The Micro-Politics of Community-Driven Development: Ethnographic Insights from a Slum in the Megacity of Dhaka

Mr Kazi Nazrul Fattah1

1University Of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

Literature on community development interventions in urban slums often highlight the patron-client relationships among non-government organisations (NGO), politically-connected local elites, and corrupt local government officials, in which they serve each other’s mutual interests by influencing such interventions in their favour. This paper argues that the micro-politics revolving around community development interventions are considerably more complex than documented in existing research and requires a nuanced understanding of interests and contestations of power among a range of actors, including grassroots community-based organisation (CBO) members, local political leaders, NGO fieldworkers, and municipal officials. Drawing on empirical data from an ethnographic study in Korail slum in the megacity Dhaka, this paper demonstrates that in their attempt to gain greater negotiating power over the NGOs and ensure control over resources, CBOs adopt a range of strategies such as, among others, direct recruitment of political leaders in the organisation. NGOs attempt to maintain control over leaders by manipulating the very processes that they established for empowering the CBOs. Such contestations alter the configurations of local power in the slum in a manner where the previously noted patron-client relationships transmute into complex negotiations of power, control and resistance among various actors with vested interests.


Kazi Nazrul Fattah is a Doctoral Candidate at the University of Queensland, Australia. His research interests include socio-political dynamics of urbanization in the Global South, urban governance, public policy, and civic engagement. His current research explores the circulations of power and modes of governance in urban informal settlements in Bangladesh.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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