical in the modern world yet is not taught effectively throughout the world to teach students the importance of the intersection between economics, social justice and environmental sustainability.[5] It could thus be inferred that the UN takes seriously its aims to improve education globally as can also be supported by the success of schemes across the world including Uganda where the abolition of school fees helped to incentivise enrolment to primary education.[6]

Nevertheless, in critically analysing the intervention of NGOs such as the United Nations in the developing world it cannot be denied that the roots of these goals are firmly planted in the values held by Western Europe and the US. The emphasis in SDG4 is upon the term ‘global citizenship’ which can broadly be interpreted as globalisation, a more socially acceptable term used in popular discourse to infiltrate the culture and infrastructure of a less powerful country by breaking down resistance to foreign transnational corporations.[7] Thus it could easily be suggested that the UN’s educational goals are a form of neo-colonialism imposing their own intellectual value systems and ‘capital accumulation through academic means’.[8]

Further to this the United Nations, a colonial creation, is also specifically emphasising the term sustainable development, according to Sumner this is the development to meet the needs of the present without compromising future generations however in doing so we are effectively ‘supporting the competitive forms of human engagement that build the wealth of the private elite’.[8] Every aspect of the education system in highly developed countries will simply be rolled out to less developed countries hidden behind the pretext of ‘sustainable development’ and perpetuating the extreme elitism in Western academia. The diversity in education we appreciate today will be rendered into academic homogeneity as every country becomes a ‘blueprint’ of a western superpower.

Despite the indication that the SDGs are perhaps the interference of a colonialist entity it can also be argued that academic imperialism is not always at the detriment of the countries involved. As Rothkopf reflects on cultural imperialism, globalisation works towards cohesion by removing cultural barriers and taking a vital step towards a more stable world with better lives for its citizens. Rothkopf heralds cultural imperialism as a marker of the progress of civilisation.[9] Thus parallels can be drawn with academic imperialism and in this case the UN’s education goals, perhaps this academic imperialism is a step towards enhanced understanding and communication between intellectual communities.

The UN’s SDGs for education as a platform are undoubtedly glorified in society as the selfless improvement of education in the developing world. However as we have discussed it is not so simple, many of the methods and approaches are not in line with the genuine need and serve mainly the imposing party, as illustrated by the Millennium Development Goals which slowed progress in certain areas due to a heightened emphasis on targets and national averages.[10] Understanding the inherent consequences of these interventions is essential for developing truly positive future projects for the furthering of global education.

Conclusion edit

Through the assessment of the United Nations SDGs, it can be concluded that educational development projects are a form of academic imperialism to a certain extent. truthfully only time can tell what impact these educational schemes have on a countries future intellectual independence and growth. Undeniably, goals of positive agenda such as “Affordable, reliable and context-sensitive digital education, can promote equal opportunities for girls and boys and reduce inequalities by ensuring every child has access to high quality content”[11], does not suggest a capitalism in providing the benefits that these students would acquire, however, this is not to say that there would be biased in a western prioritization of technology and their vision of a digital future. This is where the academic imperialism can become a byproduct of these educational schemes, therefore possibly have an influence to the same extent that it provides its claimed benefits. Moreover, education is the passing on of information and inevitably comes with a taught perspective, therefore it would be a difficult feat to form a complete non-biased curriculum - citizens of developing countries shouldn’t have to wait for the ‘perfect’ educational programme to invest in their schools.


[1] Bush B. Imperialism and postcolonialism. Harlow (GB): Pearson Education Limited; 2006.

[2] Carnoy M. Education as cultural imperialism. New York: David McKay Company, Inc.; 1974.

[3] The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals,

[4] The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4

[5] The United Nations, Education for All Agenda report:

[6] Deininger, K. 2003. Does cost of schooling affect enrolment by the poor? Universal primary education in Uganda. Economics of Education Review, Vol. 22, No. 3, pp. 291-305.

[7] Laxer, G. (2003, March). Radical transformative nationalisms confront the U.S. empire. Current Sociology, 51(2), 133-152.

[8] Sumner, J. Interchange (2008) 39: 77. From Academic Imperialism to the Civil Commons: Institutional Possibilities for Responding to the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development

[9] Rothkopf, D. (1997). In Praise of Cultural Imperialism? Foreign Policy, (107), 38-53

[10] United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 2015, No.11, Progress for Children: beyond averages learning from the MDGs

[11]Anon (2018) “Goal 4: Quality education | Sustainable Development Goals Fund,.”

