Alternative Development or Alternatives to Development – II

Since the mid-twentieth century, the idea of “development” has operated as both a cognitive category and a relation of force to remap the terrain marked by the colonial encounter and the condition of post-coloniality. One has to be clear that the grammar of colonialism is in the genetic code of the development project. How could it be otherwise? After all, both capitalism and liberalism, hallmarks of modernity and founts of the development project, were constituted in and through the colonial encounter. Indeed, the very first use of the word “capital,” in the sense of the grounds of capitalism as a new mode of production, was coined in 1766 in the context of capital-intensive though slave-hungry Antillean sugar plantations.

The development project is the latest variant of the 500 year-old project variously called “saving native souls,” “the white ma’s burden,” “manifest destiny,” “the civilizing mission,” and “the historical imperative of progress.” Development is not just a theory about economic development and elimination of poverty, but also an ideological and institutional device to consolidate the domination of the Global North over the Global South.

One can configure the development project as the sum of three gestures. First, it demarcates a site of intervention of power by constituting abnormalities in the anatomy of the Global South. Second, through normalization of development within a knowledge/power matrix, a field of control is demarcated. Social issues are removed from the political realm and relocated as preserves of science to facilitate a regime of truths and norms. Third, institutionalization and professionalization of development at all levels is secured, ranging from international organizations and national planning bodies to local development agencies and NGOs. These institutions – a network of new sites of power – constitute an interlinked global apparatus of development.

We can conceptualize the development project as an institutional apparatus that links forms of knowledge about the Global South with deployment of particular forms of power. Once societies become the targets of these new regimes of power – embodied in endless programs and strategies – their economies and cultures are offered up as new objects of knowledge that, in turn, create new possibilities of assertion of power.

The development project is, above all, a way of thinking. Once consolidated, it determines what can be thought, said, and even imagined. The development project defines a perceptual domain, colonizes reality, and produces particular subjectivities. Development is not only an omni-historical ideological construct and a hegemonic global discourse, it is the primary instrument of cartography of post-colonial imaginary. As a full-service enterprise, with confident notions of time and space, of nature and culture, of society and the individual, of the good and the truth, development is a mechanism through which particular subjects and subjectivities are produced. In the process, and as a result, precluded are other ways of imagining, seeing, doing and living.

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6 Responses

  1. A.J. Sutter says:

    BTW, are you familiar with the work of Serge Latouche, and of Gilbert Rist? Rist’s book is available in English, though I’m not sure whether Latouche’s more specifically development-related work (some earlier and some more recent) has been translated from the French yet. Latouche’s current work on de-growth a/k/a décroissance also builds on these views.

  2. I think a Marxist economist, Meghnad Desai, has given us succinct yet nuanced and accurate assessment of some of the virtues and vices of the capitalism intrinsic to most if not all conceptions of “development:”

    “Capitalism is not a kind or a benevolent system. It is the most effective mode of production discovered so far in wealth creation [despite its endemic ‘cycles, with their manias, crashes, and panics’]. It has no overarching objective, since it works through the profit-seeking efforts of millions of capitalists. It generates economic growth, prosperity, and employment as side-effects. It also causes much misery and destruction in its tendency towards incessant change. But over the last two hundred years, it has achieved the largest gain in well-being in all previous millennia. For one thing, many more people are alive now than in 1800 (around six times as many), and they live longer on average—between ten to twenty years longer—than they did then. [….] If length of life can be taken as a crude measure of potential well-being, a billion people living, say, forty years on average in 1800 compared to six billion people living sixty year today speaks volumes for the success of capitalism. In 1800, perhaps two thirds of that billion were poor; today, at most a quarter of the six billion are poor. Yet the reduction of poverty is neither automatic, nor to be taken for granted. [….] Adam Smith was not wrong, however, in saying that the new system of natural liberty imposed the cost of inequality while delivering a universal betterment of living standards. More people have been brought out of poverty in the last two hundred years, especially since 1945, than ever before in history. The very idea that poverty could be eliminated could not have occurred in any precapitalist stage. Capitalism provides the means for eliminating poverty, but these means were not directed immediately, or evenly, in the course of its development.”

    China of late provides compelling contemporary evidence that capitalism can make enormous strides in addressing the question of poverty, but it has been purchased at the price of inequality (regional, income, and otherwise). The creation and persistence of new forms of “relative” poverty and inequality, the system’s “manias, crashes, and panics,” and the ecological and environmental problems we face today, are among the more prominent reasons we have to begin, with Marx, to look beyond (in an Hegelian dialectical sense) this system (although Marx had very little to say about socialism and communism, his analytical prowess being devoted to capitalism).

