Misreading the Night: The Shadows and Light of a Solar Technology

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    When Timor-Leste won independence, former resistance-leader-turnedstatesman, Xanana Gusmão, stated: ‘our dream was to be self-governing, but now our dream is to develop, to become a developed nation’ (RDTL 2002: 3). Since then, Timor-Leste’s development industry has advanced a torrent of new ideas of what constitutes ‘development’. It has brought to the Timorese people a dizzying mix of fantasies and propositions, sifting out the problems in ‘tradition’ and ‘culture’ that are perceived to present obstacles to development, and urging one or another form of intervention as ‘solutions’. At the opposite end of the spectrum to fanciful, state-driven, high-modernity schemes (Meitzner Yoder 2015) has arisen a panoply of practical, small-scale non-governmental organisation (NGO)–led proposals to improve village and household services. Of these, solar technology has been favoured, not least for lighting rural areas beyond the reach of grid power. This chapter traces one such initiative in which an international NGO (INGO) contracted a national NGO to distribute solar lamps in the district enclave of Oecusse to replace ‘suboptimal’, mainly kerosene-based, lighting. Since I assessed the impacts of the program, the solar lamps are explored through my personal experience of evaluation and reporting. Through an analysis of the politics of knowledge, I show how the process of understanding the locla expereince of 'old' light and 'new' light was influenced by the NGOs in question. In particular, I explore my encounter with an institution that was reluctant to acknolwedge the idscrepancies between the 'real impacts' and what had initially been held out as the anticipated impacts of solar lamps.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationThe Promise of Prosperity: Visions of the Future in Timor-Leste
    EditorsJudith Bovensiepen
    Place of PublicationCanberra
    PublisherANU E Press
    ISBN (Print)9781760462529
    Publication statusPublished - 2018


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