The Commercialisation of Social Media and it's Impact on Truth edit

Word count: 1, 126

The access to reliable and verifiable information on social media has become encumbered by commercialisation. Information sharing on these platforms can now function to support an economic agenda, which blurs the lines between absolute truth and biased information. Social media platforms work on the premise that users will interact with people that they know. However, it is increasingly common for users to follow brands, influencers or companies on these platforms, all of whom have vested commercial interest in users' online interactions. This chapter will explore how commercial interests and human behaviour interact to distort the truth on social media platforms.

At present, there is a notable increase in the number of people using social media platforms to make purchase decisions, as well as the number of corporations investing in social media marketing strategies, due to their impact on customer perception of brands, and ensuring sales potential[1]. This shows that commercialisation in social media is evident and plays an integral role in business[2], due to the commercial opportunities it now provides. There is a concern that this increasing interest from businesses in social media has contributed to the growing problem of ‘misinformation’; a term that was appointed word of the year 2018[3]. The influence of the media in general on the public access to reliable truth is well researched.

Scholars like Smith argue that commercial propaganda is one of the four main propaganda streams, usually presented in the form of journalism in history, playing a significant role in publicity, advertising and public relations[4]. Scientific truths specifically, can be influenced by journalism, as the potential popularity and thus commercial potential of an article forms the primary foundation of selecting information to be publicised[5]. Therefore, the perspective that a journalist is reporting information from can be a barrier to truth, as they may offer a biased viewpoint which is then taken by readers as fact. Currently, social media is our dominant information source, therefore it is contemporarily relevant to form an understanding of the way in which social media platforms may influence our acquisition of reliable truth. Thus, if traditional media impacts our access to reliable truth, then it is logical to infer that truth can be impacted in the subcategory of social media.

Historically, commercial entities have used the media to manipulate the truth. Before social media, the most common propaganda instrument were newspapers, where up to 70% of the revenue received came from selling advertisements, rather than spreading objective information[4]. In the 2008 subprime crisis, the distribution of the "All is Well" message from Wall Street via social media, created public confusion and consequently, continually misled readers to take more risks. This disinformation intended to protect their profits and as a consequence bought about adverse effects for those who listened[6]. Therefore, when assessing whether the information given is accurate or not, it must be asked whether commercial entities care for their profits more than distributing truth. At present, the commercialisation of social media is much more common than ever before. For instance, the popular Chinese social media application WeChat has changed its content. Once known as a platform for communication and spreading worth-reading articles, it is now an application where advertisements and commercial products appear, preventing consumers from knowingly acquiring unbiased articles.

Access to reliable truth is not only influenced by the information displayed, but also the consumer's perception of said information. Verified information is not always the main factor in consumer decisions on the consumption of products on social media platforms; when making a purchase, certain people are more persuaded by images, and therefore the portrayal of a product, than the quality of a product itself[7]. If the images are seen as perceived truth, and product quality as a form of absolute truth, this shows that absolute truth is not what always drives a consumer’s decision-making process. This is further emphasised by the finding that honest, factual advertising can in fact make a consumer less likely to purchase a product, due to scepticism when faced with empirical information[8]. Here, absolute truth is not only less persuasive than other information sources, but also acts as a hindrance to the aims of the information sharer. This provides an explanation as to why there is motivation for corporations to share information which diverges from reliable truth, as truth does not always lead to the outcome that the information sharers desire. Therefore, the communication of information between users of social media platforms is an additional barrier to truth.

Inter-user communication influences the perception of brands to a greater extent than information shared by the corporations behind said brands[9]. False news spreads both faster and further than correct information[10] due to the high emotional response exhibited in comparison to verified information, as well as the fact that the false news that spreads on social media ties to engaging topics that are relevant to current events. Commercial entities have taken advantage of this by making advertisements trend specific, as well as utilising influencer marketing to make their specific message relevant to users. In addition to this, the constant stream of information on social media contributes to the perception of truth, as the frequency that people interact with information increases its circulation and efficacy. Most young people have an active presence on multiple social media sites and check their phone more than 70 times a day[11]. This presence increases the likelihood of exposure to the same information. The application of algorithms on social media platforms, as well as cross-platform marketing strategies also expose users to the same information multiple times, thus increasing trust in the information provided. This persistence of information means users as less likely to check facts due to time constraints, meaning that the user will most likely accept the information given. Psychologist Ullrich Ecker, states that this leads to the reliance on confirmation bias, in which the user uses logic to deduce whether the information given fits into what they already believe to be true. This bias reduces the need for the user to seek out whether something is true[12].

