Thursday, November 11, 2010

Now is the time to rethink development

Geof Wood
There is a growing realisation that industrial capitalist futures for whole world are unsustainable in resource, energy and pollution terms as well as unattainable in political economy terms. Large swathes of today’s poor will continue to be excluded from the rising living standards enjoyed by those who have captured the lion’s share of the globalisation dividend.

This prospect is encouraging the emergence of other indicators of progress and self-esteem: more spiritual, more rooted in ideas about well-being, more millenarian identities, more in harmony with nature. It is also encouraging greater attention to inequality and a highly skewed distribution of benefits, not only as a moral and ethical issue, but as a pragmatic issue of rising political tensions and threats to any prospects of collective action and agreements. Inequality and unfairness underpins wars and fragile states.

The thinking about development since the Second World War has occurred within a dominant paradigm of capitalist modernisation. It is often based upon the assumption that people’s wellbeing is a simple function of improved material standards of living, indicated by increased real incomes.

Of course, embedded in the notion of modernisation was the formation of more open, rights based societies characterised as liberal-democratic pluralist. From the late 1960s, these assumptions were challenged, especially from Latin America, by the argument that formally free, post colonial societies had their path to modernisation thwarted by the continuing economic dominance of advanced industrial and post-industrial societies (known as the ‘dependency’ argument). This set the terms of exchange and thus accumulation in the global political economy.

 The so-called communist bloc of Soviet Union, China and their client states offered the only alternative for poor countries, but at a high ‘clientelist’ price and therefore unattractive. Following the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the consequent liberation of Central Asian societies as well as Eastern European and other client states in Africa and SE Asia, the world has become a very different place, especially with the rise of the BRICs and the location of significant poverty in rising middle income countries alongside the poor ones.

While many conferences about development have recently been obsessed with more immediate policy evaluation and especially the progress with MDGs, the one day, November 2010 DSA conference in London was deliberately designed to enable academics, policy leaders and practitioners to assess the significance of some big questions. Now is an important time to address issues such as continuing poverty, inequality, exclusion, well-being, religious and millenarian identities, and a proliferation of development cosmologies, so that all parts of global society can do development better in the future.

Without the opportunity for this deeper reflection, we risk blundering forward on narrow assumptions while the world around us breaks up under the deeper pressures upon it. This one day conference was to some extent a prelude for the joint UK and European (DSA and EADI) conference planned for York in September 2011 on ‘Rethinking Development’, with exciting proposals for panels and papers already coming in to the organising committee.

Geof Wood is an Emeritus Professor of International Development at The University of Bath and a Council Member of the Development Studies Association

1 comment:

  1. my experience suggests that one of the principal reasons that development aid has not shown the results hoped for is that in reality most planning and financial suppport has been too short term and focussed too much on indicators usually of an economic, financial or construction form. i.e. tangibles which we can measure using tools suited to our western business and political models, but which may not give a useful measure of the societal and community effects on the ground and in particular may not give useful guidance for future progress in a form that the local community actually wants or needs.
    It is not easy to decide what is the most effective sequence of resources to commit to a development situation, but surely, as all 'developed' countries must know is the critical importance of education and in particular University level education where the focus is on analytical thinking allied to knowledge rather than just knowledge accumulation on its own. And this is the major gap in development support and until it is filled I cannot see any country developing beyond the minimal because it will not have the entrepreneurs able to compete in the world markets, It will not have the managers to manage businesses which other countries or multinationals might wish to establish even if a basic work force were available. It will not be able to establish a decent medical system unless there are sufficient practitioners prepared to work in their own country rather than migrating overseas to supply trained personnel to rich countries who train inedequate numbers, nor will they have the critical legal and financial experts to head the negotiations with foreign governments and multinationals who may want to set up traiding links; it is not good enough to claim that there are international experts available for hire when the needs arise.
    Finally it is still the norm that in most projects, except at basic skills levels, the initiative, planning, operations, report writing and information/experience disseminiation, if it happens at all, is carried out by the Northern partner, often because they have the skills and facilities but the net effect is that frequently there is little long term skills transfer to needy country or community.
    If one was a cynic it would be legitimate to ask do 'we' really want to make a long term foundational difference if it will increase world wide demands for goods and services which we enjoy and curretly get cheap.


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