Dr. M. Saiful Islam is an Anthropologist and Associate Professor of Development Studies at the University of Dhaka. He completed MPhil in Anthropology from Chinese University of Hong Kong and PhD in Anthropology and Sociology from National University of Singapore. He was the former Head of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University Brunei Darussalam. His research interests include alternative development; cultural dimensions of health and illness; health, environment and sustainable development; migration and gender.
His book titled “Pursuing Alternative Development: Indigenous People, Ethnic Organization and Agency” is fascinating in the current development context. It is the way of looking back to the root causes of development prior to development activities. The book presents authentic information, theoretical and empirical, milestone for implementing development projects. The book is an outcome of revisiting the idea of top-down development models which are problematic for the Third World countries.In the book, Dr. Islam developed six chapters. Apart of the introduction, he presents the typicality of NGOs and their development practices. He argued that in the name of bottom-up approach, NGOs are working on the basis of top-down policies. The rhetoric is that people are not the center of their development activities. Indigenous people are merely part of the exclusion. Dr. Islam is interested to incorporate bottom-up approach and; economic planning needs to initiate from the grassroots level. He pointed in the empirical data. In order to give holistic view, he collected anthropological data by addressing three indigenous organisations run by local indigenous people in Bangladesh and Indonesia.
Dr. Islam, in a similar vein, addressed the possibilities and the challenges of the alternative development. He stated that the book confirmed the capability of “promoting economic livelihood, education and social justice by setting up their own ethnic organisations”. But the road is not easy and well prepared. They have to fight and wake up against exclusionary behaviour of the state and mainstream societies.
It is evident that, his book got some valuable comments from home and abroad. K. M. Woosnam, Associate Professor at Texas A&M University, claimed that “Anthropologist Islam delivers a succinct, extremely timely text on alternative forms of development. The book itself is rather short, with a healthy balance of academic and lay writing styles that make the text quite accessible to readers interested in community development. Libraries with collections concerning community development, poverty alleviation, and the cultural dimensions of health and sustainability will be best served to have a copy of this title”. Significantly, Woosnam has concluded that the book is highly recommended for the upper-division undergraduates and above.
Hans-Dieter Evers, Emeritus Professor of Development Studies, University of Bonn, Germany, has stated that “This book will definitely enliven the debate about alternative ways of ‘development’. The case study presented shows convincingly that underprivileged groups can develop themselves rather than being developed by others. Overall this is a useful text for academics, students and practitioners.”
Moreover, Gordon Mathews, Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, has mentioned that “This book offers both an anthropological critique of development, and also a pioneering ethnography of unusual indigenous organization working to improve the life conditions of its people. It is a superb ethnography and a well-written text, bearing a powerful moral message.”
In his entire presentation, Dr. Islam has showed interest on the formation of the ethnic organisations by indigenous peoples. By doing this, they can develop their potentialities and ensure grassroots development with real eagerness for development by themselves. This is the unique strong point of the book. To sustain their activities, the development phases need to be nurtured.
The reviewer is a Lecturer in Development Studies at Daffodil International University (DIU)