This approach to understanding how commercialisation has adversely impacted the truth of content on social media platforms acts on the assumption that without these vested interests, social media would be a space free of misinformation. This assumption is problematic, as opinions and information, both real and false, are spread due to the communicative nature of social media. Karen North, professor of digital social media, argues that there must be an understanding from users that they are potentially being manipulated through the content that they receive via social media and that they are responding to opinion rather than fact[11]. Therefore, the spread of misinformation does not exclusively result from the spreading of biased opinions by commercial entities, but also the users' behaviour themselves.

To do: ConclusionThe access to reliable and verifiable information on social media has become encumbered by increasing commercial interests, as information sharing on these platforms can function to support an economic agenda, which blurs the lines between honest truth and biased advertising. The spread of disinformation; information that is deliberately biased increases misinformation; information that is unknowingly biased, as it is spread among networks which allows for commercial entities to have a large degree of control over how their brand is perceived.

References edit

  1. Fisher, T. ROI in social media: A look at the arguments. Journal of Database Marketing and Customer Strategy Management [online]. 2009 [accessed 23.11.18] 16(1), 189-195. Available at:
  2. Andzulis, J., Pnangopoulos, N. & Rapp, A. The role and imporatnce of social media in business. Journal of personal selling and sales management [online]. 2013 [accessed 23.11.18] 32(3), 305-316. Available at:
  3. Italie, L. chooses ‘misinformation’ as word of the year. The Columbian [online] 2018 [accessed 30.11.18]. Available at: dictionary-com-chooses-misinformation-as-word-of-the-year
  4. a b Smith B. Literature on propaganda technique and public opinion. Psychological Bulletin. 1941;38(6):469-483.
  5. Winsten, J. Science and the media - the boundaries of truth. Health Affairs [online] 1985 [accessed 23.11.18] 4(1). Available at:
  6. Donald G. Business propaganda buries truth and threatens democracy. CCPA Monitor. 2018;16(6):16-18.
  7. Snyder, M. & DeBono, K. Appeals to image and claims about quality: Understanding the psychology of advertising. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. [online] 1985 [accessed 23.11.18] 49(3), 586-597. Available at:
  8. Koslow, S. Can the truth hurt? How honest and persuasive advertising can unintentionally lead to increased consumer skepticism. The Journal of Consumer Affairs. [online] 2005 [accessed 23.11.18] 34(2) 245-267. Available at:
  9. Schivinski, B. & Dabrowski, D. The effect of social media communication on consumer perceptions of brands. Journal of Marketing Communications [online] 2014 [accessed 23.10.18] 22(2), 189-214. Available at:
  10. Vosoughi et al. The spread of true and false news online [Internet]. American Association for the Advancement of Science; 2018 [cited 28 November 2018] p. 1146-1151. Available from:
  11. a b Fox.J. An unlikeable truth [Internet]. Index on Censorship; 2018 [cited 28 November 2018] p. 12. Available from:
  12. Ecker U. Why rebuttals may not work: the psychology of misinformation. Media Asia [Internet]. 2017 [cited 28 November 2018];44(2):79-87. Available from:

Imperialism in Global Health (1129 words) edit

There is some conflict between definitions of the term “global health” leading to an inherently interdisciplinary issue wherein the disciplines required to reach a more equitable solution for the problem of global health, be they medicine, economics, politics or anthropology, impose their own idiosyncrasies on the definition, process of finding a solution and desired outcomes. Clearly, economics would dictate the organisation of funding to the most damaging health issues but by what metric should this be measured? Millions of people still die each year from tropical diseases like malaria and these disproportionately affect people from less developed countries. The harmful nature of mental illness is less obvious but still a potent issue that cannot easily be compared with the pathogens that have killed hundreds of millions of people from poorer countries. Anthropological studies are necessary when culture actively undermines scientific insight into medical problems through religious indoctrination or cultural practice and when cultural attitudes hampen accurate data collection . Many definitions of global health exist, but we have looked particularly at Beaglehole et al and their proposition that global health is a “collaborative trans-national research and action for promoting health for all” . This research paper will discuss the problems of trying to constrain a superconcept like global health to one discipline and how eurocentrism specifically affects the methodologies underlying global health. We see that Eurocentrism is prevalent in global health in terms of how data is both collected and presented, as well as in how Western definitions of health are imposed on the rest of the world.

