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Critical Perspectives on Accounting 18 (2007) 363389

Doing missionary work: The World Bank and the

diffusion of financial practices
Dean Neu a, , Elizabeth Ocampo b
a Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary, 2500 University Drive NW,
Calgary, Alta., Canada T2N 1N4
b University of Alberta, Alta., Canada

Received 13 January 2005; received in revised form 8 December 2005; accepted 20 January 2006


This study uses the metaphor of a financial mission to explore how World Bank lending practices
contribute to the globalization of financial practice. Through the use of interviews with key participants
and archival documents pertaining to a World Bank education project in Latin America, we analyze
how financial/accounting practices came to be diffused to this particular site. The study highlights not
only how Bank lending practices attempt to implant accounting practices and discourses into distant
fields but also the slippage, accommodation and resistance that is inherent in these attempts to change
the habitus of such fields.
2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Keywords: World Bank; Missionary work; Diffusion of financial practices

Who can estimate the missionaries value to the progress of the nations? Their
contribution to the onward and upward march of humanity is beyond all calculation.
(McKinley, 1900 quoted in Ustorf, 1998)
The image of the missionary working in far-off, exotic places has long captivated our
attention. Since the publication of David Livingstones Missionary Travels in 1857, popular
and academic interest has focused on how missionaries have brought civilizing practices

Corresponding author.
E-mail address: dean.neu@haskayne.ucalgary.ca (D. Neu).

1045-2354/$ see front matter 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
364 D. Neu, E. Ocampo / Critical Perspectives on Accounting 18 (2007) 363389

to distant lands, whether through their religious, teaching, medical or trading activities.
Although strong disagreements exist as to whether the consequences of missionary activities
have, on balance, been positive (cf. Schlesinger, 1974), most commentators agree that during
the 19th and 20th centuries missionaries played a central role in diffusing European practices
and beliefs throughout the world.
More recently, the notion of globalization has captured our attention. Both within the
popular and academic press, discourses about globalization are ubiquitous (Waters, 1995, p.
1) with the term being used as a short-form description for the multitude of heterogeneous
and contradictory processes that are shaping life in the early 21st century (cf. Steger, 2002).
Central to globalization discourses has been the view of globalization as a dialectical,
contradictory, unequal, heterogeneous and discontinuous series of social processes whereby
the restrictions of geography in the organization of social/cultural arrangements disappear
(Harvey, 1989; Giddens, 1990; Waters, 1995). Like Webers iron cage of rationality,
globalization discourses have emphasized the homogenization of social practices across
institutional fields as well as the inevitability of such outcomes.
Implicit within globalization discourses is the image of the de-personalized diffusion
of practices where it is forces beyond human control that are transforming the world
(Waters, 1995, p. 3). However, as the aforementioned literature on missionaries reminds
us, the diffusion of global practice is not a recent phenomenon nor is it necessarily an
agency-less process. In this sense, the literature on missionaries echoes the comments of
Said (1979, 1993), Headrick (1981, 1988, 2000) and others (Bell et al., 1995; Frenkel and
Shehav, 2003) who suggest that the imposition/diffusion of practices was, and continues to
be, a characteristic of colonial practices. Thus, this research hints at the importance of not
only examining the agents and institutions that act as the carriers of such practices but also
the historical continuity of these practices.
In the current study, we utilize the metaphor of a financial mission to explore the global-
ization of financial practice. Starting from prior work on Christian missionaries, we examine
how accounting/financial practices have been diffused within a particular setting and by a
particular organization. More specifically, we examine the financial mission of the World
Bank within education in an unnamed Latin American country. Through the use of 25
interviews with key participants and archival documents pertaining to this project and other
World Bank projects in Latin America, we analyze the micro-politics associated with the
diffusion of financial and accounting practices. The analysis highlights that Bank-sponsored
lending projects do facilitate the diffusion of accounting and financial practices; however,
this process is not a simple one-to-one translation in that the missionary encounter is char-
acterized by slippages in how financial practices are implemented and come to work as well
as by a combination of accommodation and resistance to these techniques on the part of
bureaucrats within the field.
This study extends our understanding in several ways. First, the study provides a descrip-
tive and site-specific detail on how World Bank lending practices facilitate the diffusion
of accounting and financial practices. While there has been a sizeable amount of general
commentary regarding the role of international organizations such as the World Bank, there
has been less research examining how diffusion of financial practices works in concrete
empirical settings (for exceptions see Neu et al., 2005; Rahaman and Lawrence, 2001a).
Second, the study poses the question as to whether World Bank practices are similar or
D. Neu, E. Ocampo / Critical Perspectives on Accounting 18 (2007) 363389 365

different from previous Christian missionary practices. Through the use of the mission-
ary metaphor, the current study draws attention to both the similarities and discontinuities
implicit in World Bank activities. Finally, the study contributes to our understanding of the
micro-politics of such processes. In particular, we propose that both the Bank and bureau-
crats in distant fields have some agency within lending processes. As a result, the idea that
the Bank imposes financial and accounting practices on distant fields does not capture the
nuances of these processes. Rather as the analysis highlights, slippages, accommodations
and resistances characterize the attempted introduction of accounting practices. Thus, while
interactions between the Bank and borrower countries are never one of equals, like previous
Christian missionary encounters the recipient country maintains the ability to influence and
resist these attempted impositions in a variety of subtle ways.

1. Doing missionary work

During the 1800s, Christian missionaries were a prevalent feature of the social landscape.
In Africa, for example, between 1820 and 1920 there were more than 10,000 missionaries
of various sects and denominations and representing various countries including Britain,
France, Germany and the United States. Likewise in the Far East, missionary societies were
very active with estimates placing the number of protestant missionaries in China around
8000 (Chao, 1996). Ustorf (1998) suggests that in 1900, the number of missionaries was
over 60,000 and the number of British missionaries (10,000) working overseas exceeded
the number of accountants practicing in the British Isles.
At present, religious missionaries are still active, their demographics changing and their
numbers increasing, with some estimates placing the number of current-day Christian mis-
sionaries at over 400,000 (Ustorf, 1998). However, much of their previous work has been
usurped by non-governmental organizationswhereas there are currently approximately
4650 active missionary organizations, service and aid agencies are five times as numerous
(p. 602). Although their objectives are different, organizations such as UNESCO, the World
Bank, CUSO, OXFAM and a myriad of other NGOs have complemented and supplemented
the activities of missionaries in the developing world. Furthermore, organizations such as
the World Bank have been particularly important because of both their development focus
and the financial/technical resources that they possess. These resources allow the World
Bank to intervene in ways that traditional missionaries cannot.
A persistent theme within the early literature was the notion that missionaries, as agents
of cultural imperialism, sought to impose a particular vision and set of practices on target
populations. Through their positioning within a matrix of imperial institutionsinstitutions
that were able to encourage the adoption of new practices via political, economic, or
military pressure (Schlesinger, 1974, pp. 363364)missionaries were able to implant
new practices into distant fields with the result of reproducing the basic structure of
dominance and power relationships in the imperialist system (Harris, 1991, p. 313).
However, in contrast to this arguably one-dimensional view of the missionary endeavor,
more recent scholarship has attempted to provide a multi-dimensional account of what
missionaries brought with them when they traveled to distant lands, and the micro-politics
of missionary encounters.
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On the surface, the answer as to what missionaries brought with them seems relatively
straightforward. For example, Seth (1998) comments that: One of the artifacts that Europe
sought to export to the colonies was Christianity. Here there was no question but that what
was being introduced was a matter of meanings, ideas and beliefs. At the same time, reli-
gious teachings were only a part of the missionaries wares. Rather, the wares included
medicines, educational practices, scientific and administrative technologies. Indeed within
the American evangelical missionary movement, there was an explicit recognition that the
dissemination of religious teachings apart from the dissemination of other westernized
practices was neither possible nor desirable. Makdisi (1997) uses the term evangelical
modernity to denote this recognition: evangelical modernity implied offering the unevan-
gelized world the fruits of secular modernity, especially medicine, tempered by spiritual
reform and salvation. Furthermore, the natives were from the outset more interested in
the technology and influence that the Americans brought with them than in the evangelical
message (p. 694). The comments of Seth, Makdisi and others (Musisi, 1999) hint at the
intermingling and inseparability of religious belief structures and other technologies within
the missionary encounter.
In terms of the missionary encounter itself, one of the themes of more recent work is
the recognition of the micro-politics of the missionary encounterthat the diffusion of
practices is always an uneven, contested process characterized by slippages, accommo-
dations and resistance. For example, Comaroff and Comaroff (1991) note that diffusion
often involves the attempt to impose a new worldview on distant fields, to re-make the
distant field in the image of oneself. The authors comment that the missionary encounter
an encounter in which a self-elected group . . . sought, methodically, to make his-
tory for people whom, they thought, lacked it; to induct those people into an order
of activities and values; to impart form to an Africa that was seen as formless; to
reduce the chaos of savage life to the rational structures and techniques that, for the
Europeans, were both the vehicle and the proof of their own civilization. (1991, p. 14
emphasis in original)
At the same time, slippage, accommodation and resistance are unavoidable consequences
of the translation process:
for the transfer of institutions, structures, and processes, and the enactment of inten-
tions and desires in the colonies, required that they be cast in the idiom (in the
linguistic as well as extra linguistic sense) of the colonial theatre. This always created
the possibility of a slippage of meaning, of a sign coming to signify something other
than, or in excess of, its intended meaning: and such mis-reading were characteristic,
even constitutive of the colonial encounter. (Seth, 1998)
If slippage is a characteristic of diffusion practices, so is resistance. Acceptance of the
missionary worldview is not a given, rather struggles over the signs and symbols associated
with the new practices are a characteristic of the diffusion process. Within these strug-
gles, signifiers were set afloat, fought over, and recaptured on both sides (Comaroff and
Comaroff, 1991, p. 118). Likewise Dunch (2002, p. 319) sums up the micro-politics of the
missionary encounter when he suggests that these observations point us towards questions
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of translation and to indigenous agency in the reception, local expression, transformation

