This thesis is based on a nine months study of a development project in Estelí, Nicaragua, funded by a Norwegian NGO. The aim of the project is to improve conditions for working children, and further enable the involved children to organize as autonomous groups , and to become independent of the local development institution, INPRHU. In their work, this Nicaraguan NGO has to relate to a specific discourse of development that particularly emphasises participatory development . The focus of the study is on the encounter between discourses of development and local practical knowledge held by project beneficiaries (target groups) in El Galope, a neighbourhood in Estelí. Thus, the thesis draws on and combines the approaches of discourse analysis and actor-oriented analysis.
Developers always make simplified models of the social field in which they want to intervene. Their models do not take local particularities and variations into account. Because of this, there are often strong discrepancies between formal models and local discourse and practices. In such cases, development efforts might fail. According to INPRHU s interpretations of the local situation, El Galope is an area where development has been difficult to achieve. After ten years of working with people in this area INPRHU employees complain about a lack of change on important issues such as child rearing and child work. Focusing on actors and agency, I show that both the local NGOs and members of the target group are able to manipulate the structures of power and ideas which come with the development discourse.
Children in development projects are often placed between two systems of knowledge and values, that of their local community and that of the project, and they are expected to conform to both. This is problematic. Because the development project in focus has children as its main targets, it has been important to explore the concept of children s agency. I argue that children in El Galope are agents within the project. Developing autonomous children is not easy in El Galope, however, as most children put family first, and thereby compromise their own autonomy . Thus, when NGO activists try to promote children s empowerment in El Galope, and probably most places in the third world, developers may find that the child exercises its agency by choosing to conform with local expectations, although he or she, by doing so, may be compromising what to an outsider appears to be in his or her best interest .