    As Gandhi noted, the capitalist system of development brought with it, in Bhikhu Parekh’s words, a conception of private property

    “subversive of the social order because it conflicted with the fundamental principles underlying and sustaining it. The customs, values, traditions, ways of life and thought, habits, language and educational, political and other institutions constituting a social order were created by the quiet co-operation and the anonymous sacrifices of countless men and women over several generations, none of whom asked for or could ever receive rewards for all their efforts. And their integrity was preserved by every citizen using them in a morally responsible manner. Every social order was thus of necessity a co-operative enterprise created and sustained by the spirit of sharing, mutual concern, self-sacrifice and yajna [sacred sacrifice or spiritual offering in general]. And its moral and cultural capital, available by its very nature to all members of society as freely as the air they breathed, constituted their collective and common heritage to be lovingly cherished and enriched. The institution of private property rested on the opposite principles and breathed a very different spirit. It stressed selfishness, aggression, exclusive ownership, narrow individualism, a reward for every effort made, possessiveness and a right to do what one liked with one’s property. It was hardly surprising, Gandhi argued, that its domination in the modern age should have atomized and culturally impoverished society and undermined the basic conditions of human development.” See Bhikhu Parekh’s Gandhi’s Political Philosophy: A Critical Examination (1989)

    An alternative form of economic development need not abandon some of the nobler intentions and salutary consequences found in earlier models, be they of colonial or post-colonial provenance or inspiration (in other words, their long-term effects, be they intended and direct or otherwise, were not entirely negative and thus sometimes beneficial). In addition, as Gandhi might have said, the economic criteria and standards of such development should be subordinate to and regulated by man’s moral and spiritual needs, these understood in a manner close to if not identical with what Martha Nussbaum has proposed in her list of “basic human capabilities.” Michael Luntley put it this way:

    “We must rearticulate the criteria, the goals, that define our agency in the social world and which provide the reference groups which alone can carry the traditions necessary for moral life to proceed. We must rearticulate the authority of the Good. In doing this we must articulate the more specific goals and standards for variety of human institutions we find in modern society and stand these goals in opposition to the market criteria of capitalist success.”

    In his book, Development as Freedom (1999), Amartya Sen has begun, I think, to formulate the fundamentals of such a conception of development, one that does not eschew the generalizable virtues of participatory and deliberative democracy while recognizing the importance of human rights: civil, political, social, and economic. His work should be read in conjunction with several others:

    · Bardhan, Pranab, Samuel Bowles, and Michael Wallerstein, eds. Globalization and Egalitarian Distribution (New York: Russell Sage Foundation/Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006)
    · Miller, Richard W. Globalizing Justice: The Ethics of Poverty and Power (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010)
    · Nussbaum, Martha C. Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach. (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011)
    · Santos, Boaventura de Sousa Santos, ed. Democratizing Democracy: Beyond the Liberal Democratic Canon—Vol. 1 of Reinventing Social Emancipation: Toward New Manifestos (London: Verso, 2007)
    · Santos, Boaventura de Sousa Santos, ed. Another Production is Possible: Beyond the Capitalist Canon—Vol. 2 of Reinventing Social Emancipation: Toward New Manifestos (London: Verso, 2007)
    · Wright, Erik Olin. Envisioning Real Utopias (London: Verso, 2010)

  3. In short, I’m in favor of “alternative development” rather than “aternatives to development,” believing individual and collective development (which must work in synergestic and dialectical relation with one another), both here and around the globe, construed in terms psychological, moral, social, economic, and so forth, is an intrinsically good endeavor that we need not, nay, should not abandon. Indeed, we should commit ourselves to it with a clear conscience provided we are moved by the proper motivations…. I imagine such development as capable of embracing, in principle and praxis, an untold number of ways of imagining, seeing, doing and living.

  4. errata: “alternatives to…” and (in parentheses) synergistic

  5. Another mistake, this time an author’s name: Santos, Boaventura de Sousa.

  6. A.J. Sutter says:

    Since this post, in the version containing links, has been in moderation limbo for more than 24 hours, here it is again, though its “BTW” seems now much less spontaneous:

    BTW, are you familiar with the work of Serge Latouche, and of Gilbert Rist? Rist’s book (The History of Development: From Western Origins to Global Faith 3d ed. (Zed 2009)) is available in English, though I’m not sure whether Latouche’s more specifically development-related works (some earlier (Faut-il refuser le développement ? 1986) and some more recent (Survivre au développement : De la décolonisation de l’imaginaire économique à la construction d’une société alternative 2004)) have been translated from the French yet. Latouche’s current work on de-growth a/k/a décroissance also builds on these views of development (e.g., Farewell to Growth (Chicago 2010; French original 2008), Le pari de la décroissance (2006)) .