and/or rejection of missionary teachings in local settings.
One of the sites where the micro-politics of the missionary encounter was played out, was
that of quotidian practices (Dunch, 2002, p. 312). In traveling to distant lands, missionaries
carried with them a mixture of beliefs, knowledge(s) and practices informed by their reading
of the bible. Based on their experiences of the world, this mixture of beliefs, knowledge(s)
and practices offered both a normative vision of what a better life would look like as
well as the practices that could be used to move towards this better life. Thus, implicit in
the teaching, preaching and publication activities of missionaries were both the normative
vision and the means of accomplishing this vision. Missionaries sought to re-make targeted
peoples through both their everyday activitiesdress, agriculture, architecture, and so
onand through formal education (Comaroff and Comaroff, 1991, p. 12). Activities
such as what clothes to wear in the church, how agricultural activities should be performed
and how prayers should be said cannot be divorced from this underlying vision.
Authors such as Comaroff and Comaroff (1991) as well as Dunch (2002) allude to both the
power and tension implicit within these practices. Quotidian practices were an important
site of change in that the seeds . . . (of change) were most effectively sown along the contours
of everyday life. (Dunch, 2002, p. 312). At the same time, the introduction of quotidian
practices had the potential to undermine the underlying beliefs that the missionaries were
attempting to inculcate (Seth, 1998). In some cases, through processes of slippage, the
technologies became de-coupled from the original spiritual mission that encouraged their
introduction (Makdisi, 1997). Thus, quotidian practices were powerful but equivocal in
that the resulting changes were often unintended and contrary to the objectives of the
The historical material on missionary activities is useful in thinking about the activities
of organizations such as the World Bank. For example, this prior work hints at how the
diffusion/globalization of practices occurs across different institutional fields. If we assume
that institutional fields are networks of social relations, structured systems of social posi-
tions within which struggles or maneuvers take place over resources, stakes and access
(Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1992) and that such fields are idiosyncratic in that they con-
tain different actors/institutions and different taken-for-granted practices (Bacharach et al.,
1995, p. 87; Lane, 2000; Oakes et al., 1998); globalization refers to the process of link-
ing together these fields (Waters, 1995, pp. 5253). Linking together can occur as a result
of the existence of actors/institutions common to one or more fields, the implantation of
actors/institutions into fields in which they previously did not operate or the implantation
of techniques and practices from one field to another. Thus, it is through the combination
of actors/institutions and techniques/practices that fields are linked together and that the
diffusion of practice occurs.
While religious missionary societies have historically played this role in diffusing prac-
tices, in the modern era coordinating agencies such as the World Bank, IMF and OECD
play a similar role in that they facilitate linking activities. These organizations operate in a
variety of different institutional fields thereby spanning fields. They also possess the eco-
nomic capital necessary both to enter distant fields and to facilitate the diffusion of specific
practices. The economic capital of the World Bank and IMF, as evidenced by their lending
activities, provides them with the ability to encourage coercive isomorphism (DiMaggio and
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Powell, 1983) thereby changing the day-to-day practices of previously autonomous fields.
As the subsequent case highlights, contained within the loan agreements are requirements
that borrower countries adopt and utilize specific accounting practices such as budgeting,
auditing and financial reporting practices. In this way, the lending agreements facilitate
the diffusion of accounting/financial practices across heterogeneous fields (cf. Rodrguez-
Gomez and Alcantara, 2001).
Much like religious missionary organizations, coordinating agencies also link fields
together through the implantation of experts and best practiceswhat DiMaggio and
Powell refer to as normative and mimetic isomorphism. These coordinating agencies operate
some of the largest information and dissemination services in the world (Jones, 1992).
Consistent with the observation that knowledge is power and that a dialectic exists
between information and control (Said, 1979, pp. 8081), coordinating agencies are able
to encourage the diffusion of accounting/financial practices. Through their publication of
reports outlining best practices (cf. UNESCO, 2000; World Bank, 1995), through their
compilations of field-specific performance indicators (cf. OECD, 2002) along with the
provision of technical assistance in the areas of administration and accounting to developing
countries (Jones, 1992) these organizations indirectly and directly influence the day-to-
day practices of distant fields. In situations characterized by high levels of uncertainty,
mimetic and normative isomorphisms encourage the adoption of the practices promoted by
legitimate others (DiMaggio and Powell, 1983).
The preceding suggests that the implantation of these mundane, quotidian practices into
distant sites shape not only constrain and mediate action thereby providing mechanisms
through which indirect control can be exercised but also re-form distant locales (Ezzamel,
1994; Neu et al., 2002). The implantation of accounting/financial techniques changes both
the day-to-day practices and vocabularies of distant fields and what is valued within these
fields (Oakes et al., 1998; Townley et al., 2003). In turn, this consecration of what counts
as legitimate activity or practice (cf. Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1992, footnote 172, p. 210)
eventually changes the habitus of the field, where habitus refers to the accepted ways
of thinking, talking and acting within the field (Bourdieu, 1990, p. 52). These practices
also encourage field participants to actively participate in self-disciplining and self-forming
activities (Foucault, 1984, p. 355; Hoskin and Macve, 1986, p. 129; 1988, p. 41). As Musisi
(1999) comments, religious missionaries viewed these self-governing activities as central
to the success of the missionary encounter:
the missionaries saw a direct relationship between personal conduct and governance.
The link between moderation and power was conceived as an essential relationship
between domain over others and dominion over ones self. Self-governing/self-
mastery/self-policing were therefore conceived as a moral precondition for leading
As the subsequent case highlights, the re-formation of habitus and the disciplining of
the self are also central to modern-day missionary encounters.
Finally, this prior literature emphasizes that the missionary encounter is more complex
than the simple imposition of certain practices. While missionaries may attempt to introduce
a particular practice in the attempt to accomplish a particular end, slippages invariably occur
in not only how the practice is introduced but also in the ways that field participants under-
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stand, accommodate to and resist both the practice itself and the intentions of organizations
such as the Bank (Rahaman and Lawrence, 2001b). As we see in the case that follows, these
slippages, accommodations and resistances are characteristic of the missionary encounter.

