Časopis pro politiku a mezinárodní vztahy

Global Politics

Časopis pro politiku a mezinárodní vztahy

Colonial (Dis-)Continuities in Development Discourse and Practice

This article belongs to a special series focused on post-development issues which was created in co-operation with the University of Vienna.

Within the framework of this paper I explicate the basic elements of colonial as well as development discourse. Although we can identify an obvious rupture line between colonialism and the era of development, I demonstrate that the colonial heritage structures development discourse in various ways. While there have been some significant changes on the rhetoric level, basic colonial concepts still prevail such as a dichotomic and hierarchical worldview, the evolutionary paradigm with the West as its benchmark, the idea of ‘white’ expertise etc. These often racialised assumptions produce unequal power relations within the development industry and structure the very idea of development itself.


1. Introduction and Terminologies

The starting point for my research interest is the encouragement which the seminar on “Post-Development Theory and Practice” has given me to question the very idea of development. As many of the post-development authors we read during this semester explain, the “era of development” began in the 1940s during the process of decolonization and thus directly succeeded the era of colonialism. (cf. Esteva 1992) The relation between colonial power and colonized country has often been converted into a bilateral donor-recipient cooperation. (cf. Gomes 2006: 15) A glance at the current “Donor Aid Charts” available on the DAC Homepage (Development Assistance Comitee), confirms this thesis. (cf. DAC 2008) Former research which I did on the topic of racism in development aid has made me realize the striking parallels between colonial worldviews and the ideology of development. However, as Kotahri observes “Investigations of the links between colonialism and contemporary international development (…) emerged only recently” (Kothari 2005: 48) and “Attempting to understand and analyse this interconnectedness (…) is not a mainstream preoccupation within development studies.” (ibid: 50) Although I think the Institute for International Development at the University of Vienna is an exception here, the literature research I have been doing shows that there clearly is a need for further investigations. Thus, within the framework of this paper I would like to explore to what extent the colonial heritage shapes the present development discourse and the practice of development aid. I would like to work on the following questions: Has decolonization led to a significant rupture line between colonial discourse and development discourse? If so what has changed? To what extent can colonial continuities be detected in development discourse and practice?

I am aware of the fact that the very limited length of this paper makes it impossible to cover the topic in its whole complexity. However, I will try to give an outline of the colonial (dis-) continuities in development discourse and practice, focusing on the aspects that seem most important to me.

To begin with, I think it is necessary to define several terms and concepts that are essential for my following argument.


As the title of my seminar paper anticipates, my analysis is based on Michel Foucault’s concept of ‘discourse’ with the basic idea that “Speaking means doing something”. (Foucault in Ziai 2006: 42, translation by author) Giving a very short (and of course very simplifying) definition: “For Foucault, the term ‚discourse‘ referred both to the historically contingent sets of practices […] which limit human actions and what may be thought, and to the theoretical concept which accounts for the fact that humans actually do act and think in line with these ‚regimes of truth‘ ”. (Fox 1998: 416) Thus, Discourse is about the production of knowledge through language, but is itself produced by a practice – the practice of producing meaning. (cf. Hall 1992: 292)


Out of the many different definitions of this term, I would like to employ the following one: “Racism can be described as “a way of thinking, which divides people into groups based on perceived physical or cultural features and ascribes different capabilities, competences or character features to these groups”. (Hund in Ziai 2008: 193, translation by author) Due to the scientific proof that human ‘races’ do not exist, the formerly prevalent ‘biological’ racism has increasingly been replaced by what can be called ‘cultural racism’ – this means discrimination legitimated by reference to cultural rather than to biological differences. In order to understand this form of racism and its occurrence in private and political discourses, we have to become aware of the fact that the ideas we have of ethnicity, nationality and ‘race’ are merging, overlapping and cannot be understood unconnectedly. Furthermore racism is a complex and multilayer phenomenon and racialized constraints will be felt differently in distinct social contexts and regions (cf. Rattansi 2007: 104 f.)

