Philip Fountain


Development scholarship in the social sciences has an awkward relationship with development things, often ignoring or sidelining materiality for analysis of cultures, discourses and power dynamics. Yet things are pivotal for how development works. This paper brings the anthropology of development into conversation with the burgeoning field of the anthropology of materiality. It focuses on a particular development thing: canned meat. The Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), a North American Christian NGO, has facilitated the production of canned meat for relief since the mid-1940s. Despite ideological shifts in conceptualising development, fluctuating financial constraints, changing hygiene regulations, arguments over labels, and the spectre of mad cow disease, canned meat remains a fixture in MCC’s programmatic repertoire. Every winter 10,000 volunteers from rural Mennonite communities can a million pounds of meat for relief. In tracing the surprising voyages of canned meat to Indonesia I probe into how material things might be relocated as a vital area of research on development and in so doing open new lines of investigation. Specifically, and despite the apparent paradox, I propose that a focus on material things can help invigorate research into the emerging field of “religion and development” by drawing attention to what can be called the theological life of things.


Canned meat; Development; material culture; Mennonites; translation; Christian NGOs; disaster relief

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