2. The case

2.1. Data and method

The case that follows analyzes a single World Bank project in Latin America pertaining to
basic/rural education. This case was chosen because it is consistent with the Banks current
emphasis on basic education projects as a way of eliminating poverty. Since the early 1990s,
the Bank has attempted to change its focus, emphasizing people-oriented projects and the
elimination of poverty. As the World Bank website states: in 1980, investment in the power
sector accounted for 21 percent of Bank lending. Today, that figure is closer to 7 percent. By
contrast, direct support for health, nutrition, education, pensions, and other social services
has grown from 5 percent in 1980 to 22 percent today. Within the education sector, these
changes have encouraged a focus on basic/rural education projects. Since the mid-1990s, the
Bank has undertaken basic/rural education projects with Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala,
Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and Peru.
Given our interest in understanding the micro-politics of the missionary encounter, we
decided to focus on the analysis of a single basic/rural education project in a single country.
Starting from some initial contacts, we arranged 25 semi-structured in-depth interviews.
Interview participants consisted of Bank representatives and some of the consultants that
worked with the Bank on the project, bureaucrats within the national ministry of educa-
tion and other related departments, and representatives of regional educational districts.
Interview participants were selected using a snowball sampling method that attempted to
identify the relevant actors within the field (Berg, 2001; Gall et al., 2003). These interview
participants also provided us with a variety of other archival documents pertaining to the
project, including public presentations and some of the administrative and policy manuals
pertaining to the project.
The interviews were semi-structured with a median length of 90 min. All interviews
were tape recorded and subsequently transcribed. The transcripts of the interviews were
then entered into a qualitative text analysis program (ATLAS.ti) and analyzed. Initially,
each member of the research team read the transcripts and coded the transcripts according
to the different phases of the World Bank projecti.e. diagnostic phase, negotiation phase,
implementation phase and monitoring phase. The transcripts were subsequently re-analyzed
and coded using a mixture of theory-directed and emergent coding strategies. Our focus was
on identifying and understanding the positioning of accounting and financial technologies
within each of the different phases. Through a sequential analysis of the transcripts and the
coding notations of the various research team members, we attempted to both analyze and
refine our understanding(s) of the functioning of accounting within this particular missionary
Interview material was supplemented with archival material that was available on the
World Bank website for the aforementioned six basic/rural education projects. The avail-
370 D. Neu, E. Ocampo / Critical Perspectives on Accounting 18 (2007) 363389

able material usually consisted of an approximately 100 page project appraisal document
prepared by the World Bank and the country, a project information document which is a
short-form summary of the project appraisal document and a final listing of loan particulars
which is available on the World Bank website. This archival material provided us with an
overview of the types of projects that were being financed by the Bank, the types of financial
technologies contained in the lending agreements as well as the similarities and differences
across lending agreements.
In the analysis that follows, we do not identify the actual country in which the interviews
occurred nor do we use information from the lending agreement and the other archival
documents that could be used to identify the country. Instead we use examples from the
Panama lending agreement as a way of highlighting the types of information contained in the
lending agreements. In order to gain access to key participants and to protect them from any
possible internal or external repercussions, ethical guidelines at our universities required that
both the country in which the interviews occurred and the identities of participants remain
anonymous. This being said, our research activities in a variety of Latin American countries
indicate that while there are some idiosyncrasies regarding this particular institutional field,
the missionary encounter in other Latin American countries is similar in many respects.

2.2. Envisioning the project

How is it that missionaries originally come to gain a foothold in distant territories and
how do they continually demonstrate their relevance to their indigenous charges? Missionary
work involves both the initial implantation of missionaries and on-going maintenance work.
In part, this on-going maintenance work depends on demonstrating to both the missionaries
themselves and their indigenous charges the need for a continuing presence (Makdisi,
1997). In the current case, the Bank had been working in the country for several decades;
however, it was a series of country-specific events that provided the impetus for action.
More specifically, rural unrest and the marchas campesinas made visible to government
officials the degree of discontent among the rural population and, hence, the need to do
something. Up until the time of the protests, rural education had been largely ignoredfor
example, federal legislation only contained one reference to rural education in contrast to
the situation of urban education, which has always been more developed.
These external events provided the conditions of possibility to re-vision rural education.
According to our interviews with educational bureaucrats, the initial impetus for the rural
education project came from Ministry of Education Bureaucrats. However, the fact that the
Bank was already involved in several projects within the country made them a spontaneous
The preparation and formulation of the project occurred in two stages: the first one
happened when the social problem erupted in several regions of the country, but
mainly in a specific rural area. The second was because of this problem and due to
the presence of the World Bank in the ministry of education.
Like the case of traditional missionaries, the proximity and presence of the Bank in
the country provided a ready-made solution to an emerging problem. From the vantage
point of government officials, it was convenient to involve the Bank. Not only did the Bank
D. Neu, E. Ocampo / Critical Perspectives on Accounting 18 (2007) 363389 371

