Mercenaries, Missionaries and Misfits Representations of Development Personnel

The argument of the article centres around three stereotypes of the development worker: mercenary, missionary and misfit. The origins of this tripartite characterization of the aid community are unclear but certainly it has a currency, or at least a resonance, within the industry. The argument is not so much concerned with the truth or otherwise of this characterization. Rather it seeks to use these stereotypes as an entry point for exploring the tensions and contradictions in ways in which people working in the industry view themselves and others. While there are individuals who can be recognized as approximat- ing to each of the three stereotypes, in general people veer between them, at different points in their careers and even at different points on the same day. Finally, although these three characterizations – missionary, mercenary and misfit – appear to be contrasting, this article will argue that they are in fact vari- ations on a common theme and a modern version of what people in the industry tend to see as the new ‘white man’s burden’.

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