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Conceptualising foreign aid as a controversial social object, this study utilised Social Representations Theory as a social constructionist framework to understand the meanings that arise from people's social interactions in relation to foreign aid practice in a particular historical, political and social context such as the province of Sulu in Southern Philippines. Key informant interviews and group discussions with representatives of various social groups involved in the practice of foreign aid in Sulu were conducted. Research data were examined using thematic analysis. Results showed two interrelated representational systems about foreign aid in the province. First, foreign aid was understood as a valuable resource for peace and development in Sulu. Second, based on narratives of aid practice in the province, the same social object was also represented as a profiteering enterprise that operates at various levels of the aid structure. Results are discussed in terms of meaning-making in aid practice; the possible psychological, social and political consequences of the social meaning of foreign aid as a profiteering enterprise; and the potential of these social representations for reflection, critique and transformation in the practice of foreign aid.

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