have the cultural capital to conceive of and operationalize a rural education project but
also it provided a solution to the problem of paying for such a projecta solution where
the costs would be deferred to later periods. Given the economic and political realities of
the country these were non-trivial issues. Rural education remained under-developed not
only because geographic and political factors focused attention on the urban areas but also
because the politicians believed that they did not have the financial or technical resources
to confront the problem given the other pressing issues facing the country. During this
stage, a potential partnership with the Bank was an attractive instrumental option given the
The first step in envisioning the project was a preliminary mission that attempted to
identify the problem and potential solutions:
A mission of identification identifies the line of thought about what will be done in
the project. Normally, a mission of identification is preceded by an analysis of the
sector, which allows [one] to know its needs and problems.
The initial identification mission was relatively informal, consisting of a series of meet-
ings where government bureaucrats and Bank officials discussed the possibilities:
The mission of identification is very informal. You sit down with the people of the
Bank, then they send a team to ask how and what it is that you are thinking. Obviously
one presents to them a profile of the project according to the stage of maturity one
has it in. The project I presented to the Bank had three pages that explained what I
had been thinking about and why have I been thinking about it. Finally, what one is
negotiating, according to my experience, is more than a profile, but one has to start
with a mission of identification to say more or less what one is thinking. Then the
experts of the Bank ask questions and tell you that they will build a team. We think
on the people that will compose the team, and at the time, look at the details in a very
general way. We look at the objectives, we look at which the goals, and at what could
be the structure.
This initial meeting, apart from diagnosing the problems of the field, serves to identify
and establish links with informants and key personnel within the country; their involvement
and agreement to the project will be crucial to its success. In this particular case, the first
meeting was followed by a series of subsequent meetings where the concept was developed
in more detail and which eventually resulted in the concept document.
Implicit in these comments and throughout the interviews was both a particular vocab-
ulary as well as a particular construction of expertise on the part of the Bank that was
promoted by the Bank and mostly accepted by the country. In terms of the vocabulary, the
word mission is an interesting one. The Merriam-Webster dictionary traces the usage of
this word from an original usage as a ministry commissioned by a religious organization to
propagate its faith or carry on humanitarian work to todays broader usage which may also
include a body of persons sent to perform a service or carry on an activity: as (a) a group
sent to a foreign country to conduct diplomatic or political negotiations; (b) a permanent
embassy or legation; (c) a team of specialists or cultural leaders sent to a foreign country.
In this case, we propose that the word mission was used to denote all of these things. The
missions were intended to propagate the faith and carry on humanitarian work. This work
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was also inherently political in that the Bank was attempting to encourage change on the
part of borrower countries. And the missions did involve the sending of specialists to
these countries to perform developmental activities.
The vocabulary used by Bank officials is important because the vocabularies hint at the
mentalities of government (Foucault, 1991) that underpin Bank activities and provide a
way of understanding the Banks choice of techniques and practices with which to accom-
plish their objectives (Miller and Rose, 1990). Implicit within such vocabularies and texts is
an imagined landscape that forms the basis for subsequent interventions (Comaroff and
Comaroff, 1991, p. 86). As Comaroff and Comaroff state with regards to the missionary
encounter: the symbolic terrain . . . was being shaped by a cascade of narratives that strung
together motley scientific facts and poetic images (p. 87). As we highlight in subsequent
sections, these mentalities were inscribed and reproduced within specific documents and
specific financial technologies.
Constructions of expertise emphasized the benefits that would accrue to the country
because of the positioning of the Bank within a particular web of social relations. For
example, the Bank representative comments on the knowledge of the country possessed by
the Bank as a result of its previous and on-going activities within the country:
The Bank has, I would say, 25 years of work experience in this country. This is not
the first project we have had with the ministry of Education. We have had several
projects with the ministry.
This construction of long-term local knowledge was reinforced by the information
apparatus that the Bank maintains to gather macro-level economic data about the coun-
try (Jones, 1992). This macro-level data provided proof that the Bank knew the
countryfurthermore, these data subsequently found its way into the final project appraisal
The construction of expertise also emphasized the Banks global knowledge. Bank doc-
uments and reports emphasize the educational, administrative and financial experience that
the Bank has (cf. World Bank, 1995); indeed one of the more recent educational reports
is entitled the lessons of experience. Implicit within this construction was the promise
that the Bank would act as a link between the local and the global: funneling, interpreting
and applying information from distant fields to the current set of problems. One participant
comments on the intersection of local and global expertise stating:
The World Bank has lots of experience in this type of project. Thus, this can provide
elements of the lessons learnt in other countries. Also, it knows the country and has
developed studies with elements related to said project. The Bank offers a theoretical
and conceptual frame, which is appropriated to the design of all these projects.
In terms of financial expertise, interview participants continually returned to the ideas
of systems of information and systems of evaluation. The emphasis here was on how these
systems would contribute to the efficiency and effectiveness of the project. For example,
one participant notes:
It is important to warrant where the money will be spent. Obviously, other banks
can let you borrow money, but they wont care if the money is spent on chocolate
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barsthey dont care about it. You can spend the money on whatever your desires
lead you. However, the Bank provides follow-ups, and when it sees that the money
is being badly used, that is, being utilized for corrupt practices, it penalizes you by
shutting down the project, suspending it, cutting it.
During this phase, these abstract systems of information and evaluation were viewed
as a way of changing practices of personal advantage and ensuring that the monies would
be spent as intended.
Finally, the Banks positioning within global financial networks and networks of experts
was also viewed as part of its expertise. For example, one participant comments how the
Banks web of relations and the ability of the Bank to enlist other experts would help to
bring the project to fruition:
There is a variety of ways in how the Bank follows up. They come with specialists
from the Bank or externals, people that can be from other organizations but are invited
to form part of the mission.
In this particular case, the Bank used its enlistment abilities to attract agents, consultants
and other financial resources.
Clearly, these various facets of expertise do not function separately. The global activities
of the Bank as well as the Banks prior local activities are mutually reinforcing. Furthermore,
the ability of the Bank to provide financial resources, to encourage other NGOs to contribute
financial resources and to enlist other agents provides a visible demonstration of the power
of the Bank to make something happen. In turn, these realities along with the economic and
political realities of the country result in a situation where government officials are grateful
to receive the help of the Bank since the Banks promise of help offers what appears to be a
low-cost solution to the problems confronting the country. One participant summarizes the
intersection of these expertises, stating:
In general, in the world, the World Bank has a very broad trajectory. It has leadership,
technique, capability, it has sensibility and interest.
These comments regarding expertise and the demand for the missionary services of the
Bank resonates with the notion of evangelical modernization. It is the access to technologies,
expertise and financial resources that make Bank involvement so attractive. During the
discussion of this phase of the process, there was no mention of the underlying liberalization
mission of the Bankthe discussion was avowedly secular with an emphasis on the
advantages associated with Bank involvement.
This is not to say that tensions did not exist at this stage between competing constructions
of expertise. Interview participants indicated that during this phase and subsequent phases,
the process was constructed as a participative, team process where government and Bank
officials came together to mutually design a project to solve a particular educational problem.
However, tensions existed regarding the type of expertise that would be valued. For example,
one participant comments that:
Im sincere with you; the school coexistence component is a very difficult theme to
understand. What has been clear for me is that the strategy to call foreigners to the
country to solve this theme is very difficult, it is a waste of time. To have a lady
374 D. Neu, E. Ocampo / Critical Perspectives on Accounting 18 (2007) 363389

from France speak, who is familiar with a very different situation from the one in this
country, for me is a waste of time. I would prefer one of my best experts from this
country, and I am pretty sure they will undertake this theme way better. I think that
there are serious problems to work with them [foreigners].
This tension between local and global expertise was one of the tensions. The tendency of
bank officials to privilege global expertise as well as to both translate educational problems
into financial problems and solve these problems with financial and administrative solutions
was another of the tensions. At this moment in time, government officials were willing to
accommodate these minor tensions because Bank involvement offered the opportunity to
do something about rural education. However, these translation tendencies became even
more apparent in subsequent phases of the project.
Comaroff and Comaroff (1991) suggest that these initial encounters are important
because they introduce a set of material and verbal exchanges whose terms soon become
a matter of convention (p. 181). These verbal conventions consisting of linguistic forms,
spatial forms, forms of rational argument and positive knowledge (p. 199) set the terms
for future conversations. As the following sections highlight, this initial framing influences
subsequent actions.

2.3. Designing and negotiating the project

Following the identification mission, a series of other missions were used to gather
the necessary information and to begin the process of constructing the formal proposal.
According to interview participants, the process of gathering the necessary data was wide-
ranging and open-ended. However, it was at the stage of actually writing the proposal that a
particular form was imposed on the project. Part of this imposition involved the translation
of abstract ideas into concrete numbers:
The experts from the bank are they who meet with the ministrys technical team, and
it is these people who start to give the project a real orientation. They write all the
negotiable elements, and when they define all those elements and put them together,
the economic part takes place. At this time they start setting prices, costs, and the
like. If, for example, I wanted to take twenty books of a particular theme to rural
schools, the experts of economics would come and start to make a series of charts
and such. The books dont go by themselves, but are accompanied with strategies and
training for the teachers. It is such elements that negotiations are about. If we have
50,000 schools and we are taking 50,000 books, I have to provide training so that
those books make sense there. That is what the bank seeks, so after that the amounts
begin to appear.
As this example highlights, abstractions were translated into numbers and then into
dollars with the end result being a proposal that was heavily quantitative.
Given that accurate information was often non-existent but necessary for the construc-
tion of plans, numbers were often fabricated to fit the needs of the plan. According to one
participant, the end result of this demand for quantification is a plan that appears technically
elegant but where the included numbers are probably irrelevant:
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In the ways to evaluate, it would be more important to look at the relevant and deep
problems, than in the numbers, as a way to prove, to validate something. Especially
when the numbers are nothing but numbers, they are not trustworthy.