“The West”

Following Stuart Halls approach in “The West and the Rest” I would like to understand the West as a historical, not a geographical construct which refers to a type of society that describes itself as being developed, industrialised, urbanised, capitalist, secularised and modern. “The West” thus comprises Western Europe, the USA and recently also Japan. Being aware of the extreme simplifications that this implies, I still think that this concept proves to be useful for my following argument. (cf. Hall 1992)

2. From Colonial to Development Discourse

2.1. Colonial Discourse

As Osterhammel explains in his book “Kolonialismus. Gechichte – Formen – Folgen”, colonialism and colonial thinking cannot be understood as a concrete doctrine. Although all colonialisms have developed some kind of vindicatory paradigm or imperialist vision, he argues that it is not useful do search for one concrete colonial theory. In order to define the “colonial discourse” we should rather try to detect similarities and common ideological patterns, actions and images in sources such as missionary reports, administration papers, memoirs, travelogues, fictional literature, press, propaganda campaigns and scientific research e.g. in geography, ethnology and oriental studies. Being aware of the heterogeneity of colonial discourses, Osterhammel explains that it is possible to identify the following basic elements: the construction of “inferior otherness”, the “sense of mission” combined with the “duty of tutelage” and the utopia of non-politics (cf. Osterhammel 1995: 113 f.) or in other words: racism, missionary desire and universalism. (cf. Sonderegger 2008: 46)

The construction of the “inferior otherness”

Central to colonial thinking is the idea that inhabitants of non-European regions are fundamentally different from Europeans in terms of physical and intellectual endowment. This basic idea of difference as a matter of principle has been argued in different ways. Within a biological approach this difference is based on the idea of unchangeable “racial” features, theologically it is pagan depravity, determined by the environment it is the tropical climate which weakens the human being and makes it lazy, technologically it is the other’s minor capability to control nature and so forth. (cf. Osterhammel 1995: 115) Out of its Eurocentric perspective, colonial discourse sees the world as being divided in two parts: the inside vs. the outside, the core vs. the periphery, the self vs. the other. Using Stuart Hall’s idiom of ‘the west and the rest’, the ‘rest’ embodies Europe’s inferior counterpart. (cf. Kothari 2006: 11) Thus, “the colonizer’s model of the world” (Blaut 1993) is shaped by hierarchic dichotomies:

Characteristic of Core Characteristic of Periphery
Rationality, intellect Irrationality, emotion, instinct
Abstract thought Concrete thought
Theoretical Reasoning Empirical, practical reasoning
Mind Body, matter
Discipline Spontaneity
Adulthood Childhood
Science Sorcery
Progress Stagnation
Inventiveness Imitativeness

(cf. Blaut 1992: 17)

Further dichotomies can be detected:

Progressive Unprogressive, backward
Civilized Uncivilized
Enlightened Barbaric

(cf. Ziai 2008: 196 ff.)

This dichotomous paradigm expresses “the otherness in the name of sameness, reduces the different to the already known, and thus fundamentally escapes the task of making sense of other worlds”. (Mudimbe in White 2002: 413) This process of constructing the inferior ‘other’ not only shaped how non-European societies came to be known, but also how Europe created its own identity as antipode to this other. (cf. Kothari 2006: 11 f.)

During the age of enlightenment new ideas of progress and human history evolved, resulting in a new cosmology which links geographical distance with chronological distance: the ‘other’ was now seen as a preliminary stage of the own development. The idea of one single universally valid way of social development with the Western society as its benchmark became dominant. Making this goal-oriented reference to Europe, it is clear that the ‘inferior’ culture would sooner or later have to vanish. Concluding, all non-European cultures, their worldviews and practices appeared as obstacles for the universal development of humankind. (cf. Melber 1992: 32 f.; Ziai 2008: 196 ff.)

The “sense of mission” and the “duty of tutelage”

As non-European societies were seen as minor and dependent, they obviously were in need of tutelage. Especially during the 19th and 20th century the justification for colonialism was the ‘liberation of tyranny’ and ‘intellectual darkness’. However, not only did colonizing countries see it as their duty to bring ‘western civilization’ to other parts of the world, but also to make use of the fallow resources for the common welfare of the world economy. According to colonial discourse tutelage was said to be needed in three areas:

  • Politics: especially Africans ad Asians were seen not to be capable of self governance
  • Economy: teaching ‘working morale’ and ‘economic rationality’
  • Culture: to “free people of their superstitious and immoral world views” (Osterhammel 1995:115)

According to this perspective, the relation between the colonizer and the colonized was not exploitative but rather complementary – the colonizer had to fulfill his civilizing mission, “the white man’s burden”. (cf. Osterhammel 1995: 115 f.)