Imperialism, having a pervading influence over several aspects of modern culture, can be defined in several ways. Kushar notes the underlying “principle of universality” which is inherent in empires, suggesting that the role of an empire is to impose a singular concept of civilisation and thus defining imperialism as designating “a rule over a large space and many peoples”. This, however, seems to limit the definition of imperialism as applying simply to a literal empire. Whilst Galtung supports this to some extent, arguing that imperialism exists “particularly between the nations,” the view is also taken that imperialism can be seen more broadly as leading to two main issues: inequality and resistance to change. Nuzzo, furthermore, argues that the “de-westernization, deconolization and re-westernization” calls for how imperialist legacies are viewed in modern day to be rethought: this broader view can be used to view how imperialism, particularly eurocentrism - the lingering influence of Europe’s presumed “cultural and moral superiority” at the height of its influence, according to Heraclides and Dialla - remains inherent in the study of global health.

There is a Western focus on global health in terms of the data collection and presentation of global diseases. One major player associated with global health is the World Health Organization (WHO) and a glance at the WHO’s webpage solidifies this idea. In the “Top 10 Global Causes of Death”, the breakdown for the global causes of death is almost identical to the breakdown for high-income countries. In contrast, diseases that plague low-income countries such as diarrhoeal diseases rank at an unimpressive 9th in the global breakdown. Furthermore, another few leading causes of disease worldwide - coincidentally the majority of it found to be highest in high-income OECD countries - are mental disorders and substance abuse. The imposition of global health onto non-Western countries may simply be a product of domineering countries defining global health, however, it is important to note the challenges of mental health in less-developed countries. Uganda’s Health Services Strategic Plan (HSSP) states that there are many challenges to the mental health system in Uganda. Close to a third of the population live more than five kilometers from the nearest health facility and there is a poor public transportation system, which is mostly unaffordable to the people requiring it. Furthermore, there are 43 different languages in Uganda and despite their similarities, interpreters recognise that there may be significant differences in values and beliefs. For example, individuals find it difficult to share experiences with caregivers about sex, violence and traumatic situations associated with mental health even when linguistic and cultural diversity is bridged. These challenges may directly affect data collection of mental health. As such, despite the Eurocentric data used in global health, it may not simply be due to academic imperialism; other underlying factors in the less developed countries may play a part as well. However, there is still an obvious slant towards Western countries for such an issue. WHO is presenting mental health and substance abuse as a worldwide phenomenon. The United Nations has acknowledged this situation and set-up a Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data to alleviate this problem but this is just a small start.

In addition to the Eurocentric data presented, Derek Summerfield argues that the problem with “global mental health” is the presumption that the Western notions and definitions of mental health can be translated into all countries. The biomedical models behind mental health rely heavily on Western social and economical situations; this context may not translate into the non-Western world which carry vastly different philosophies and standards of living. This is illustrated through a cross-cultural study of mental health beliefs and attitudes, in which Islamic ideology was found to stray from the Western diagnosis of mental distress, attributing them to supernatural causes instead. This highlights the role culture and religion plays in both the diagnosis and treatment of mental health, negating the assumption that Western health models can simply be applied to every society. The impact of this Eurocentric lens on global health is reflected in the actions carried out by governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and companies. The United Kingdom (UK) alone saw an increase of around USD$2.5 billion in mental health research and services in 2018, as compared to the grand total of USD$3.1 billion funding available for malaria worldwide. This disparity shows the ever-present influence of imperialism in today’s world. It is important to consider that whilst there is significantly more funding for mental health issues in one country than the global outbreak of malaria, it is unfair to label this simply as imperialism; it is not imperialistic for a country to prioritise their own perceived health issues. Similarly to the UK, Africa spends mainly on ailments that plague them - the budget for HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis makes up the second largest proportion of Africa’s healthcare budget and mental health to a lesser degree. Despite this, it is still suspect that Eurocentrism - and imperialism - comes into play in global health. This is supported by the recent 2018-19 WHO Budget Programme, which proposes a decrease by USD$5.7 million in the malaria budget and an increase by USD$1 million in the mental health and substance abuse budget from the 2016-17 approved budget.

