Development ethnography and the limits of practice: a case study of life stories from Aceh, Indonesia


  • Sonia Fèvre



Life story, international development, NGO, tsunami, trauma, therapy, Indonesia


Drawing on life story interviews, this paper shows how individuals in Aceh, Indonesia, experienced social and economic changes after the Indian Ocean tsunami, while also continuing to grieve.  It discusses the importance for the anthropologist of managing different identities, such as development worker and ethnographer, in a way that is ethical and appropriate, and considers how an engagement with development can enhance the resources and methodologies available to ethnographers to improve their practice of applied anthropology.  Some of the ethical and practical challenges of working with communities who have experienced trauma are discussed, and insights and methodologies from the fields of oral history and counselling are proposed, which could help anthropologists to use more contextualised and adaptive approaches in their practice.  In particular, issues of informant vulnerability and the importance of training and support are considered for ethnographers working with communities who have experienced trauma. 

Author Biography

Sonia Fèvre

Sonia Fèvre is an international development professional currently working in South and Southeast Asia. She has worked for diverse NGOs on issues related to community development, environmental regeneration and ecosystem approaches to health.  Her research interests include participatory research, approaches to monitoring and evaluation, and organisational development. She holds an MA in Social Anthropology (University of Cambridge) and an MSc in Environmental Technology (Imperial College London).  She can be contacted at [email protected]