2.2. Development Discourse

The notion of “development” became especially popular, when Harry S. Truman declared the Southern hemisphere as “underdeveloped areas” in his inauguration speech in 1949. Against the background of the Cold War, the promise of “development” was an instrument to establish the dominant position of the USA after 1945. In this context “development” has always been a justification for the international intervention of the North in the name of higher goals. Although the geopolitical circumstances have changed considerably, “development” still is a very dominant term, used not only by international institutions, but also by conservative groups as well as revolutionary or grassroots movements. (cf. Sachs 1995: 1 ff.) An actual definition of “development” is hard to find. Esteva traces the roots of this term back to biological theories, where it was first used to describe the transformation of the seed into the plant which can be interpreted as the “appropriate form of being”. With the evolutionary theory, “development” became the “…transformation that moves towards an ever more perfect form.” (Esteva 1992: 8) By the end of the 18th century the concept of this process of transformation in nature was taken over to explain historical development. Especially Hegel and Marx emphasised the necessary character of the historical process and the inherent natural laws causing it. Consequently the idea of development implies a homogenous and linear evolution of the world and history becomes a programme that has to be absolved. (cf. Sachs 1995: 1 f.) Given this scale of development, some people (and places) can be graded as less developed than others. Planned development “requires identification of who is developed and who can legitimately bestow ideas about modernity, progress, morality and civility”. (Kothari 2006: 13)

Aram Ziai identifies the following theoretical basic assumptions that most development theories share despite their differences:

  • the norm of state of development are the western industrial nations
  • the norm of development as a process are the western industrialized nations
  • the nations which have deficits in relation to this norm are in need of economic growth, social modernization and western technology in order to progress on the universal path of development and to reach the target state of a developed society (Ziai 138 ff., translation by author)

I am aware of the fact that the idea of one single homogenous formation to be called ‘development discourse’ would be highly oversimplifying and ignoring the great diversity of concepts associated with ‘development’. However, I think that the basic elements depicted above can be identified in most development paradigms and can be congregated under the term ‘development discourse’. As Dubois wrote:

“Above the polemics and disagreements over policy, which appear to distinguish the sundry schools of thought in development, there exists a profound unity. The locus of this unity is to be found not in the perception of the causes of underdevelopment or the approaches to solving problems therein, but in the definition and identification of these problems of underdevelopment in the first place. Underdevelopment is defined as a lack – a lack that stands out in relief against the backdrop of a ‘complete’ Western society”. (…)The manifold critiques of development leave intact the illusion that development comprises a natural category”. (DuBois in Ziai 2004: 147)

