The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


DPU PhD candidate defends thesis gender and social transformation in international development work

14 May 2021

Congratulations to Fanny Froelich who has successfully defended her thesis that ‘epistemic communities’ offer pathways to co-create knowledge among feminist development practitioners and community members as part of international cross-cultural development collaborations.


Her thesis analyses transnational and local modes of gender and social transformation in the context of an international non-governmental development programme, which was designed and implemented as well as monitored and evaluated cross-culturally. While being located within a wider public policy discourse on gender and development (GAD), the case studied in this research focuses on programme implementation in Ghana, West Africa.

The overall aim of her thesis is to address ‘the cross-cultural question’ in international development work by studying how social actors, especially community members and development practitioners, conceptualise gender within and across socio-cultural spaces. This potentially influences understandings of programmatic success possibly aligned to notions of meaningful social transformation.

Through feminist anthropological methods highlighting grounded interpretations by research participants, as well as a documentary study of the development programme and policy documents, her research analyses gender as lived relations and representations. Drawing on qualitative methods including participant observation, interviews and focus group discussions, her study investigates, in particular, the role of social norms (change) to address questions of gender and social transformation.

Transformative elements highlighted in her thesis include alignment of individual needs and aspirations to socio-cultural collective values by linking ideas of women’s empowerment and gender equality to harmony and respect; and alignment of ‘hardware’ and ‘software’ concerns based on ‘open’ conversations drawing on the value and practice of epistemic equality, especially among development practitioners and community members.

Drawing on a feminist transnational analytical and activist approach, her thesis offers reflections on how collaboration, as part of conscientisation efforts, addresses the role of ‘the local’, what it entails/not entails and how it might link to understandings of legitimacy as part of cross-cultural GAD programmes implemented within and across specific socio-cultural locations.