Before embarking on this course I envisioned development as climbing up a staircase. Extraordinary North America was proudly sitting on the top step and Western Europe was not too far below. It seemed as though the Global North literally looked down on Southern countries. Many African, South American and Asian countries were towards the bottom of the staircase. My uneducated view was that we had a moral obligation to help those in poverty in the South climb up the stairs to join us at the top. “The idea of poverty reduction itself has a luminous obviousness to it, defying mere mortals to challenge its status as a moral imperative”(Toye, 2010:45) To me, ‘development’ was irrefutable and meant that the countries at the top of the staircase should altruistically reach down and pull the other countries up. It was all about economic growth.
I now realise that development has an inherently political nature and this view that I had was influenced by Rostow’s modernisation theory. People in the global north are still encouraged to show pity towards people in the global south today. We are told that ‘we’ are more advanced than ‘them’ since they’re technologically and politically ‘behind’ and the majority do not own a great amount of material possessions. This promotes the idea of binary opposites; self vs other, in constructing states identities (Said, 1978) (Campbell,1961). During this degree at Sussex University we are taught that conducting historical research allows us to dismantle accepted truths and discover strong arguments that these ‘truths’ have been constructed by the people who were/are in power.
Reading work by African scholars and activists enabled me to empathise with their frustrations. I can understand how disrespected I would feel if institutions were ‘ganging up on the people’ in my country to ‘drive through their agendas’ (Eyben,2010). This course has given me the opportunity to hear different voices and different ideas other than those dominating the media.
I am now more attentive and alert when reading development language, aware that it cannot be taken at face value. I’ve realised that many development institutions from the North use development language to restrict the boundaries of thought in the way that they shape policy and practice (Eade, 2010). Its important to recognise ‘cheap talk’ defined by Mick Moore as ‘something one can happily say in the knowledge that it’ll have no significant consequences’ (Moore,2001:323).
Northern donor agencies establish the language and concepts of international development despite the beneficiaries living in the global south (Chambers, 1997). A tiny percentage of citations in reports published by the World Bank and other UN specialised agencies include references to African research. The institutions of the North design theoretical frameworks causing scholars in the South to produce case studies that suit these frameworks. It is evident that these Northern institutions ensure that African scholars analysis buttresses the North’s formulation of policy proposals and in this way restricts their research (Eade, 2010).We must be aware that development’s “underlying purpose” is not to “ lay bare or to be unequivocal but to mediate in the interests of public consensus while at the same time allowing for the existence of several internal agendas” (Wilson, 1992:10).
Contrary to what I’d picked up from the television, I have learnt that each place and issue needs a unique approach. IDS research argues “conventional development thinking emphasises economic growth over human well-being and ignores care as a public good that sustains and reproduces society and on which markets depend for their functioning. [The] alternative is an economic system that reflects and places a value on equitable relations between women and men” (Rosalind and Fontana,2011). Aid staff should not be obsessed with results, Northern institution’s frameworks are restricting (Win,2004). Some aid staff stay distant from the realities of the countries that they’re moving between. “Different words, different contexts, different actors and different struggles call for different strategies.” (Cornwall, 2010:16) Development is about the way in which we approach making good changes to people’s lives so that they have dignity. Unfortunately, some development actors envision this in terms of money and exploitation (Rist, 2007). Lets ask the poor what they think and let their voices be heard!
Cambell, D., 1961. Writing Security. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.
Chambers, R., 1997. Responsible Wellbeing: A Personal Agenda for Development, World Development, Vol. 25(11) pp 1743-1754
Eade, D and Cornwall, A.eds., 2010.Deconstructing Development Discourse, Buzzwords and Fuzzwords. Warwickshire: Practical Action Publishing in association with Oxfam
Moore, M., 2001. Empowerment at last? Journal of Development 13:3 pp 321-329
Rist, G., 2007. Development, Development in Practice, 17(4-5) pp 485-491.2.
Rosalind, E and Fontanta M., 2011. Caring for Wellbeing. The Bellagio Initiative. Brighton:IDS publication.
Rosling, H. 2010. 200 Countries 200 Years, 4 Minutes – The Joy of Stats. BBC Four. You Tube. [Online][Uploaded November 26th 2010] Available at:<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbkSRLYSojo> [Accessed Thursday 6th December 2012.]
Said, E., 1979. Orientalism. New York City: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
Toye, J., 2010. Poverty Reduction. In Cornwall, A. and Eade, D., eds. Deconstructing Development Discourse, Buzzwords and Fuzzwords. Warwickshire: Practical Action Publishing in association with Oxfam.
Wilson, F., 1992. Faust: The Developer, CDR Working Paper 92:5 p10
Win, E., 2004. “If it doesn’t fit on the blue square it’s out!” An open letter to my donor friend, in Hinton,R and Groves,L.eds., Inclusive Aid: Changing Power and Relationships in Development. London: Earthscan.