Focusing on the local context

Professor in geography at the British Durham University, Jonathan Rigg, is a popular lecturer at   Kulturstudier´s  Development Studies program in Vietnam. With a broad research background studying rural development in Southeast Asia he teaches the students to always look for the local context.

Jonathan Rigg has researched and taught development issues in Southeast Asia for more than 30 years and has research experience from Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Indonesia. His academic focus spans from urban-rural relations, participation and the role of NGOs, environment-development tension, and migration and mobility. As a result, his advice has been sought by the World Bank, The Asian Development Bank and The World Food Program. As a lecturer for Kulturstudier he focuses on regional context and the historical and present development in Southeast Asia.
-I think, maybe the most important insight the students can leave Hoi An with, is a recognition that country context really does matter, and that we should never take a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Development is not a simple technocratic exercise of pulling levers. There is so much that we don´t know or don´t fully understand. And even more, development is firstly about people and not about aggregate economic outcomes, although that is important too, says Rigg

Rigg has followed Kulturstudier´s Development program for a long time. In the beginning through his PhD students that functioned as seminar leaders and lecturers in for the program, and then later taking on the role of lecturer in Vietnam himself.
- When I was initially approached, I rather liked the idea of returning to Hoi An. I first visited the city in 1990, when it was a beautiful, but very quiet place. The programme has certainly become more finely tuned over the years, and the content more substantive. One of the challenges, as with all teaching of development, is to connect the empirical, the experience of development, with the theoretical. Students tend to love the former and resist the latter; but without a conceptual core the empirical becomes disembedded from wider frameworks of understanding, says Rigg.

Rigg has published a number of books on development issues. In his last book “Unplanned Development” he explains how chance, serendipity, turbulence and the unexpected define development around the world. His students benefitted from this knowledge in his lectures about the challenges of planning development and inter-generational transmission of poverty and prosperity.

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