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The Idea Of Development Stands In Landscapes

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 2364 words Published: 2nd Aug 2021

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“The idea of development stands like a ruin in the intellectual landscape. Delusion and disappointment, failures and crime have been the steady companions of development and they tell a common story: it did not work. Moreover, the historical conditions which catapulted the idea into prominence have vanished: development has become outdated” (Sachs, 1992: 1).

While many will not agree with the position of Wolfgang Sachs in the quote above, post development has taken the critique of development to a level that borders on revolution or confusion. Revolution in the sense that it could change the whole world beyond current recognition, and confusion because it leaves a lot of questions unanswered when it comes to exactly how societies should proceed from here.

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This essay will take a probe into post development theories to weigh their assumptions and positions in relationship to orthodox theories of development. We will take orthodox theories to mean mainstream theories which have so far shaped and greatly influenced how development has been practised. Modernization and the critical responses of Dependency and Neoliberalization have all greatly affected policy formulations at both local and international levels.

Furthermore, there is a need to clarify the issue of “adequacy” and “fatal blow”. What do we mean by adequacy? We will look at the term “adequacy” from the perspective of the orthodox theories’ sufficiency in explaining how development has been generally practised till date and going forward. “Fatal blow” is a much stronger idiom. One of the pictures that readily come to mind is that of a boxing competition in which one of the contenders knocks out his opponent, thus remaining the only one standing. Could we aptly say that the “inadequacy” of orthodox theories means that post development has monopolistic rights as the “last man standing” to determine how the World proceed after the “end of Development” (Lummis 1994)? We will therefore try and paint three scenarios to arrive at our conclusion: First, Development should continue and we should ignore post development theories. Secondly, we assume post development won the contest and do away with its “defeated counterparts”. The third position is to pause a bit with development business, give due considerations to the concerns of post development and see how we could go ahead in a much more improved way. We will however first have an overview of post development theories and then proceed to consider each of the three scenarios.

Post development theories, inspired by the work of Michel Foucault and poststructuralist thinking, emerged from the late 1980s as a body of post modern literature that rejects the very meaning of development. Post development scholars argue that “Development” is a knowledge and power regime in which Modernization is used as a tool by the West to control and recolonize the third world (Rapley 2004). Most of the post development literatures attempt to explain why development has not worked (Rahnema, 1997), poverty still abounds and the gap between the rich and the poor continue to widen, therefore calling for an end to development as it is currently practised (Sachs, 1992).

Using discourse analysis, post development scholars attempted a “deconstruction of development” to reveal how it serves the interest of the North at the expense of the South. According to Arturo Escobar, Development is a top-down approach that is technocratic and ethnocentric, treating people and cultures as items to be moved up and down development charts (Escobar, 1995).

Furthermore, the work of Schuurman shows what post-development critique is about by identifying development as a series of paradigms. He highlighted that development has been able to essentialize the Third World and its inhabitants as homogenous entities, uphold the unquestionable believe in the concept of progress and make-ability of society, and lay much emphasis on the nation state as an analytical framework which has an ascribed ability to bring about progress (Schuurman, 2000). It is this kind of paradigms that post-development is against. Two subgroups could however be observed in post development thinking, the “anti-development” group and those who look “beyond development”. Anti-development is an outright rejection of development while beyond development attempts to look at alternatives to development. As noted by Sally Matthews (2004), “what could we build to replace the ruins of development”?

Having taken a brief peep into post development theories, what then could we say is the impact on orthodox theories of development and their adequacy? This leads us into our 3-case scenarios:

1) Ignore post development 2) Ignore orthodox theories of development, and 3) Consider both.

We now consider each of these scenarios and their implications to development practice.

For the first scenario, assuming we ignore post development theories and continue business as usual. Various critiques of post development have highlighted the weaknesses of the approach. These include moral relativism (Parfitt, 2002), romanticizing of the pre-modern, and political conservativeness (Pieterse 2000). Pieterse further stated that post development theory differs from other critical approaches to development is its insistence that development be rejected in its entirety rather than being better implemented or altered in specific ways. Rist (2008) however asserts that while there is a rejection of post-World War development, the idea that it is possible for a society to undergo some or other process of transformation which will result in a better life for its inhabitants, is not.

Consequently, ignoring post development theory leaves us with the need to answer some searching questions posed by its proponents. “Could the foundations of development problem really go beyond just bad implementations to deep-rooted misconception (Rahnema1997)?” What about the disappointments, increased inequities, cultural homogenisation, environmental destruction and general disillusionment (Matthews 2004)? Could it be that we have religiously accepted development and feared to even question its origin (Rist 1990)? While sustainable development might have considered questions about the impact of development on the environment, if we continue to pull on the non-renewable resources of the environment in the name of increasing economic growth, are we not going to self-destruct in the long run?

