Local in Practice: Professional Distinctions in Angolan Development Work

Rebecca Warne Peters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Development workers employed by international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are commonly classified as national (local) or international (expatriate) staff members. The distinction is presumed to reflect the varieties of expertise required for the work and the workers’ different biographies. I examine the experiences of Angolans working in an international democratization program to demonstrate how some professionals at the lowest tiers of international development NGOs engage in social practices that strategically emphasize or conceal certain skills, kinds of knowledge, or family circumstances to fulfill industry expectations of “local staff.” Doing so allows them access to employment with international organizations and pursuit of a variety of personal and professional goals. These practices reinforce hierarchical inequalities within the development industry, however, limiting these workers’ influence over programmatic action. I argue that professional distinctions among development workers are social achievements and instruments of strategic manipulation by individuals and NGOs rather than accurate reflections of work or workers. The case study provides insight into the institutional reproduction of hierarchical inequalities and the complexly social reasons why those who suffer their limitations may act in ways that reinforce, rather than resist, unequal social structures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)495-507
Number of pages13
JournalAmerican Anthropologist
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016


  • Angola
  • expatriates
  • institutional inequality
  • international development
  • local staff
  • nongovernmental organizations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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