This paper is confrontational and challenges many deep assumptions in mainstream development. It argues that from the early 1990s in many ways Cambodia became a ‘donor playground’, a term that some may find troubling, if not actually offensive. It supports this argument by reference to various arguments in development studies, to a specific case study of intervention in Cambodia, and to an examination of important parts of the relevant donor ‘knowledge production’. For us, these show that this term is, indeed, suitable and we will make various practical recommendations as to how things may progress in the future. Further, we argue that the situation in Cambodia is not at all surprising to those familiar with such issues. This allows us to say something about the main questions of this Conference as we understand them:
- What can be said about the efforts of development policy to regain its credibility – also known as the aid effectiveness debate?
- What role – if any – can development policy play in effectively addressing the challenges of interlinked global crises such as the climate, food and poverty crises?
- And finally, to what extent is policy coherence a reality in the political practices of donor and partner countries?
For us it is neither useful nor particularly illuminating to argue that case studies provide too narrow an understanding to draw any conclusions from them. Furthermore, we are not going to tell the reader what works in development and what doesn’t. This is not because we do not think that these points are important, but because we think that the state of knowledge in matters of development shows that answers to them, unless properly understood, are not likely to be useful. The basic reason for this is that, so far as we can see, change processes in human societies do not exhibit robust regularities in terms of the standard terminology used to speak or write about them. This is an empirical, not a theoretical, point. For us, the most persuasive reason for this is that ‘the world’ is simply far more varied than our languages suggest that it is. ‘Democracy’, ‘GDP’, ‘participation’ and so on vary too much from place to place, and from time to time, for us to ignore what this means for how the three questions above may be understood, and answers to them given. Central to the meaning of this is that ‘global’ evidence, in that it assumes that we ‘sample from a single population’, tends to produce spurious results, into which ‘centric’ perspectives may read what they like. Before we come to a discussion of what this seems to have meant for Cambodia, we present the main ideas of the paper. We then move on to a wider discussion, then the case studies, and then some tentative conclusions and recommendations.