Imperialism and Humanitarian Architecture edit

word count: 1685

Introduction edit

Literature review edit

Humanitarian architecture interventions often prejudice the ones in need rather than providing help. Research has shown that a lack of understanding of the populations’ needs and the wish to supply as much as possible in a limited amount of time result in failed projects (Easterly, W). The rise of volunteer tourism trough aid organizations (Wearing, 2004) generates small unhealthy interventions led by unexperienced people (Easterly, W). The biased idea that western countries can help poorer regions and have the obligation to do so are vestiges of colonialism. It perpetuates racists representations while making a spectacle out of poorer regions and communities (Nutt, Samantha). Moreover, volunteer-tourists are driven by egoistic thoughts such as having fun (Bussell & Forbes, 2002) or seeking for a personal development (Wearing 2001) although they might have the feeling of being altruistic (Callanan, M & Thomas, S 2005) since they are fulfilling an architecture project.

How can a humanitarian architecture project reveal itself to be an imperialistic legacy?' edit

Case study edit

In 2014, a clinic in Turkana Kenya was built by a group of MIT students, who partook in José Salgas' UNMaterial design studio class. The project took place under both Salgas and Ignacio Peydro's supervision. The goal of the project was to develop the students' capabilities of working with common materials in an innovative way. As well as provide the NGO, Missionary Community of Saint Paul the Apostle (MCSPA), with a new clinic to replace their old one which was not suited to their goal of providing healthcare to the local community. Their previous clinic also did not provide any shelter from the hot climate to the waiting patients before being seen. The goal of the project was focused on strengthening and developing the student's skills which has raised a number of questions of the ethics in educational tourism as the project was not solely designed to help the local community.

Argument 1 edit

The motivations and goals of humanitarian volunteers are often said to be simply altruistic. But volunteering balances the search for personal benefits and altruism. (Coghlan and Fennell, 2011). It would seem that there are many selfish reasons to volunteer, like the search for respect, admiration and gratification from our peers. The study chosen is an example of humanitarian work done for the benefit of the students themselves, as the initial goal was to develop the student's skills, and not to solely help the pastoral population of Turkana. As Raymond and Hall (2008) state, there is a difference between volunteer tourism, and using developing countries as a 'training grounds' for students, and future professionals.

The clinic built by MIT students contributed to a new form of colonialism called "educational neo-colonialism". This new wave of action is a legacy of imperialism, as it uses the so-called "primitiveness" of a population in need, to interfere, and to impose westernized help, without proper research of the population's actual needs. It focuses on "the other" and reinforces stereotypes to legitimize the imposed Western action. This type of volunteerism often helps to confirm conceived ideas, such as stereotypes, rather than question them. (Raymond and Hall, 2008)

Marketing of volunteer tourism is often based on stereotypes and pre-conceived ideas about communities in need, mirroring the imperialistic movement of colonialism in the early 20th century. (Coghlan and Fennell, 2011)

Disregard towards local culture and ressources edit

Using United Nations' political commitment "responsibility to protect" as a pretext[1], some international agencies have intervened in foreign countries for personal purpose, disregarding important anthropologic and geographical factors.

In Humanitarian Ethics, Hugo Slim (2015) mentions how local people should be considered "as human subjects and not the humanitarian objects of others"[2]. The clinic's origin is a challenge called "UNMaterial" aiming to develop the students' skills with very limited resources, and not a humanitarian development project. This project thus seems to use the health need in the region as a "responsibility to protect" pretext for a personal project.

It is true that the region has health issues - a nutritional report made by Jean Brainard (1990) identifies problems link to health in the region as one of the cause of the rising mortality[3]- but the project lacks of anthropologic and geographic researches to consider local health as the true main motivation. For instance, the students had to change some of the planned architectural techniques and materials because, once in Turkana, they discovered that these techniques and materials weren't adapted to the local resources and the Turkana's people with their traditional nomadic life[4]. We can as well see a form of cultural imposition in the modern aesthetic design of the clinic which strongly contrasts with the Turkana culture and the natural surroundings (like the Lake Turkana which is part of UN's World Heritage List[5]).

