Monday, September 19, 2011

The Dudley Seers questions that are still relevant today

As participants arrive at the DSA/ EADI conference in York today, Sir Richard Jolly outlines his thoughts prior to the Dudley Seers Memorial Lecture.

Dudley Seers, first President of EADI, issued the challenge: 'We have to rethink our views of the transforability of models in the social sciences'

This is a good starting point for the EADI/DSA conference. This quote, copied from the thirty years of EADI website, is a slight misprint for what Dudley probably said – transferability. As a structuralist in his analysis Dudley often warned of the dangers of transferring models of analysis devised for one sort of economy to another. But perhaps today, when development studies is more concerned with strategies of transformation one ought to read the word as “transformability” –though Dudley would surely not have like the word, even if he was sympathetic to the concept. What are the models of transformation? How similar are the experiences of such strategies in different parts of the world. Is there a risk that our models of successful or desirable transformation smack too much of a one size fits all approach? And how much are the possibilities of strategies of transformation affected by the broader macro-strategies being pursued in a country?
With his structuralist approach Dudley Seers was and, I’m sure, would still remain highly sceptical of most cross-sectional econometric analyses of GNP and other indicators as a way of understanding patterns of economic development over time. As a statistician, he was also acutely aware of the enormous part which heroic estimations played in the construction of national income indicators and highly critical of  using GNP as an indicator of development. In one of his much quoted addresses on the Meaning of Development, Dudley memorably put it like this:

            The questions to ask about a country’s development are therefore: What has been happening to poverty? What has been happening to unemployment? What has been happening to inequality? If all three of these have declined from high levels, then beyond doubt this has been a period of development for the country concerned. If one or two of these problems have been growing worse, especially if all three have, it would be strange to call the result ‘development’, even if per capita income had doubled.”

(Dudley seers, The Meaning of Development,  address to SID 1969, reprinted in Development, Forty Years in Development: the search for social justice, Volume 40, No 1, March 1997 (Sage Publications,) 1997)

At a time when GNP growth still rules the waves of most conventional (economic) analysis of development, the EADI/DSA conference provides a major opportunity to explore better and more subtle understandings. It may also provide a chance to explore a second concern of Dudley’s – to break down the artificial barriers between ‘us and them’, between development studies applied to developing countries and the ideas and models used in so-called developed countries. At a time when most of Europe and the United States is stagnating at near-zero growth, with high levels of unemployment and inequality and top incomes mostly rising, York provides a good opportunity to turn our development searchlights onto these problems, using Dudley’s three questions as the staging point for more challenging and more relevant analyses.

Sir Richard Jolly is Honorary Professor and Research Associate of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex

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