The project appraisal document was the outcome of these numerical translations. The
project appraisal document for the Panama project, for example, was a 70 page document
that started from the objective of improving the quality and efficiency of basic education
in the country (World Bank, 2000) and then summarized the financial technologies that
were used to evaluate the project as well as those that will be used to operationalize it. Cost-
benefit analysis in the form of internal rate of return calculations is the basis for justifying
the project, whereas budgets, performance indicators, financial management systems and
auditing procedures are those which will be used to guide the project.
The Summary Project Analysis contained in the appraisal document starts off by stating
that results indicate that overall, the project is economically viable . . . the estimated rate of
return for the project as a whole is 22 percent. (p. 14). This rate of return was calculated by
estimating the expected increase in earnings that school children would receive over their
working lives (the benefits) versus the costs of implementing the project. As the document

Throughout the calculations, the maintained hypothesis was a working life of 45

years. Yearly wages for different education levels were estimated from the 1997
Living Standards Measurement Survey . . . To estimate the expected yearly income, the
unemployment rates for the category All Poor (bottom 40 percent of the population)
were estimated from the 1997 LSMS data. The unemployment rate for people who
finished lower secondary education is substantially higher than for people with a less
educated background . . .. To incorporate these in the calculations, the unemployment
rate for someone with a lower secondary education was taken to be 2.5 times that of
an primary educated person, but to decline linearly by .1 percent point per year of
working life until both unemployment rates reach the same level. (p. 42)

The document also states that this rate of return should be thought of as the lower bound
on the benefits (p. 15) as the rate of return calculations do not include monetary estimates
of non-pecuniary benefits, such as that basic education helps reduce poverty by increasing
the productivity of the poor, by reducing fertility rates and improving health (p. 39).
This construction of the project is interesting for several reasons. First the calculations
highlight how the financial calculations come to frame and shape the projectparticularly
how the economic comes to be privileged over the social. Smith (1990) refers to this as
an ideological circle in that the ideological framing influences the facts that are selected
which, subsequently, serve to justify the initial framing. In this case, the economic framing
influences which numerical facts are selected with the end result being the construction of
a story that is consistent with this economic view of education.
Second, and of equal importance, the accompanying description hints at the cognitive
presumptions or mentalities that underpin the calculations. Foucault (1991) suggests that
modern-day governance activities are often directed at the mundane aspects of daily life,
for example, issues such as fertility rates and reproduction patterns. Like the missionaries
of old (Musisi, 1999), implicit within the calculations are moralizing assumptions about
376 D. Neu, E. Ocampo / Critical Perspectives on Accounting 18 (2007) 363389

not only the sexual proclivities of native peoples but also the correct number of children
that families should have. Galeano (1997) notes that this concern with the reproductive
capacities of people in the developing world has been a long-term concern of the Bank
dating back to at least the 1960s.
Table 1 summarizes some of the other financial technologies contained in the project
appraisal documents. The table illustrates both the financial translations that occurred in
the framing of the project as well as the evaluative technologies that would be used over
the life of the project. As we see in subsequent sections, these technologies mediated the
relationships between Bank and Ministry of Education officials.
Within the interviews, there was an ambivalence regarding the process of producing
a project appraisal document that conformed to Bank requirements. On the one hand,
government bureaucrats did not necessarily see the quantification of the plan as totally
negativerather it was an advantage in that Bank officials understood the rules of the
game, they knew the requirements, forms, languages and ways the proposal should be
written in order to be accepted by the World Bank headquarters in Washington. At the same
time, there was frustration that both the game of getting the loan as well as the related acts
of translation erased important aspects of the project and resulted in a planning document
that was less relevant than what was desired.
In contrast to the document preparation phase that involved some contestation among
participants, the negotiation phase was almost a formality. In part, this was because the
acts of translation and the act of writing the proposal effectively defined the project. And
given that the country participated in this process, it was difficult to disagree with the final
document. For example, the Bank representative acknowledges the reality that not much
remains to be negotiated when he states that the majority of the work takes place during the
design phase:
Actually, because the process of the project preparation involves intensive work from
all the parties, the negotiations are generally not difficult.
Furthermore, the representative of the Bank suggests that it is not really a negotiation in
the conventional sense since the Bank continues to be part of the project team rather than an
adversary: with the Bank, there were not problems because it was like another part of the
negotiating team. In this comment the agent of the Bank points out that the Bank was not
playing the role of an external auditor, or a boss whose demands were difficult to satisfy.
Instead, it was part of the team, of the countrys team.
This reality was not lost on government officials. For example, one comments that the
term negotiation does not capture the dynamics of the situation in that by the time the
proposal is prepared there is little to negotiate:
I think that during the process of negotiation what we saw was something like a way
to respond to the demands of the Bank, and not forget the interests of the country.
Anyways, mainly what the Bank does is set economic conditions. But we as a country
check if we are eligible for the loan. That is all of the negotiation process, just like that.
Furthermore, while the formal negotiation phase may take several months, it is more a
matter of clarifying and putting into context the policies of the bank. During the interview
we asked if there [were] many conflicts around the terms of the loan, to which our
D. Neu, E. Ocampo / Critical Perspectives on Accounting 18 (2007) 363389 377

Table 1
Summary of financial technologies contained in Panama Lending Agreement
Accounting The accounting system meets the Banks respective minimum requirements. Moreover, the
records software will be upgraded so as to manage integrated financial information, particularly
with regards to the production of PMRs in the formats suggested by the Bank. Separate
project accounts will be maintained in accordance with accounting principles, and practices
satisfactory to the Bank. Supporting documentation will be kept by the executing agencies
for at least one year after the final disbursement of funds for the project.
Even when financial management capacity is adequate, some areas can be improved. Specif-
ically, project staff agreed to perform an analysis of any existing flow-of-funds problems and
the corrective actions to be taken. In addition, the sharing of financial information among
the participating entities needs to be enhanced. An action plan was agreed upon to improve
the system, including capability to produce quarterly Project Management Reports (PMRs).
Substantial completion of activities planned before the effectiveness date was established
as effectiveness condition.
Financial Project Financial Management and Auditing. A project financial management (FM) assess-
information ment was carried out by the Banks Regional Financial Management Unit (LCOAA), The
system FM system which is currently in place for the First Basic Education Project meets mini-
mum Bank requirements. However, some recommendations were made so as to: update the
operational and accounting manuals, upgrade the accounting software, streamline the flow
of funds and enhance the sharing of financial information among the participating entities.
As part of this exercise, an action plan was agreed upon to improve the system, including
capability to produce quarterly Project Management Reports (PMRs). Evidence that the
financial management system is in place and operational before the effectiveness date was
established as an effectiveness condition.
Performance The key performance indicators will be lower levels of extreme poverty and greater effi-
indicators ciency and higher completion rates in primary and lower secondary schools. All shanty
schools (escuelas ranches) will the replaced, 1515 classrooms will be rehabilitated and
30 Telebasica pilot schools will be operating. Approximately 240,000 multi-grade students
and 40,000 lower secondary students will receive textbooks and other educational materials.
Students in indigenous communities (37,000) will receive bilingual materials. Community
and Family Centers for Initial Education (CEFACEIs) will enroll 12,000 new children,
and 6000 rural parents will be trained by 400 new mother leaders in home-based initial
Auditing Audit Arrangements. External audit arrangements which are currently in place under
the Basic Education 1 Project are satisfactory. Project accounts will be audited annually
by independent chartered auditors acceptable to the Bank, under terms of reference in
accordance with the respective Bank Guidelines. The external auditors will perform interim
visits on a quarterly manner. No later than six months after the end of each fiscal year,
the Project Coordination Unit will submit to the Bank, certified copies of the annual audit
Monitoring Monitoring and Evaluation Arrangements. Project implementation will be closely moni-
tored by the PCU in collaboration with the pertinent line units of the MIEDUC and the
Regional Directorates of Education. In addition, monitoring will be performed through: (a)
Bank supervision missions with intensive implementation support, particularly in year one;
(b) annual progress reviews of the annual project implementation plan to be conducted by
the PCU in coordination with the Bank; (c) a comprehensive mid-term review to be carried
out no later than March 31, 2003: (d) beneficiary surveys and other assessment instruments;
(e) an Implementation Completion Report (ICR) to be prepared jointly by the GOP and
the Bank no later than six months after the closing date of the project. A set of monitoring
indicators agreed with the GOP is reflected in the annex of the Implementation Letter.
378 D. Neu, E. Ocampo / Critical Perspectives on Accounting 18 (2007) 363389