2.3. Disconti­nuities

The most obvious break line between colonial and development discourse is the official rejection of colonial imperialism and explicit racism by developmentalists. Certain terms such as “race” and “civilization” have almost completely vanished after the end of the colonial era and have been replaced by different terms such as “underdeveloped” (cf. Ziai 2008: 200 ff.) “Overall, then, there has been a political imperative to distance the international aid industry from the colonial encounter so as to avoid tarnishing what is presented as a humanitarian project far removed from the […] exploitation of the colonial era”. (Kothari 2005: 51) As Kothari argues, this denial of the colonial heritage permitted the newly created development industry to work on and in so-called “Third Wold” countries without being scrutinized. (cf. Kothari 2005: 62) However, Brigg points out that development cannot simply be understood as an extension if colonialism, as some post-development authors claim. She argues that the mechanisms of power have considerably altered from a directly repressive form of sovereign power to what Foucault calls ‘biopower’ which mobilizes aspirations and interests of “Third World” subjects and states. (cf. Brigg 2002: 423 f.) Therefore, in contrast to colonial discourse, development discourse is to a much stronger degree aimed at forming identities in the South that would voluntarily support a world order in favour of the metropolises. (cf. Ziai 2006: 38 f.) This discursive and political change already took place during the last years of colonial rule when it became clear that the colonial empires could no longer be sustained by direct force: “colonial officials, along with anticolonial nationalist leaders, began to promote the welfare and benefit of the colonies.” (Brigg 2002: 423 f.) Thus, the newly created development discourse deviated in several ways from the old colonial paradigm: people living in from then on so called “development countries” were awarded the capability to govern themselves and hence peoples’ right of self-determination and human rights were unreservedly approved (at least on the discursive level.) However, Ziai points out that this new equality of people is limited: “Everybody is equal, only some are not yet as advanced as others on the universal development-path of humankind: They are “underdeveloped.”.” (Ziai 2006: 36 f., translation by author) Yet due to the delegitimization of biological racism, development discourse does not speak about “underdeveloped” peoples or persons, but rather about underdeveloped countries or regions. (cf. Ziai 2006: 37) ”‘Development’ was in this respect crucial in reconfiguring the global identity of ex-colonies in a way that was incorporative and universalistic yet still hierarchical”. (Power 2006: 29)

Nevertheless, it should not be denied that development discourse has become a very diverse field formed by different actors. “Clearly, individuals in development studies today are far more diverse in terms of gender, class and ethnicity than were the colonial officers, and this has necessarily meant an opening up of the field and the emergence of multiple strands of thought and practice”. (Kothari 2005: 63)

2.4. Continuities

In the following section I would like to focus on the various facets of colonial continuities in development discourse which can be detected in the basic discursive structure as well as in the socio-technical and the philosophical elements. The different aspects of colonial continuities are very complex and interweaved, but I will try to structure them in a comprehensive way.

2.4.1. Hierarchic Dichotomies

As I already explained above, the colonial vocabulary of ‘civilization’ and ‘race’ has vanished in the era of development. However, the dualistic structure of colonial discourse still prevails and now appears in new terms: development / underdevelopment, First / Third World, modernity / tradition, technology / handcraft, rationality / irrationality, etc. As Kothari argues by quoting Edward Said: “ …‘throughout the exchange between European’s and their “others” … the one idea that has scarcely varied is that there is an “us” and “them”, each quite settled, clear, unassailably self-evident’.” (Kothari 2006: 12) Although these binary distinctions have been partly dissolved, confounded and challenged, we can assert that the omnipresent advertisement and media constantly reproduce images of the white development expert and the helpless black children thus presenting people living in the ‘South’ as passive, incapable of action and depending on western donors. (cf. Ziai 2008: 200 ff.) Looking at contemporary history books used in schools, the basic assumption becomes evident that in the past Europe has shown much more progress than most other civilizations and therefore is fundamentally superior. (cf. Blaut 1993: 30) Derived from the colonial paradigm, development places the West “in hierarchical opposition to other areas of the globe which remained ‘traditional’ […] less scientific, less secular, less rational, less individualist, and less democratic.” (Manzo in Ziai 2004: 147) These regions (and the people living there) are solely defined by their relation to the West and are consequently constructed as one homogeneous underdeveloped Third World. “In much literature in development there is a tendency to homogenize other cultures; to see non-western cultures as fixed, incomprehensible, recessive and particularistic. […] While specific ethnographic studies have explored cultural habits and dispositions, these have often become utilized in constructing generalized accounts of cultures, which speak, for example, of a singular, and often immutable, ‘African culture’.“ (Kothari 2006: 18) Consequently, following the traditions of colonial discourse development expresses “…the otherness in the name of sameness, reduce[s] the different to the already known, and thus fundamentally escape[s] the task of making sense of other worlds”. (Mudimbe in White 2002: 413)