It is not the first time that a humanitarian project didn't make enough anthropologic researches about the Turkana people before launching a project there. In 1971, Norway did an expedition to develop fishing in Turkana, which failed as fishing is not at all part of Turkanas' culture[6]. This lack of researches can be seen as some sort of humanitarian disdain or a dominance consideration, and thus as a legacy of imperialism.

Argument 3 edit

Architectural based projects in humanitarian work tend to be focused upon the short-term benefits, without providing much of a learning opportunity to the local community and workers. As it is in the case of the Turkana Clinic, where the project was designed to solely reap benefits for the students since it was supposed to test their capabilities of working with common materials. The lack of inclusion of local professionals further highlights the imperialistic position taken in this project, whether consciously or subconsciously, as MIT students were majorly the decision makers. In turn, this completely disregards the local professional knowledge, and places more importance upon the knowledge coming from MIT's institution. Thus, clearly illustrating the occurrence of knowledge imperialism, and more precisely architectural imperialism.

Furthermore, the total budget of the project reflected the wealth originating from MIT as it totalled around $60'000, which one third was used to fly the group of students to Kenya. This starkly contrasts with the Gross National Income of Kenya in 2015 which amounted to $1'290 (according to the World Bank). This sort of budget further raises questions about the ethicalness of such monetary discrepancies, as how could such a structure be reproduced by the local community if it exceeded the country's average GNI. (Maybe mention how Turkany is one of the poorest counties??) Hence, consolidating negative stereotypes within the local communities perspectives.

However, in some circumstances temporality is what is sought after particularly when providing fast relief to natural disasters. Shigeru Ban, a Japanese architect, relies on the use of recycled materials, such as paper and card, to create temporary spaces. This was the case following the 2011 Tsunami in Japan which dislocated a lot of families, and a lot of the affected population sought refuge on the floors of school and university gymnasiums. Due to this, Shigeru Ban's system of creating temporary spaces with recyclable materials allowed for the creation of privacy and separation among the displaced person. Additionally, the design of these temporary refuges still respected traditional architecture and layouts which highlights the importance and care placed into these structures.

Sustainable urban development is increasingly become a topic of importance within humanitarian architecture projects, particularly due to the environmental, social and political impacts that they may have. Professor Hans Skotte is an important example of such an academic, who practiced as an architect at first, and then focused his academics upon urban development projects. This has lead to the development of collaborations between universities and organisations in the country that will be receiving the development aid. NTNU in Norway worked with the National Federation of Slum Dwellers in Uganda on a project, The Land Sharing Project, which focused on improving the quality of lives of those in slums. According to Skotte, a crucial part of the project was the fieldwork as it "provided one of the most promising and realistic paths to assist all manners of urban change agents and in addressing some of the most pressing concerns facing a fast urbanising Global South". Hence, the students were able to include the concerns and thoughts of the community that they were helping.

Should we blame the project? Disciplinary tensions edit

The project in itself is praiseworthy, especially the fact it's in Turkana, a region unknown by most occidental people and that suffers from poverty and health issues. Even if the humanitarian aspect wasn't their main aim, MIT students did use a educational project to do humanitarian aid, which is far better than not doing anything at all. The project is even successful as the clinic works. However, the way it was done revealed the project to be by many aspects an imperialism legacy.

The project is at the frontier between two different disciplines: educational architecture and humanitarianism. Maybe the issues making this project post-imperialistic are due to where the boundary between these two disciplines was put in its conception. To do a good humanitarian project, less importance should have been given to educational and architectural aspects, and more importance should have been given to local people, resources and economy. However, if the project had done this, maybe it wouldn't have been a good educational architecture project. Thus, there is a tension between the two disciplines involved in this project that might have caused the problems about it that we have underlined.

Conclusion edit

- tie all the arguments together

- answers the research question

References:Small text

  1. United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and Responsability to Protect website. Available from:
  2. Hugo Slim, 2015. Humanitarian Ethics: A Guide to the Morality of Aid in War and Disaster. Oxford University Press
  3. Jean Brainard, 1990. Nutritional status and morbidity on an irrigation project in Turkana District, Kenya. Wiley Online Library
  4. ANON. The Turkana Tribe nilotic people of Kenya. Kenya information Guide. Available from:
  5. United Nations World Heritage List, Lake Turkana National Parks. Available from:
  6. ANON., 2007. Examples of failed aid-funded projects in Africa. NBC NEWS. Available from :