Časopis pro politiku a mezinárodní vztahy

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Časopis pro politiku a mezinárodní vztahy

Critique of the Critique: Post-Development and points of criticism

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

In the last years as a student of International Development, my naive understanding of helping ‚the others‘ and my idea of the whole development business was completely disillusioned. To be critical about development and about what people mean when they use the term ‚development‘ became natural and unavoidable. Therefore the topic of Post-Development seems somehow to be a summary of my study. Everything deconstructed – but what next? It seems important to me to look deeper at Post Development and its critique.


1. Introduction

1.1 Motivation

In the last years as a student of International Development, my naive understanding of helping ‚the others‘ and my idea of the whole development business was completely disillusioned. To be critical about development and about what people mean when they speak of the term ‚development‘ became an unavoidable principle. Therefore the topic of Post-Development seems somehow to be a summary of my study. Dealing with the critique that was made on Post-Development approaches reminded me of myself. Everything deconstructed – but what next? Therefore it seems important to me to look deeper at Post-Development and its critique in concrete.

1.2 Research Topic

In this seminar paper i will look at the different points of criticism on Post-Development that can be found in the relevant literature. Which criticism is relevant?

The method I use is hermeneutic text research. As I introduced in 1.1., my aim is to work theoretically and self-reflexive: as an author and researcher, I am not excluded of the research process. My own perspective influences my way of dealing with theory. Furthermore, I do not see theory as being without consequences: thought always has practical implications. As it would burst the length of this paper, I will concentrate on the theoretical work. Only the last chapter will take my personal reflective perspective into account.

1.3. Structure

First, what Post-Development intends and what it means, will be shortly introduced. To put Post-Development in a theoretical background, postmodernism and its relation to Post- Development will be explained. Second, the main points of criticism will be presented. In a next step, these points will be given an order and will be answered and analyzed in terms of finding out their relevance towards Post-Development. In my fourth step, parallels to myself in order of reflexivity will be drawn: what does post-development mean to me? How does theory influence my personal life? This is also supposed to be an outlook at the future.

2. Post-Development Theory

2.1 What is Post-Development Theory?

In this passage I will shortly present what can be understood by the term of Post-Development. This will be based on various texts as well as on discussions that took place during the seminar.

When it became obvious that the classical approaches to development had failed, as well as with the idea of Postmodernism, several authors began to discuss the ‚end of the development era‘ at the beginning of the nineties. One famous quotation is of Wolfgang Sachs, who in 1992 stated in his well-known book „The Development dictionary. A guide to knowledge as power“: „The idea of development stands like a ruin in the intellectual landscape. Delusion and disappointment, failures and crimes have been the steady companions of development and they tell a common story: it did not work“(Sachs 1992: 1).

Referring to Aram Ziai and his book „Zwischen Global Governance und Post-Development. Entwicklungspolitik aus diskursanalytischer Perspektive“, ‚development‘ is criticized in post-development theory on three levels: firstly, as a political project, secondly, as a intellectual structure and thirdly, as a term itself (Ziai 2007: 98). By ‚intellectual structure‘ Ziai means the reduction of possibilities in terms of human living systems. According to this thought, the Western-European and North-American industrial capitalism is of higher value than other forms of society or community. In consequence, the project of development is said to be imperialistic, the construct of development is attacked to be Euro-centric, the term itself is revealed to be empty. According to the classical modern development paradigm.1

Summing up, so far Post-Development can be understood as a critique of development theory and development business in practice. But what are the marking elements of Post-Development? In what kind is it legitimate to speak of one Post-Development School?

Escobar, who is called to be one of the most important Post-Development authors, speaks of the following characteristics that mark Post-Development literature (Ziai 2007: 100):

  • the interest in alternatives to development, not the interest of alternative development
  • a fundamental rejection of the classical development paradigm
  • an interest in local culture and local knowledge
  • a critical perspective on established scientific discourses
  • solidarity for pluralistic grassroots movements.