2.4.2. Evolutionary Paradigm

Despite the fact that today many development studies reject the social evolutionary idea that societies progress from more backward to more modern states, evolutionary classification such as ‘underdeveloped’ or ‘developing’ persist and “globalization is still seen, even by many academics, as a process of modernization whereby the more developed ‘third world’ countries become, the more they will become like the west.” (Crewe, Priyanthi 2006: 45) Hence, the deficits of the South can be amended by development which means capitalist economic growth and adopting western practices and norms. On the universal scale of development the West serves as the benchmark, the ideal norm. In order to progress developing countries are in need of knowledge transfer from the West, because they cannot develop on their own. (cf. Ziai 2008: 200 f.) In other words: the colonial ideal of the “European occidental civilization” has been replaced by the “liberal democratic market economy” as the goal of human development (cf. Melber 1994: 32) “International etiquette means that the crude modernisation view of ‘third world’ societies as backward, passive and tradition-bound, static and inert, awaiting the penetration of development from the West, is no longer ‘sayable’ in polite society. But it nevertheless lurks within the ‘discursive bricolage’ of development. And as such it can inform the framework within which intervention takes place”. (White 2002: 417 f.)

2.4.3. White Expertise – Knowledge as Power

As I already explained above, development discourse underlines the necessity of western knowledge for the development process, thus implying development assistance and education of southern elites in the ‘North’. As White points out, development is closely linked with western education – clearly illustrated by the fact that development studies courses are mostly taught in ‘First World’ universities. (cf. White 2002: 410) Hence, the ‘North’ has and constantly produces knowledge about the ‘South’ and even teaches ‘Third World’ citizens about their own societies, whereas the idea that knowledge form the ‘South’ could be useful to solve problems of the ‘North’ still seems absurd to most people. (cf. Ziai 2008: 207) We can clearly recognize the analogies to colonial discourse: “[T]his relationship of tutelage extends far beyond the institutions of formal education. It is in fact a dominant idiom underlying much of what is said and done in development. And why is this so familiar? It is, of course, a classic way in which colonial racism imagined black–white relations”. (White 2002: 410) Therefore, it can be argued that terms such as “development expert”, “consultant” or “expatriate” are not neutral but racialized (and gendered) in the sense that they are primarily associated with white (and male) persons. Despite newer tendencies within a participatory approach to value experiences and knowledge of ‘local’ persons, it is still assumed that some kind of intervention by development organizations is necessary e.g. in the form of “facilitators” or “moderators”. (cf. Kothari 2006: 16) This means that although there has been a new rhetoric of respect for “indigenous” expertise with some NGOs even promoting knowledge exchange from ‘South to South’, knowledge is partly still ranked by its source instead of by its utility. (Crewe, Piyanthi 2006: 45)

Furthermore, expertise in development organizations (as in other businesses) is often associated with certain symbolic means: As Crewe and Priyanthi observe, development experts working abroad (expatriates) tend to display their expertise by “…quoting recent international publications and referring to their own work in other regions of the world”, using the latest technical equipment etc. For Southern experts the access to these symbols of expertise, contacts and information tends to be limited (due to visa restrictions and financial limits). (Crewe, Priyanthi 2006: 51) “This has leads to a failure to recognize the diverse world of ideologies and aspirations and the ability of ‘recipients’ of aid to manage resources on their own, as well as a tendency to ignore non-western conceptions of, for example, ‘freedom’, ‘justice’ or, indeed, ‘development’.” (Kothari 2006: 16)

Within the framework of the development industry people living in ‘Third World’ countries become objects of knowledge, interventions, management and research. Through the collection of a multitude of data about the ‘Third World’ subjects by western development agencies makes them visible in order to evaluate them against the norm of development. (cf. Brigg 2002: 430) It can be argued that the colonial idea of ‘trusteeship’ has been handed over from colonial officers to ‘development experts’. (cf. Ziai 2008: 207)

2.4.4. Racism

“[R]ather than indicating its irrelevance, the silence on race is a determining silence that both masks and marks its centrality to the development project.” (White 2002: 408)