respondent replied that there were not conflicts, it was a matter of clarifying and putting
within context the policies of the Bank.
The positive aspect, of course, was that given that the document conformed to the Bank
template, there was much less uncertainty regarding the fate of the loan. The only concern
related to the macro-level economic position of the country and its overall level of debt,
rather than the specifics of the project:
Q: When you started this project, did you question whether or not the Bank was going
to approve the loan, or it was almost for sure that it was going to be approved?
A: With the Bank there were not problems because it was part of the team of nego-
tiation. The country was responding to the requirements of the Bank. Where we had
problems was at the end, when we analyze the capability of the country to get a loan
. . .. All of that is very tricky, it is a high level negotiation because it requires looking
at the capability of the country to go into debt.
As mentioned previously, it was the existing set of information-gathering apparatuses
of the Bank that provided the macro-level information that was then used to judge whether
the economy could support additional debt.
The preceding highlights the ways in which numerical translations come to construct
and constrain the subsequent project. During the design and negotiation phase these numer-
ical techniques and traces translate the abstract mentalities of the Bank into a document
that defines the objectives of the rural education project and that outlines the techniques
that will be used to guide and evaluate the project. In these processes we see little of the
slippages that the literature on religious missionaries refers to, rather we see a slippage
whereby the vision of educational bureaucrats comes to be co-opted and re-packaged via
financial technologies and vocabularies. While government officials were sometimes aware
and sometimes uncomfortable with these chains of translation, both the nature of the process
(a participative approach) and the commitment that the officials had to undertake some
kind of rural education project made accommodation, at this moment in time, the path of
least resistance.

2.4. Implementation

A common strategy across Bank projects is to divide the project into stages, with each
stage having particular goals that have to be achieved before moving on and receiving
financing for the successive stages. Although the project is mostly concretized during the
design phase, some work usually remains in terms of identifying the specific districts that
will be targeted for intervention and in designing an implementation and evaluation plan.
In the country where we conducted our interviews the project was a multi-stage project;
furthermore, the project was also incomplete in the sense that additional work was needed.
As a result, the Bank continued to use missions as a way of addressing the incomplete nature
of the implementation plan:
The Bank is constantly creating missions. For example, last year it made three missions
to adjust the implementation; now this month it will undertake a technical assistance
D. Neu, E. Ocampo / Critical Perspectives on Accounting 18 (2007) 363389 379

Like most missionary endeavors, it was within the implementation phase that some
of the inconsistencies in the Banks beliefs and objectives became visible. Although the
Bank had worked hard during the initial phases to construct itself as a partner, during the
implementation phase the business concerns and beliefs of the Bank became more visible.
More specifically, the Banks concern with earning a return on the loan as well as its concern
with ensuring the financial probity on the part of the borrower country was central to the
implementation phase. This observation is consistent with the comments of Jones (1992)
who notes that, despite its development focus, the World Bank is a bank and needs to be
understood as such.
These twin concerns of earning a return and ensuring financial stewardship came together
in the disbursement process. In some of the loan agreements that we examined, an external
agent is used to control disbursements. This agent is responsible for ensuring that monies
are only disbursed when certain disbursement procedures have been followed and when the
previously advanced funds have been spent. One of the results of these disbursement controls
is that the country pays for the use of the funds even if the funds have not been disbursed.
Not surprisingly, this generated some resentment on the part of educational bureaucrats:
We spent and justify [the spending of] the money from the Bank. They give us the 50%,
there is always money, but that depends on the work of the project. What happens? In
a trimester they come and say, you have exercised 10% and you are already asking
me to give you more money?, they say if you have money in your Bank we wont
furnish you with more and they retain it, but they start charging you .85% because
they suppose that you, by now, would have had to spend it. But as you can see, we
are screwed because they stop the allocation. If they do not give us the cash, this does
not work. It becomes something like a catch twenty-two.
As the quote highlights, educational bureaucrats felt that they were being penalized not
only by the disbursement rules which made it difficult to move forward with the project
but also by the fact that they were paying the Bank a commitment fee for monies that they
could not access because of the disbursement rules. From the vantage point of our partici-
pants, these business realities both impeded the progress of the project and contradicted
the carefully constructed image of a partnership that had been developed during previous
While the financial requirements of the Bank constrained the implementation of the
project, the realities of implementation made visible the utopian nature of the design process.
During the design phase the project was translated into numerical terms, presumably in order
to produce a proposal that conformed to both the requirements of the Bank and to the external
capital markets from where the Bank borrowed its funds (see Jones, 1992). As previous
sections alluded to, sometimes the numbers did not exist and had to be fabricated. And
sometimes the project documents were viewed as academic exercises, exercises that were
undertaken in order to get the loan. However, in the implementation phase these translations
and assumptions suddenly became problematic because the country was expected to live
by the plan.
For example, participants commented that the timelines contained in the documents
were unrealistic. They indicated that project-planning documents were invariably optimistic
because the plans did not take into account the political, bureaucratic and infrastructure
380 D. Neu, E. Ocampo / Critical Perspectives on Accounting 18 (2007) 363389

realities of the country. Furthermore, this was compounded by the aforementioned Bank
disbursement procedures that further delayed the project:

Between 19xx and 19yy, we are supposed to develop the first phase of the project.
However, the contract was signed in December and its implementation started in
January. But even though we started the implementation of the project, this project is
very long, mainly because we have to meet lots of conditions imposed by the Bank.

In terms of infrastructure, the project assumed that rural education would be improved
by constructing schools and by training teachers. What was ignored however was that
infrastructure in terms of roads, etc., often did not exist; furthermore, it was difficult to
attract qualified teachers to these areas. These infrastructure shortcomings made it almost
impossible to meet the timelines:

In this sense, the time used to exercise the project cant be similar to any other project
of infrastructure in which you only get the cement and the wires, and start building.
Our times of performance are very different because we have to concentrate on the
different locations and municipalities. A problem that nobody talks about and that is
difficult to measure is that the projects are poorly planned. I understand that one never
expects that there will be so many complications in the development of a project, and
that there will be things that will escape the scope of the ministry and its departments.

Furthermore, these delays resulted in disappointment at the district level where educa-
tional participants had believed the planning documents and had expected to see immediate

The problem is that the Banks demands make fast performance impossible. That is
something that people from the different locations dont understand. They think that
once the project was presented to them, things will happen immediately, but that
is not possible. Therefore the communities get disappointed and lose faith in the
These quotes make visible both the ambiguities inherent in the Banks involvement and
the inconsistencies between the plans contained in Bank documents and the realities of the
country. While the numerical translation of the rural education project into concrete num-
bers, implementation steps and performance indicators provided the appearance of financial
rationality to external parties, these translations were often at odds with the realities of the
country (cf. Caiden and Wildavsky, 1974; Jones and McCaffery, 1994). The interaction
between the Banks financial stewardship procedures which had been borrowed from the
realm of Fortune 500 corporations and the political and infrastructure realities of the country
resulted in perpetual and on-going delays. This theme of the perpetual optimism inherent
in missionary plans vis-a-vis the reality associated with implementing and achieving mis-
sionary goals is a re-occurring one in the missionary literature (cf. Makdisi, 1997). The
irony of course was that people in the rural areas, because of their previous dealings with
the national government and because the Bank was constructed as the international expert,
were more likely to blame the national government than the Bank for the implementation
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The preceding suggests that slippages of time were one of the characteristics of the
implementation phase. However, this phase was also characterized by tensions over the
issue of control. Education bureaucrats were very ambivalent about these controls. On one
level, they accepted the Banks construction of Latin American societies as inefficient and
corrupt as well as the suggestion that externally imposed controls were necessary to break
this cycle of corruption. From this vantage point, the support of the Bank was welcomed:
From the Banks perspective, this is a very discrete way to determine and limit certain
behaviours and practices. The Bank controls and directs so discretely that the people
do not feel restricted but are thankful for its help, despite the economic costs. The
people of the country feel that they do not have the preparation, ideology and expertise
to change things, thus they feel supported by the Bank. That is true, the Bank helps in
its way to make things happen as they should according to their criteria, as a way to
diffuse its methodology, ideology, practices, etc. which it considers are the correct
But at the same time, there was resentment that this strategy of externally imposed control
would only reinforce the dependency relationship between the Bank and the country:
From my point of view, it would be more useful that the preparation would be given
to the people that are in charge of these types of projects. In this way there would
be more consciousness; from the perspective of these people everything could be
applied, warranting its efficiency because the money would be invested on what is
relevant: a real positive change could be generated in the country.
Interestingly, this ambivalence is central to the missionary encounter. The feeling of
simultaneously being helped and resenting the paternal form of the help has been men-
tioned in numerous missionary accounts. For example, Comaroff and Comaroff (1991, p.
209) capture this ambivalence when they speak of the attempts of missionaries to intro-
duce scientific water practices, practices which conflicted with local knowledges. They
note that the introduction of such practices cannot be divorced from the broader struggles
over meaning and sense-making. These introductions challenged local understandings and
shifted the capitals of the field in such a way as to create a hierarchy of expertises. Thus,
in the current case, while government officials recognized the potential benefits of Bank
practices, there was also a recognition that the introduction and acceptance of these prac-
tices positioned the country within a dependency relationshipthe end result being a state
of uncertainty as to whether the country would be better or worse off in the absence of the
Here is when it is difficult to determine whether we would be better off without the
loans of the Bank. Economically, with any type of loan we would have the same per-
formance limitations. Also, it would be slow and costly because it is just difficult that
any institution gives money for free: it is always necessary to pay interest. Regarding
the follow-up control, it is true that the money evaporates and makes rich the minori-
ties with political and economic power. So if the restriction and the supervision did
not exist, we would have the same debt situation or worse, and our projects would
not operate.
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Thus, in the implementation phase we observe the re-positioning of the missionary

