Research Results             Research Team

This research explored the phenomenon of the so-called ‘emerging donors’, the reconfiguration of donors and recipients of development aid that has been occurring on a global scale. The economic, social and political changes surrounding this shift not only transformed the Global South, but affected our very understanding of ‘Global South’ and ‘Global North’ and their interconnections. Dr. Gray’s specific focus was Russia’s (re)emergence as a donor of international development assistance, a phenomenon that upsets the North-to-South, West-to-East bias in development discourse and makes us re-think giving and receiving on a global scale. What motivates both individuals and states to “do good” by giving, and why is it that even strategic state aid is often couched in altruistic terms? This has significance for critically understanding what it is we are doing when we think we are helping by giving.

BRICS leaders arrange themselves in alphabetical order.
BRICS leaders arrange themselves in alphabetical order.

Russia as a Donor of International Development Assistance

In the 1990s, Russia was the recipient of development aid flowing from the U.S. and Europe; in the 2000s, Russia was rapidly emerging as an international aid donor in its own right, whose legitimacy was validated by such international agencies as the OECD and the World Bank. The global configuration of donors and recipients was changing.

But what did this mean for Russians in cultural terms, in social terms? Was this a purely strategic move on the part of the Russian government, or was this a new position in the world that Russians themselves wanted to embrace? Would the leagues of aid and development professionals and volunteers that have for decades been circulating between the “developed” and “developing” regions of the world begin to find themselves rubbing shoulders with Russian counterparts? And how did Russia’s entry into the global “club” of aid donors affect the well-worn development discourse of “global north” vs. “global south”, “the west” vs. “the east”, and the popular conception that aid “naturally” flows from the former to the latter?

Haitian Man Rescued from Rubble After One Week
A Haitian man receives medical attention from a Russian search and rescue team.
Photo Logan Abassi/U.N.

The project investigated, from an anthropological perspective, Russia’s past and present relationship to international development aid as a cultural and social phenomenon, examining not only aid flowing into Russia (which was the dominant story of the 1990s), but aid flowing out of Russia as well (which had been common prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union). In addition, the project theoretically examined Russia’s seemingly awkward position within the development discourse of ‘global North vs. global South’ and ‘East vs. West’, drawing not only from anthropological theories but reaching across disciplinary boundaries to engage in a wide-ranging dialogue on Russia’s role in international development.

This project was funded in 2009-2011 by the Research Development Initiative of the Irish Research Council for Humanities and Social SciencesIRCHSS

In 2011 this project received funding from DFID (the U.K. Department for International Development) as part of a larger collaborative project, “The non-DAC states and the role of public perspectives in shaping the future of development cooperation”