Regarding authors like Esteva, Escobar, Sachs, Rahnema, Rist and also Nandy, Appffel-Margin/Marglin, DuBois and Ferguson, to mention some of the mostly known authors of Post-Development theory, even if they differ in their theoretical perception and thought, they do have the mentioned marks in common. The theoretical tools in the discussion of postmodernism and Post-Development are Foucault and his discourse analysis. As the different perceptions of Foucault is not the topic of this paper, I want to cross-refer to Ziai and his analysis of the use of Foucault in Post-Development literature (Ziai 2007: 15ff).

Therefore, when speaking about Post-Development as a thought, keeping in mind the possible heterogeneity remains important.

2.2 Post-Development or the Postmodernisation of Development

Sven Engel calls post-development „Die Postmodernisierung der Entwicklungsthe­orie“2 (Engel 2001: 63). To put Post-Development into a wider context concerning its philosophical and academic roots, I believe it is relevant to explain what postmodernism means. This explanation will be relevant to answer the criticism formulated on post-development in chapter 3 as well as to reflect on my own encounter with post-modernity and post-development.

Postmodernism can be seen as a critique of the modern age, based on the philosophical tradition which is based on the Enlightenment, the formation of a bourgeoisie and of a global capitalistic system.

The tradition of modern science, which is based on the believe in positivism and in objectivism says: the world consists of facts, which present the truth. As a critique of this claim of knowing and producing truth, and as a critique of the one big theory that leads to unification and continuities instead of dealing with discontinuities, contradictions and change, central to postmoderism is the respect of diversity, and the enhancement of subjective perceptions (Novy 2002: 22f).

According to Sven Engel, postmodernism can be understood a) as epistemological position and b) as a socio-cultural position. The first is a philosophical deconstruction of structuralism, known as poststructuralism (Foucalt, Derrida, Deleuze): „Modern thinking is superseded by the heterogeneity and fragmentation of postmodern thinking, which emphasizes different perspectives and differentiations and which questions rationality as a means to understanding“3 (Engel 2001: 50). Concerning the academic debate, Sven Engel refers to Post-Development as the „postmodernisation of development critique“ (Engel 2001: 65).

As we can see in chapter 3, the points of criticism formulated about Post-Development theory parallel with a critique towards postmodern thought in general. To look at Post-Development theory as one part of postmodern thought helps to understand its intentions and its background.

3. Critique of Post-Development

What are the points of criticism leveled on post-development theory? What are they based on? How can they be put into an order? What answers can be found? What remains after a critical approach towards development theory? What are the consequences in theory and what are the practical implications? How do I deal with ‚Development‘, ‚Post- Development‘ and ‚Post-Post Development‘? These questions cannot all be answered in this single paper. Nonetheless, I will now take a look at the various points of criticism that are being formulated on post-development by different authors. Afterwards I will try to find answers as well as their relevance and usefulness.

3.1 Points of Critique

Referring mainly to Tanya Jakinow (Jakinow 2008), and Aram Ziai (2007), the following points of critique formulated on Post-Development literature can be seen as core points of ‚the critique of the critique‘:

  • Post-Development literature is highly influenced by Foucault and the method of discourse analysis: consequently, hegemony and power structures are being deconstructed. But what follows is the ignorance of how discourses can be transformed and resisted at the local level.
  • The celebration of local knowledge and local resistance leads to a romatization and an unquestioned believe in tradition. ‚The Local‘ is set equally with authenticity and emancipation. But power structures are, especially in application of the work of Foucault, ever-present (Jakinow 2008: 313). Why then are grassroots movements guarantors for being inclusive, non-hierarchic and democratic? Local forms of oppression are overlooked (Engel 2001:140). Nederveen Pieterse comments: „while the shift towards cultural sensibilities that accompanies this perspective is a welcome move, the plea for ‚people‘s culture', indigenous culture, local knowledge and culture, can lead if not to ethnochauvinism, to reification of both culture and locality or people. It also envices a one-dimensional view of globalization which is equated with homogenization“ (Nederveen Pieterse 1998: 366) .

