Alternative Development or Alternatives to Development – III
The specific discourse of development emerged in the era of national liberation struggles as a containment strategy to appropriate and normalize challenges to colonialism and neo-colonialism. Development policies and projects proliferated in an attempts to mange the evident poverty and inequality in post-colonial settings by isolating the causes of these conditions within these settings, thereby rendering invisible the role of global forces in producing poverty and inequality. “National” development was scripted by this new discourse. It did so by positing an underdeveloped and unproductive subject to be named, located, studied, theorized, and ultimately policed through development agencies and projects. Once defined, located and policed, this subject was to be the ostensible beneficiary of development projects imparted from above by governments under the direction of international development agencies. This teleology of progress not only provided yet another alibi for colonialism’s role in forging the conditions of post-coloniality, but also furnished the rationale for continued surveillance and disciplining of post-colonial societies and subjects.
Development, then, can be conceptualized as an institutional apparatus that links forms of knowledge about the Global South with the deployment of particular forms of power and intervention. Once societies become targets of these new mechanisms of assertion of power – embodied in endless strategies and programs – their economies and cultures are offered up as new subjects of knowledge that, in turn, create new possibilities of assertion of power.
The imaginary of development imprisons even its critique. This is the primary effect of a meta-theory of history, the foundation of the development project, which holds hegemonic sway even over the critics. This meta-theory is one that posits all human history as an unidirectional and linear movement from primitive to modern. Forges in the context of the colonial encounter, this meta-history assigned colonized societies to the pre-history of the West and served to legitimize domination and subjugation. This meta-theory of history trained on the difference the colonized native presented to the colonizer, and explicitly empowered certain cultures while suppressing others. In this meta-history all surviving cultures in the Rest have to rewrite their own history and live up to that of the West. In this schema post-colonials have a noxious past, a degraded present, and some others enviable present as their future.
Rabindranath Tagore, writing almost a century ago, stated the matter well when he said: “The entire East is attempting to take into itself a history which is not the outcome of its own living.”