Patterns of Belief:  Examining the Epistemologies of International Development Workers in Timor-Leste.

Sam Carroll-Bell, PhD candidate.

Year commenced: 2015
Anticipated completion: 2019
Supervisory Team: Dr Damian Grenfell (Joint Senior), Dr Anne Brown (Joint Senior) and Dr Yaso Nadarajah (associate)

In the 15 years since the restoration of independence, Timor-Leste has been home, albeit a temporary one, to thousands of international development workers, project officers, capacity builders and volunteers. Backed by a complex network of bilateral and multilateral agencies, a growing number of public-private service organisations, and dozens of local and international NGOs, these ‘developers’ have deployed hundreds of programmes and projects with the aim of reducing poverty, supporting institutional development and establishing basic services. Despite this prolonged period of engagement and the prominence of the roles held, our understanding of these individuals, including the ways that they conceive and approach their work in Timor-Leste, remains very limited. This thesis examines the epistemological assumptions of International Development Workers operating in Timor-Leste. It argues that their assumptions tend to be framed by modern rationality, being several patterns of belief that project and justify objective reasoning, logical progression and the scientific method as the dominant sources of knowledge. Broadly connected by the notion of ‘social progress’ these patterns are replicated through the practice of development which is itself understood to be the process of extending rational modes of organisation and practice (which includes the applications and use of science and technology) to areas and peoples that exist outside of, or in contradiction to, a rational order. This establishes a framework for understanding and a mode of conducting relations.  Understanding these ‘patterns of belief’ and how they play out in places like Timor-Leste is key to developing more reflexive and potentially more sustainable modes of practice and relations.


What I'm reading at the moment:

  • Arce, Alerto, and Norman Long, eds. Anthropology, Development and Modernities: Exploring Discourse, Counter-Tendencies and Violence. Milton Park and New York: Routledge, 2000.
  • Kothari, Uma, ed. A Radical History of Development Studies: Individuals, Institutions and Ideologies. Cape Town & New Work: David Philip and Zed Books, 2005.
  • Lee, Julian C.H., ed. Narratives of Globalization: Reflections on the Global Condition. London: Littlefield, 2016.
  • Mosse, David, ed. Adventures in Aidland: The Anthropology of Professionals in International Development. New York & Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2011.


  • Sam Carroll-Bell, ‘Here to Help: Exploring the Motivations of International Development Workers in Timor-Leste’, Timor-Leste Studies Association (TLSA) Conference, Universidade Nacional de Timor-Lorosa’e (UNTL), Dili, Timor-Leste, 29-30 June 2017 

  • Sam Carroll-Bell and Rebecca Carroll-Bell, ‘Comparing the East Timorese practice of Nahe Biti with the LEADR Mediation Model’, 8-10 September 2014, Australian National Mediation Conference, Melbourne, Australia.

  • Sam Carroll-Bell, ‘Rethinking Development in Timor-Leste’, People and the Planet Conference, RMIT University, 4-6 July 2013, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia.

Publications & Reports

  • Sam Carroll-Bell (2016), ‘What is Development? Questions and Reflections from Rural Timor-Leste’, Here be Dragons, Volume 2, pp. 14–16.  

  • Sam Carroll-Bell (2015), ‘Development Alternative in Timor-Leste: Recasting Modes for Local Engagement’, Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde (Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences of Southeast Asia), Volume 171, Issue 2-3, pp. 312 – 345. Available from

  • Sam Carroll-Bell (2013), ‘Re-imagining Development in Timor-Leste’, in Proceedings of the People and Planet Conference, 4-6 July, RMIT University, Melbourne. Available from

  • Sam Carroll-Bell (2012), ‘Re-interperting Customary Practice as a Framework for Development: Lessons of Timor-Leste’s Community Reconciliation Process’, Local Global: Identity, Security, Community, Vol. 11, pp. 36–46. Available from