encounter away from the realm of abstract planning processes and documents to the realm
of practice. Here it was that the realities of the Banks business focus became appar-
ent and where the implications of the implanted control mechanisms (i.e. disbursement
procedures) became real for the educational bureaucrats. Likewise, it was during this
phase that the imagined reality of the plans collided with the economic and social real-
ity of the rural areas. These collisions of reality are not unique to this situation, however.
Rather they occur in both missionary and non-missionary settings when we move from
the abstractions of planning to the realities of implementation (Caiden and Wildavsky,

2.5. Monitoring

Like other stages of the process, the Bank adopted a hands-on approach to evalua-
tion and monitoring. For example, during the design phase the Bank routinely insists on
the incorporation of performance indicators into the project. As the Bank representative
commented, these indicators help to clarify Bank expectations regarding each stage of the
project. Through these indicators, it was possible to provide long-run guidance through the
emphasis on short-run goals:
That is why this project is within the type of loans that the Bank has. This is one of
the long-term development projects. They are the APF: something is agreed with the
countries, a policy, and goals of development . . .. So they come by stages, that is, we
agree with the government in what it is that we want to have about a certain theme.
In other words, performance indicators and goals that will allow us to achieve what
we agreed on in the long term.
Guidance was also attempted through on-going missions. Generalized missions visited
the country on a periodic basis to assess the project and to provide feedback and advice.
These were supplemented with more specialized missions to help resolve technical and
financial issues when they arose:
There is a specialist in acquisitions, also a funding specialist, and one more in technical
education. They are the ones that make up the team. They establish the objectives and
responsibilities. One of them comes and observes, visits the field. Although due to
circumstances of security, last time we couldnt visit the field, we couldnt go to the
municipalities. But in that case all the people from the alliances were brought to us.
Then we could verify, look deep, and talk to people. We talked about the difficulties
and problems they were facing and we tried to look for alternatives to solve them.
Actually, we recorded that in the minutes.
Within the monitoring processes, information and information systems played a central
role. Similar to what was noted in the Panama loan agreement (see Table 1), one of the lend-
ing agreement requirements was the introduction and upgrading of the countrys financial
management system. This system was intended to provide educational bureaucrats at the
national level with information pertaining to the individual districts. The Bank also main-
tained its own system of information that it used for monitoring the project. This system
D. Neu, E. Ocampo / Critical Perspectives on Accounting 18 (2007) 363389 383

attempted to track expenditures as well as performance indicators as a way of assessing the

progress of the project:
It is a very important instrument to perform follow-up in all the projects. We register
all the agreements and the findings. Then, as a whole we sign it, and it stays as an
instrument for the following up. Then, internally, we translate the formulas, which
wind up in an instrument that we have which is called the ISR (Supervision Report).
That is an internal instrument that we fill and qualify according to the progress of
the project, the times of the allocations, the performance indicators. We see if the
capabilities to educate are really increasing.
Auditing also played a central role in the monitoring activities of the Bank. Included
in Bank lending agreements was the requirement that project expenditures be audited (see
Table 1). The Bank provided the auditors with specific auditing and reporting requirements
that formed the basis for their work:
We verify all the conditions, making evaluations of internal control. The Bank gives
a methodology to all the auditors. Their methodology is written in some auditing
guides. We work according to those guides and do everything so that what is writ-
ten actually happens. Thats our task, to make all those verifications and probes,
to look at the contracts and at the people involved in them, to check the transfer-
ences and allocations . . . all of that is checked by us. The Bank also comes to visit
us frequently to check the progress and they register everything in some type of
Given that a significant portion of the expenditures related to physical infrastructure, the
auditors utilized civil engineers to visit the rural areas and to provide an assessment that the
investment had taken place.
Despite these monitoring strategies, the technologies did not always work as envisioned,
in part because the administrative, economic, political and social realities of Latin America
are so different from that of missionary centralWashington, DC. Rather, slippage was
the inevitable consequence of the attempt to introduce foreign practices into a different
context. For example, one interview participant comments that one of the loan requirements
was that a software-monitoring program be developed. However, this:
More than anything it was an academic work because it did not deal in reality. Now,
it is the time to adjust both follow-up and evaluation theories to reality. For example,
they developed a software to do follow-up, that they would take to the municipalities,
but it was not applicable.
This theme regarding the informational infrastructure was also mentioned with regards
to the evaluation plans. Participants commented that the planning documents were more of
an academic exercise than something that was realistic:
In the proposal of the project there is included a plan for evaluation and follow-up that
were developed more because it was a requirement of the Bank than for functionality.
Doing this proposal was part of the preparation studies of the project. However, we
didnt know whether it was going to be implemented or if it was feasible to evaluate.
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This method of evaluation was developed with the Bank more as an academic exercise
than as an activity to be implemented in reality.
Implicit in these comments was the recognition that a system of information is dependent
on an information infrastructure to gather relevant and reliable information. In the absence
of such infrastructure, it may be possible to implement an information system but the utility
remains suspect.
The preceding suggests that the incompatibility between the technical solutions and the
physical infrastructure was salient. However, the role of human practices in such slippages
is also important. For example, implicit within the comments of our interview participants
was the suggestion that the practices of evaluation advocated by the Bank were foreign to the
habitus of the field. Therefore, while the Bank may insist on these practices as a condition
of receiving the loan, participants are largely indifferent as to whether these technologies
work or not. As a consequence, participants have incentives to play along and to pretend
that these evaluative technologies will work.
In their discussion of the missionary encounter, Comaroff and Comaroff (1991, p. 31)
note that resistance takes a myriad of forms:
Just as technologies of control run the gamut from overt coercion to implicit persua-
sion, so modes of resistance may extend across a similarly wide spectrum. At one
end is organized protest, explicit moments and movements of dissent that are easily
recognizable as political by western lights. At the other are gestures of tacit refusal
and iconoclasm, gestures that sullenly and silently contest the forms of an existing
hegemony. For the most part, however, the ripostes of the colonized hover in the space
between the tacit and the articulate, the direct and the indirect.
From this vantage point, we can read the responses of government bureaucrats as a form
of ironic resistancethe local actors share an internal smile of recognition that is based on
the fact that, despite their wide expertise and experience, Bank officials do not know (or
choose not to know) and understand how things really work in this particular field.
In this particular case, the realities of rural migration and population displacement made
it almost impossible to assess the success of the project since these uncontrollable factors
played havoc with the indicators:
Right now we have problems doing the measurements. Not so much to achieve the
goals as to measure the progress. At the moment the project was built, we utilized
some indicators and statistics from the municipalities. The problem is that due to
movement of population (immigration), the statistics have not remained the same. In
some municipalities, we had certain coverage (amount of students at school) when
we signed the project, but a year after, when the project started its implementation,
said student population did not exist any more, it had moved to other municipalities.
Thus, our goals couldnt be achieved there because there was not the population to
be taught. Unfortunately, the same thing is happening in several municipalities. That
is a critical problem that we are facing right now.
Furthermore, this reality provided educational bureaucrats with the operational space
in which they could largely ignore the administrative intent of the performance indicators.
D. Neu, E. Ocampo / Critical Perspectives on Accounting 18 (2007) 363389 385

