The Bad Project: Knowledge & Aid Beyond the Project Economy
Co-PI & Postdoctoral Researcher
Grant by Koneen Säätiö – Kone Foundation
2022 – 2026
If you have ever worked at the desk in an organization – any organization – chances are you have traded in grant application drafts, logframes and progress reports. These are some of the tools through which the money that pays our work is channeled, and our labour managed, across geographical locations, educational divides, and racialized and gendered hierarchies. They make up what we call, following sociologists of organizations and development studies scholars, the project economy: an economy in which we all produce projects, and then labour for them. The project economy seems to be everywhere, from unemployment policies in the Nordic countries, to reconstruction efforts in Haiti. Yet it remains mostly invisible. Our research explores the inner workings of this economy, and thinks with existing and imagined ways of organizing otherwise. Perhaps we should tell the stories of “bad projects” that were never implemented, or were left incomplete? Listen to what resources that went wasted, and people that had to live through “failures” have to say? Perhaps we should take seriously the administrative tools with which we respond to crises, and indeed rethink them, as we all face overlapping climate and health breakdowns? These are among the questions that drive our work. Drawing on our extensive professional experience in the humanitarian NGO and academic sectors, we look at how the project economy silently shapes Western donors’ relations with the “global south”, as well as imaginaries and practices of post-COVID-19 societal recovery within the EU. And, of course, how it determines the working lives of researchers, academic and not. We do interviews, participatory research and fictionalized research writing across 3 countries: Finland, Italy and Lebanon. Our “bad project” strives to go beyond the “solutionism”, performances of control, and government through precarity embedded in project economies.