Workshop on 3 February 2017, University of Sheffield

People working in international development assistance frequently face very difficult ethical dilemmas, particularly when they work for donor agencies that provide support to authoritarian regimes with poor records on human rights, or in ethically complex humanitarian situations.

Debate on the ethics and politics of decision-making in these contexts has grown in recent years, but little is known about the psychological dimensions of development workers’ engagement with these issues. As well as raising crucial moral and political questions, day-to-day engagement with these dilemmas involves significant cognitive and emotional strain. The experience of intense ‘cognitive dissonance’ (Festinger 1957) is especially likely to be a regular feature of work in places where strong narratives of improvement and developmental progress coexist with regular evidence of human rights abuses, repression and social exclusion. Cognitive dissonance refers to a situation in which a person holds two beliefs simultaneously that seem to conflict with one another, leading to mental stress which they seek consciously or unconsciously to resolve in pursuit of the comfort of internal consistency.

This one-day workshop will bring together people from across the social sciences with an interest in international development and psychologists working on the cognitive and emotional dimensions of decision-making. The aim is to situate psychological processes alongside the broader moral and political dilemmas of development assistance in difficult contexts, to explore these issues in a holistic way.

Presentations at workshop will be arranged around the following themes:

  • Contextualising the problem: ethical dilemmas and international aid
  • The practices and biases of policymakers in international development
  • Moral engagement and disengagement in donor agencies
  • Cognitive and emotional dimensions of development and humanitarian practice

Confirmed speakers include the following:

Sheheryar Banuri (University of East Anglia)

Margi Bryant (University of Sheffield)

Niheer Dasandi (University of Birmingham)

Edita Fino (University of Bologna)

Graham Harrison (University of Sheffield)

Aarti Iyer (University of Sheffield)

Heather Marquette (University of Birmingham)

Richard Palmer-Jones (University of East Anglia)

Sumedh Rao (University of Birmingham)

Craig Valters (Overseas Development Institute)

Robyn Waite (School of Oriental and African Studies)

Pablo Yanguas (University of Manchester)