Stated differently, educational bureaucrats always had wiggle room to argue that the failure
to meet certain indicators was the result of factors that were beyond the control of the

The Bank gives you the opportunity to pass from one stage to another when the time
to do that comes. The Bank expects that you meet certain indicators to pass from
one stage to another otherwise it does not give you the next part of the loan. With
this requirements and pauses between stages we have the opportunity to say, oops,
I thought it was going to work. Thus, if you realize that things werent working
the way you were doing them, you have chance to change details, minor things, to
improve the project for the second stage.

As the quote hints at, bureaucrats could act as if they were playing the game accord-
ing to Bank rules while recognizing that it would be almost impossible for the Bank to
enforce the punishments/consequences that were tied to the failure to meet certain per-
formance indicators (i.e. the provision of future funding). Returning to Comaroff and
Comaroffs observations regarding the missionary encounter, overt resistance is unnec-
essary in such situations since symbolic compliance with Bank requirements has the same
It is also important to acknowledge, however, that the reaction to monitoring and evalua-
tion activities should not be read as a simple story about resistance. Like the other missionary
practices of the Bank, interview participants felt a real ambivalence regarding the moni-
toring practices. On the one hand it was recognized that monitoring and evaluation were
important parts of the project, and that the culture of evaluation is often absent within Latin
American countries. On the other hand, there was ambivalence regarding the management
by the numbers that was implicit within Bank procedures. For example, one participant

We have not done that; the results of the evaluation will be reported to the ministry of
education. Sometimes I think that one should have another mechanism of evaluation,
something based on our experiences through our trips to the different cities and our
observations in them.

Thus, participants recognized the absence of evaluation practices and perhaps the need
for such practices while at the same time feeling that management by the numbers was
not the solution. In this ambivalence we can see the effects of the long-term missionary
encounter that Comaroff and Comaroff talk about. On the level of specific practicessuch
as evaluationthe practices introduced by the Bank may appear to be less-than-successful
in that they do not work as Bank bureaucrats probably envisioned. However, these practices
have changed the habitus of the field. In public spaces and within their own consciousnesses,
educational bureaucrats and government officials have conversations about the notion of
evaluation, and about the potential need for evaluative practices. In this way, such discourses
and technologies have become embedded within the field. Therefore while we may talk
about the resistance to these practices we also need to acknowledge that acts of resistances
are at the same time acts of engagement and participationacts that ultimately change the
habitus of the field.
386 D. Neu, E. Ocampo / Critical Perspectives on Accounting 18 (2007) 363389

3. Discussion

This study examined how financial practices have been diffused by the World Bank to the
field of education within an unnamed Latin American country. Starting from the mission-
ary metaphor, we have analyzed how accounting and other financial practices came to be
implanted within the field of education via the design, implementation and monitoring of a
World Bank project. Our analysis highlighted the complexity of such missionary encounters
in that Bank attempts to introduce financial practices invariably involved slippages in how
the practices were implemented and worked as well as accommodations and resistances on
the part of the educational bureaucrats.
The analysis complements, extends and challenges our understanding of such processes
in three ways. First, the analysis highlights both how accounting/financial technologies
are implanted within World Bank documents and subsequently diffused to distant sites as
well as how these documents are predicated on a series of accounting translations. Thus,
on one level, the analysis illustrates how financial practices are diffused to distant sites
and how this diffusion is almost agency-less in the sense that documents such as Bank
lending agreements act as the carriers of financial practice. In this way, the study echoes
the globalization literature and its emphasis on the almost automatic diffusion of practices
across different sites. However, on another level, the analysis makes visible the role of
agency in these processes. Documents such as the project planning documents and lending
agreements are the result of a series of translations whereby Bank experts and their hired
consultants have taken the abstract notion of a rural education project and rendered it into
a particular shape and form via a series of accounting and financial techniques. Techniques
such as return on investment and sensitivity analysis as well as the acts of constructing
and writing plans not only diffuse a particular way of envisioning rural education but also
diffuse a series of techniques that become implanted into the field of education. Thus, the
study illustrates how financial technologies are both the carriers of particular mentalities
and missionary techniques.
Second, while the provided analysis provides a partial explanation for why different
institutional fields come to look alike (cf. DiMaggio and Powell, 1983), it also challenges
us to recognize that once we get beyond the superficial similarities, institutional fields may
look quite different. Stated differently, a simple reading of World Bank lending agreements
would suggest that the fields of education are almost the same in that each lending agreement
has implanted similar accounting and financial technologies and has adopted similar vocab-
ularies. Yet as the current study illustrated, acts of slippage, accommodation and resistance
are endemic to the missionary encounter. As a result the ways in which financial practices
are understood, taken up and utilized will vary across institutional fields. Thus, the analysis
highlights the importance of understanding the micro-politics of these encounters (Ailon-
Souday and Kunda, 2003; Burchell et al., 1980; Hopwood, 1987), especially the ways in
which the configurations of capitals and social relations within the field shape and constrain
the deployment of accounting technologies.
Finally, the analysis challenges us to think about the long-term effects associated with
Bank involvement. We have stressed throughout the analysis that the micro-processes asso-
ciated with Bank involvement are considerably more complex than the simple imposition
of financial and accounting practices. Because of the slippages and resistances inherent in
D. Neu, E. Ocampo / Critical Perspectives on Accounting 18 (2007) 363389 387

the missionary encounter, implanted technologies did not work as Bank officials intended.
However, it is important to acknowledge that they did work in that they changed the
way that education bureaucrats and government officials talked about, thought about and
administered education. For example, in a follow-up visit some 18 months after our original
interviews it was obvious that educational bureaucrats had taken up and embraced many
of these administrative techniques and were attempting to implement them in areas and
ways not envisioned by the original lending agreement. Thus, like the work of Oakes et al.
(1998), the current study challenges us to both recognize the way that quotidian accounting
practices work to re-form the capitals and habitus of institutional fields and to broaden our
definition of what counts as success in such situations. Like the work of Comaroff and
Comaroff (1991), we propose that although the missionary encounter involves more than
imposition, Bank involvement does change the habitus of distant fields.
While the current study has contributed to the understanding of financial missionary
practices, a series of questions remain. For example, the current study has concentrated on
the impact that World Bank activities have had on education in an unnamed Latin Ameri-
can country. However, our analysis has focused on the missionary encounter between the
Bank and educational bureaucrats rather than the impact that these practices have had on
the practices of rural education per se. Additional work is needed to understand how these
practices are translated and diffused to individual school districts and schools. This work
would help us understand the chains of translations that are involved in such processes. Sim-
ilarly, additional work is needed to trace both the longitudinal effects of Bank interventions
as well as the way that these processes work in different countries and different institutional
fields. Through such analyses we will be in a better position to understand the importance of
current-day missionaries such as the World Bank in the globalization of financial practice.
In 1900 McKinley asserted that the contribution of missionaries to the onward and
upward march of humanity was beyond all calculation (quoted in Ustorf, 1998). Clearly the
current study is more equivocal about the consequences of missionary activities; however,
we cannot deny that financial calculation forms the basis for the missionary activities of the


The funding provided by SSHRC to the first author as well as comments by colleagues
is gratefully acknowledged.


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