As this quotation explains, the term ‘racism’ is not present in discussions about development and is generally perceived as contrary to the idea of development assistance. (cf. Ziai 2008: 91) Even the UN-sponsored World Conference against Racism (WCAR) identified racism as a problem within regions, “marking off-limits consideration of relations between North and South” (White 2002: 407, emphasis in original). Obviously the assumption prevails that “development takes place in non-racialized spaces and outside of racialized histories.” (Kothari 2006: 9) This opinion is fostered by the fact that development discourse has been more or less cleansed from the openly racist vocabulary and statements of the old colonial discourse. “[I]t is striking how quickly discussion of racial superiority was banned from colonial vocabularies in the 1940s”. (Cooper in Kothari 2006: 11) However, White argues that “certain terms in development discourse such as “tribalism”, “ethnicity”, “tradition”, “religion” and perhaps pre-eminently “culture” […] may do some work at some times, in standing in for race”. (White 2002: 407). This means that despite the new politically correct language of development discourse, racist ideas still lurk beneath the surface. Ideas about cultural difference substituted those based on racialized understandings, taking a similar form as earlier arguments about ‘race’. “The difference was that cultural change seemed open to the individual, but Africans who chose not to make the transition were seen as willfully obstructionist rather than quaintly backward.”(Cooper in Kothari 2006: 11). Racialized arguments appear where social problems are not explained by political or socio-economic factors, but are attributed to mentalities or cultures. (cf. Ziai 2008: 209) Understanding the origins of ‘underdevelopment’ as embedded within societies / cultures led to increasing studies on corruption, poor governance and interethnic conflict. (cf. Kothari 2006: 19) “Crewe and Harrison (1998) give examples of how development discourses often problematize ‘locals’: their characters (‘Nepalis are friendly but lazy’), their morals (generalizations about corruption in the South and blindness to its existence elsewhere), their traditions (‘Muslims are anti-women’) and their knowledge (‘locals lack know-how’)” (Crewe, Priyanthi 2006: 46) To give a more specific example: discussions about the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa have been increasingly racialized, describing Africans as promiscuous and irresponsible (in contrast to the western people). Obviously these depictions very much resemble colonial ideas about the uncontrolled sexuality of Africans. “The legacy of these representations of sexual practices arguably lies in colonial narratives of, for example, desire and the exotic”. (Kothari 2006: 19) Another example is the debate about ‘failed states’ in the ‘Third World’ which are characterized by corrupt and violent political culture – in contrast of course to non-corrupt Western politicians. (cf. Ziai 2008: 209) Altogether it is possible to identify a tendency to see donors as initiating, reliable and superior whereas recipients are considered to be more passive, unreliable and inadequate. (cf. Crewe, Priyanthi 2006: 46)

Some critical authors write about their personal experiences in the development industry and demonstrate how the whole framework is marked by racist structures. “What I was seeing went far beyond individual acts of prejudice or discrimination to a whole system in which advantage and disadvantage were patterned by race”. (White 2002: 409) Crewe and Priyanthi did interviews with several staff members of international development agencies and highlight how racist ideas shape the interactions within development projects. They quote a manager of European donor agency who said in 2004: “[W]e have to research programmes managed by organisations in the South and they are both a disaster. I mean, it is nothing racial, it is just that they don’t work at that analytical level. We need an expatriate for the conceptual thinking, then the local consultant can do more of the running around for you”. (Crewe, Priyanthi 2006: 45) Although this manager (who has been working in development for over 20 years) does not express explicit racism in terms of hostility, “his assumptions about analytical thinking, and his denial of the relevance of race, echo a prevailing preconception that Euro-Americans are capable of a higher level of abstraction” and thus show striking parallels with colonial concepts. (Crewe, Priyanthi 2006: 45) As White writes about her personal experience in development projects: “[M]y whiteness opened me doors, jumped me queues, filled me plates and invited me to speak”. (White 2002: 408). However, quoting a white development worker Kothari makes it clear that “…people don’t really believe that I am more intelligent and more knowledgeable because I am white, what they do believe is that I will have greater access to power, to decisionmakers and to those who can get things done”. (Kothari 2006: 16) Hence, racist ideas virtually reproduce themselves: people favour persons who are perceived as being white for important positions, not because they necessarily consider them to be more intelligent but rather because of the privileged positions of most ‘white’ persons. (cf. Kothari 2006: 12 ff.) Kothari also quotes a ‘black’ development worker talking about his experiences within an NGO in Zimbabwe: “If you want your organization’s plans to be approved quickly or you need to raise funds, you are better off appointing a white director”. (Kothari 1006b: 16) He explains that regardless of experience and expertise ‘white’ persons generally have better access to international funding, because they are part of the “expatriate community” and therefore can easily connect with certain groups, which is important for building contacts with “white power holders.” (Kothari 2006: 16) However, racist stereotypes often are even internalized by ‘black’ persons: “‘Local counterparts’ have been visibly disappointed when they realized that their expatriate consultant was not white. This is reflective of what Ngugi calls the ‘colonization of the mind’ (1986) whereby for some formerly colonized people, whiteness becomes associated with high cultural values and the west with modernity and progress”. (Kothari 1006b: 15 f.)