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Therefore, it becomes quite clear that a complete dismissal of the concerns of the post development school would do more harm than good. This is in consonance with Nustad who asserts that “the weakness of post development theory in terms of the absence of a comprehensive description of ‘alternatives to development’ is no reason to reject the theory as a whole.” (Nustad, 2007)

In the second scenario, according to Ziai (2004), post development holds an emancipatory potential through the project of radical democracy. Assuming we move to the polar end of the argument, accept the post development ideology (Pieterse 2000), and like McGregor (2008) suggested, we start to “…empower social movements and resistance struggles (Escobar 1995; Raman 2007), recognise and build upon informal or alternative community economies (Gibson-Graham 2004; Latouche 1993), and shift from project-based approaches to flexible international partnerships and community networks (McGregor 2007; Matthews 2007)”. The first question is who will pioneer such a resistance? Are we assuming that all the social movements will just know what to do and act without any external help? In a situation where an external help is needed, we come back to the question of interventionism – which has been highly criticized by post development theorists.

Another problem is whether a democratic decision could be reached about what is desired in a community, what if some members of the community want “development”? Though the Third World has imbibed some items and cultures of the West, the way in which such is adapted differ widely, and such adaptations are based on the preferences of the society involved. In 1993, a research was conducted to study the attitude of adults to mass media in Plateau State of Nigeria (Amienyi 1993). The State’s mass media gave preference to local contents and promote local values. The results showed that majority of the adults were pleased with the mass media. This and other examples round the world shows that, contrary to the claims of the post development school, development does not necessarily mean the direct transfer of western culture and technologies , adaptations vary from society to society.

Furthermore, history has shown that there are inherent dangers when a system is changed based on the perceived good of implementing radical ideologies. The failure of the Latin American revolution of the 80s quickly jolts one back to the “reality” of the problems and challenges of such move. According to Nederveen Pieterse (2000), Post-development theory recaptures Dependency theory in advocating for freedom from external influences, but unlike dependency theory takes the argument beyond international trade to questioning development as a power-knowledge regime. While our current “reality” might have been shaped by the West and the rewriting of history impossible, could we confidently say a break away or a closed society is still a viable or advantageous option today, or should we maintain the status quo since a “known devil is better than an unknown angel”? Most times the rhetoric of a theory is quite different from the reality of its practice. Fernando Henrique Cardoso, one of the founding fathers of the Dependency theory was elected president of Brazil as a converted Neoliberal (Black, 1999). What will become of the proponents of post development theory tomorrow? As Lehman (1997, p.569 ) stated:….”the egregious and repeated failures of radical development theory as applied in practice do raise serious questions – not least on account of those who have suffered and even died in defence of its ideas. Will the post-modernist critique of development suffer the same fate?”

The third and final scenario we would consider, is the one in which we agree that the orthodox theories of development in themselves are no longer adequate and we give a deeper thought to the calls and concerns of the post development school. For truly, as noted by Harold Pinter (2005), our perception of reality could have been altered by our relative positions to the mirror of observation. We might be able to better appraise why numerous development projects have failed, why the gap between the North and the South keep increasing, and similarly the one between the rich and the poor. We will be able to give a better consideration to cultural norms and values, the environment and the future generation. While not advocating that the World Bank, IMF or other development organizations fold up, these institutions could discover new ways of extending aid in culturally relevant and environmentally sustainable ways.

In practice, this kind of stance has seen the World Bank from around the late 1990s, making more efforts to incorporate neo-populist concerns into its programs. An example is the PRSPs (Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers) which seek to invest ownership of development projects in beneficiary countries. PRSPs seek to encourage grassroots participation, decentralize decision making, and allow countries to draw their own development plans. The increasing concerns of the United Nations about poverty, gender and the environment also bear some parallels with some of the concerns of the post development school. The Millennium Development Goals, initiated in the year 2000, has the poor, women and the environment on its priority list, showing a triumph ecofeminism and environmentalism, both allies of post development.

Apparently, this third stance will enable us to give the right credits to the achievements of mainstream development, especially in Health and Education, while seeking innovative solutions to other societal problems in a less dogmatic and technocratic way. As Rist (2008) rightly noted, “Development” could continue to be a system beliefs and practices which form a single whole in spite of contradictions between them. It is the management of these contradictions that will continue to be the major challenge for Development practice in the foreseeable future. This third position seems to be the most likely rather than the other two, meaning that neither post development nor orthodox theories of development could individually claim the victory when it comes to adequacy in explaining the complex and multidimensional field of development.

In conclusion, Post development has enabled us to critically reappraise how we go about the development business, revealing in more details the complexities and diversities involved and the need to respect them. It is however very difficult to imagine a world in which development stops altogether. There will rather continue to be tradeoffs, negotiations and renegotiations on how development should be carried out from the apex down to the smallest community. While some communities will rightly prefer to continue to live life as naturally as possible, upholding cultural norms and beliefs others will desire the improvements that development brings. The question will then be what exactly should be the cost of such development and is it acceptable? With Globalization introducing a new variable to the whole equation, dismantling the erstwhile national and geographical units of development, there is no questioning that development practice might get more complex rather than simpler. In the long run complex questions must be answered at various levels, but decision power seems to be gradually shifting more in the direction of the people on whose lives development (or otherwise) would have the greatest impact.


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