Neoliberal development through technical assistance: Constructing communities of entrepreneurial subjects in Oaxaca, Mexico

Margath Walker, Susan M. Roberts, John Paul Jones, Oliver Fröhling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


Technical assistance (TA) has a long and varied history as a development practice. It initially emerged as a set of 'hard' programs, tools, and technologies delivered to developing countries by imported First World experts, typically in the agricultural and resource sectors. Later, in response to critical and antidevelopment theories, TA morphed into its 'soft' version, attempting to empower marginalized people in the Global South by delivering the know-how - often collaboratively generated - sufficient to produce forms of development 'from below'. In spite of this shift in the politics and practices of TA, it remains susceptible to neoliberal styles of development that have proceeded apace with withdrawal of state institutions in the funding and operation of social and economic development programs, and with the concomitant rise of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). In this paper, we follow the operation of one TA program operated by an intermediary NGO in Oaxaca, Mexico. We find that the program intersects with neoliberalization in two prominent ways, relying on a form of governmentality that codifies and prescribes: (a) the social spaces of action and need, and (b) learning subjects deficient in entrepreneurial initiative and know-how. We conclude by commenting on the political economic conditions that continue to underwrite TA as a development practice in spite of a decade or more of criticism directed at it and we consider the possibilities for its subversion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)527-542
Number of pages16
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The research was supported by the National Science Foundation’s Geography and Regional Science Program under the auspices of a research grant titled, “Transnational Networks of NGOs” (SBE-GRS # 024329-5). We thank other members of the research team whose work has been integral to the larger project: Sarah Moore, Laurel Smith, David Walker, and Jamie Winders. The assistance of the FCO’s staff, particularly Yliana Fuentes, Jaime Bolaños, Saúl Fuentes, Guadelupe Cruces García, Esther Klaus, Nadia Massun, Julio César Córdova García, and that offered by Ana Cecilia Trujillo and the workshop participants in San Juan del Progreso is appreciated. We also gratefully acknowledge the advice and work of Richard Gilbreath, Director of the University of Kentucky’s Cartographic Laboratory, as well as the very helpful comments of Sarah de Leeuw and Jeff Garmany. Finally, we thank Geoforum Editor Katie Willis and the anonymous reviewers whose feedback on an earlier version of this paper was extremely valuable.


  • Community foundations
  • Development
  • Governmentality
  • Mexico
  • NGOs
  • Neoliberalism
  • Oaxaca
  • Technical assistance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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