Symbolic Gestures: The Development Terrain of Post-Tsunami Villages in (Southern) Sri Lanka

Pia Hollenbach, Kanchana N. Ruwanpura

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article analyses how rituals and ceremonies were deployed in the post-tsunami rehabilitation process in Sri Lanka to ‘incorporate’ development projects into the habitus and social reality of local communities. It argues that even though the aid delivery process is represented as a gift, in reality it is more concerned with strengthening the social capital of the local and foreign donors. Through this process there is an expectation and an implicit demand for acquiescence from the beneficiaries, which leaves them with a social debt. This, in turn, compels them to participate in the game of development rituals and ceremonies, in order to express their (ambivalent) gratitude and thankfulness. Through two case studies, we explore how the good intentions of donors to provide aid and alleviate suffering and the acceptance of this aid by the local communities, results in an asymmetric relationship where both become accomplices of Bourdieuian notions of subtle and gentle violence.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1299-1314
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Development Studies
Issue number9
Early online date1 Aug 2011
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2011


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