Lori Leonard, Director
I study development projects as propositions about how to live and as modes of governing. I have examined the effects of a wide range of improvement projects on everyday life, ranging from an oil pipeline in Chad to public health interventions in the US to stem the spread of HIV. These studies have contributed to our understanding of the changing nature of social improvement schemes under neoliberalism. In highlighting the creative potential of people to find new ways to reconstitute themselves and to shape new social imaginaries under conditions of profound structural inequality, these studies have also contributed to our understanding of policy and how it works. My research highlights the productive and transformative capacities of policy, but without taking those capacities as given or determinant. Insights from this work have informed development practice, in clinical and other domains, by challenging the taken-for-granted assumptions and linear logics of policy as text and by drawing practitioners’ attention to the novel ways cultural materials may be assembled to subvert or instrumentalize policy in unexpected ways.
I view teaching as an opportunity to challenge students to think critically, especially about the assumptions, taken-for-granted ideas, or conventional wisdom that orients a discipline or a field of study. My hope and expectation is that students use this challenge to develop considered ideas, positions, and arguments and to present them artfully. My role and my responsibility as an instructor is to find ways to model this philosophy and to integrate it into my teaching.