2.4.5. Unequal Power Relations

“Critically, it is this overwhelming depiction of beneficence (as it was for the missionaries of old) that obscures relationships of power more generally, and in particular ‘race’, while delimiting attempts to theorize concepts of ‘race’ in development praxis”. (Kothari 2006: 18)

As Kothari argues the idea of development aid as an utterly “good deed” conceals the unequal power relations (of which racism is but one aspect) within the development system. As I already mentioned above ‘expatriates’ who are mostly ‘white’ persons play an important role in development practice. Therefore donor organizations (and their countries of origin) have a strong presence and power to intervene in recipient countries. According to Crewe’s and Priyanthi’s ob­servations, organizational structures within most development organizations assure that critical decision-making processes remain in the hands of the aid-givers. (cf. Crewe, Priyanthi 2006 2006: 47 f.) „Rather than choosing beneficiaries and letting them pick their own priorities, they follow the opposite procedure, often using Euro-American consultants to justify their decisions. They also control reporting on success and failure and this mastery over history consolidates their power for the future”. (Crewe, Priyanthi 2006: 51) The unequal power relations partly rely on a degree of segregation between expatriates and ‘local’ staff members. (cf. Crewe, Priyanthi 2006: 47 f.) The most obvious separation is the fact that many Western expatriates live in disjoined or even gated communities and often also prefer to work and socialize in “enclavic environments”. (Kothari 2006: 17) The significance of private and social life should not be underestimated since social networks are a crucial “source of information about funding, employment opportunities, and potential for collaboration. When you consider how this context of social separation is reinforced by various rituals that regulate development encounters in the professional sphere – through language, timing, place, consultation rituals and symbols – the systems of exclusion can be better understood.” (Crewe, Priyanthi 2006: 49 f.)

As in many international networks, the dominant language in the development industry is English (or sometimes French or Spanish). When people of different nationalities are present, discussions are usually held in English even with English speakers being the minority. Within the development network certain technical terms as well as acronyms and jargon words which are used by ‘insiders’ become dominant in crucial moments. Being a native-speaker of the language used in meetings gives persons a more powerful position in debates. Of course this not only advantages persons from Europe and the US, but also people from Africa, Asia and Latin America who are fluent in English. (Crewe, Priyanthi 2006: 50)

Concerning the time and place of committee meetings, the fact that critical decision making processes often take place last minute in donor headquarters in the USA or Europe means that persons from ‘Third World’ countries often cannot be present at these meetings (either because they do not live close or because travel is not viable for them). (cf. Crewe, Priyanthi 2006: 51)

Regarding new organizational forms such as participatory approaches, Crewe and Priyanthi state that these “have allowed agencies to develop techniques for appearing democratic and accountable while retaining control over critical decision points”. (Crewe, Priyanthi 2006: 51) Informal structures and ritualised consultation processes function to silence the objections of mostly ‘non-white’ participants. As a matter of course, participatory approaches are still highly preferable to organizational forms that do not allow for any consultation at all. However, the authors argue that consultation rituals should be analysed with respect to informal power relations in order to ensure that voices of aid recipients are in the centre of attention rather than in the periphery.

“After all, development encounters are embedded within unequal power relationships between givers and receivers, and to pretend to treat unequals as if they are equals is a particularly effective way to perpetuate inequality”. (Mandal Commission, as quoted in Crewe, Priyanthi 2006: 51)

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The author is a political science student at the University of Vienna.

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Katrin Kohler
9. 7. 2011