"You must either be very numb or very rich if you fail to notice that Development stinks" Gutavo Esteva (1987:135). Assess the challenge of Post-development theory to mainstream development paradigms
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"You must either be very numb or very rich if you fail to notice that Development stinks" Gutavo Esteva (1987:135). Assess the challenge of Post-development theory to mainstream development paradigms The rise of Post-development theory in the late 1980's through to the 1990's advocated by scholars across the globe (Sachs, Escobar, Esteva, Shiva and Illich - to name but a few) brought to the fore more radical interpretations and critiques of mainstream development paradigms. The post-development theorists set about a brutal yet arguably necessary attack upon current development practices and theories claiming to uncover some of the hidden truths behind the 'Western' development project, as Esteva states 'The time has come to unveil the secret of development and see it in all its conceptual starkness' (1992:7). Post-development embarked on a complete rejection of current development practice naming it a failure in every sense. However, others were sceptical, many believing that such a position was unnecessary and indeed unhelpful in terms of suggesting development alternatives, as Nederveen-Pieterse writes 'Post-development is caught in a rhetorical gridlock. Using discourse analysis as an ideological platform invites political impasse and quietism. In the end post-development offers no politics besides the self-organising capacity of the poor, which actually lets the development responsibility of the states and international institutions off the hook' (2000: 187). Under such stark criticism the question often posed is what real challenge does post-development theory have to offer to the wider debate and reality of the development situation, if all it appears to be is semantic hot air? This paper will discuss in detail this very point, arguing that despite its at times, extreme radical view points, post-development has much to offer in terms of challenging our neoclassical interpretations and understanding of mainstream development theory. An initial overview will be given of the progression of development over the last four decades, highlighting the rise of post-development theory in the 1980's through to the 1990's.
In advocating the rise to modernity, Illich believes that a state of mind is engendered within developing nations, a state of mind which convinces them they are 'underdeveloped', 'Underdevelopment is the result of rising levels of aspiration achieved through the intensive marketing of 'patent' products' (1997:97). Thus for Illich poverty becomes planned, a scam to force developing nations into an unfair globalized economy producing foreign products for the global market and to, as Illich provocatively puts it 'surrender social consciousness to pre-packaged solutions' (1997:97). And what of the impact the presence of such foreign firms and products have on developing nations? The impacts according to post-development, are only too apparent from the high levels of industrial pollution and environmental degradation to the use of sweatshop labour in the manufacture of global goods. A recent example in the UK press highlights the adversity of these impacts only too well as the largest Coca Cola plant in India is accused of 'putting thousands of farmers out or work by draining the water that feeds their wells and poisoning the land with waste sludge that the company claims is fertiliser' (The Guardian. 2003). The plant employing only 141 people has been condemned by the charity ActionAid as an 'example of the worst kind of inward investment by multinational companies in developing countries' (The Guardian. 2003). In the face of such modern catastrophe and technological disaster, such as that of the big 'D' Development Dam projects of the last two decades (including the Indian Sardar Sarovar Project in which over 200,000 people have been displaced, 56% of whom are tribal people (Kurian. 2000:843)), the post-development thinkers call on tradition, self-sufficiency and locally based forms of appropriate technology to resist, challenge and provide alternatives to the dominant ideologies of modernism touted by global technocrats. The well documented work of Norberg-Hodge writing on Ladakh in the trans-Himalayan region of Kashmir, highlights the importance post-development theory places on traditional ways of life as a means to provide alternatives to development and challenge modernity.
1999:145). Criticised for their generalisation of development, overtly pessimistic view points, romanticisation, unproblematised view of social movements and a complete rejection of development, post-developmentalists have themselves not preceded unchallenged. Indeed their tendency to deconstruct rather than reconstruct and the absence of alternatives does make many wary of the fruitfulness of such a standpoint (see Nederveen-Pieterse 2000). However, the beauty of post-development lies not in its answers but in its lack of answers. Post-developmentalists challenge the global super powers and International Financial Institutions such as the World Bank and IMF; they challenge civil society to resist, in similar ways to those of the Mayan indigenous population who through the rise of the Zapatistas have appealed 'for an end to 500 years of oppression and 40 years of 'development' (Esteva. 1994:302) and who call for greater recognition of indigenous rights; they call on NGO's, development Agencies, charities and development practitioners to rethink the way they operate, to question and to challenge the work they are doing; they challenge not only Western scholars but also those of the Third World, in particular on what Peet and Hardwick call 'Intellectual Dependency Theory' (1999:137) - a challenge to Third World scholars to move away from the dominant ideologies of Western discourse towards more critical and creative thinking on the issues facing developing countries; they also pose challenges to themselves, to their body of knowledge which indeed does not provide answers. However, ultimately post-development challenges us, both our mind set, ways of thinking and assumptions. To conclude it must be stated that despite its obvious drawbacks, post-development successfully provides a series of provocative challenges to mainstream development paradigms, indeed Corbridge sums up the power of post-development and the opportunity it provides for future change, '...Post-development keeps the "raw nerve of outrage alive"...post-development thinkers force us to confront our own prejudices about the agendas of development and the shocking failure of some aspects of the development project. They also provide a human touch that is too often missing in development studies' (1999:143).
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