Additionally, the exclusive validity of local knowledge precludes the view on multiple knowledge. In consequence…

  • …the fundamental criticism on modernity and modern science implicates a rejection of the benefits: for example, the rights of the individual as well as the techniques of modern medicine are dismissed, although they brought health security and a higher life-expectancy (Ziai 2007: 102). Nederveen Pieterse even classifies Post- Development to belong „to the neo-traditionalist reaction to modernity“ (Nederveen Pieterse 1998: 366?). In his opinion, Post- Development is struck into a paradox: not showing any regard for progressive implications and dialectics of modernity but at the same time dealing with issues like anti-authoritarianism, democratization, emancipation, that all clearly arose out of the Enlightenment and the modern age, is highly inconsistent (ebd. 1998: 365).
  • global structures of inequality are not taken into concern. Storey asks for example how local actors are supposed to find solutions at the global level (Storey 2000).
  • in emphasizing cultural diversity and in rejecting universalism, Post- Development is criticized of being cultural-relativist. Therefore Post- Development stands in suspicion to accept oppression and violence and to be indifferent towards the violation of human rights.
  • Post- Development is accused to feel an affinity for neoliberalism. According to Nederveen Pieterse, it is argued that both approaches reject state intervention and agree on state failure: Escobar is skeptical towards state planning, he questions social engineering and the faith in progress lead by the state. The neoliberal thinker Deepak Lal condemns state-centered development economies (Nedeveen Pieterse 1998: 364). Further, also advocates of a neoliberal capitalism favor a strong civil society and the liberty of all citizens to choose their possibilities.
  • The final criticism is that Post-Development, instead of offering a solution, sticks on the classical development paradigm by being in position of permanent critique. According to Tanja Jakimow Post- Development is „in danger of having to constantly re-manoeuvre to retain its ‚alternative‘ status as elements of its critique are incorporated into the mainstream“ (Jakimow 2008: 313). There is no vision of how Post- Development can look like in practice: „Post- Development parallels postmodernism both in its acute institutions and in being directionless in the end, as a consequence of the refusal to, or lack of interest in translating critique into construction“ (Nederveen Pieterse: 361).

3.2 Finding Answers and Relevances

In the following part it is my intention to answer these criticisms in order to find out which comments can be relevant to a further adaption of Post- Development. I will not answer the critique in the same order as I presented them, but in an order that already shows their relevance and their usefulness.

1.) In my opinion, the most easiest point to answer is the one of drawing a parallel between post-development and neoliberalism. Nederveen Pieterse, who formulates this suspicion, already states in his article, that the reasons that lead to a skeptical attitude towards the state are totally different. Additionally, they both aim at a very contrasting world-view. While Post- Development emphasizes solidarity and the well-being of human beings in the first place, neoliberal thought focuses on the competition of individuals and the commercionalisation of community. Therefore, I do not think that both schools stand close to each other.

2.) Referring to Ziai, it cannot be assumed that Post- Development authors in general romanticize local communities (for example Escobar, Marglin, Nandy). Even Rahnema, whose perspective on vernacular societies definitively can be seen as romanticizing (we also discussed this in the seminar), does not favor a comeback or a return in a kind of ‚natural state‘ (Ziai 2007: 103). Marglin and Nandy speak up in favor of an encounter „of both Western and non-western cultures for a decolonization of the mind“ (Ziai 2007: 104). This argument leads to the comment on the rejection of modernity.

3.) Post-Development as a critique of mainstream development and alternative development stands in the tradition of poststructuralism and postmodernism. Therefore it definitively shows a skeptical attitude towards modern paradigms such as objectivism, postivism and the hierarchisation of culture and knowledge (as it is explained in chapter 2.2). Nonetheless, there is no complete rejection of all achievements of the modern age. Rist declares: „the idea, then, in spite of ‚development‘, is to organize and invent new ways of live – between modernization, with its sufferings but also some advantages, and a tradition from which people may derive inspiration while knowing it can never be revived“ (Rist 1997: 244 nach Ziai: 104). Following this point it becomes clear to be aware of the powerful mechanisms modern thinking brought, and to consider carefully the advantages that modern technique (for example the use of solar energy) can contribute. The same is valid for the dealings with globalization in its negative as well as positive effects.

4.) The suspicion of Post-Development thought being cultural relativist and consequently indifferent towards right violations, etc. is already more difficult to answer. Sven Engel states that without any normative categories, a positioning is impossible. His critical view on the postmodern development critique is based on a theoretical critique of Foucault's dis­course analysis. He speaks of the dilemma of the equation of power and knowledge: „Because in postmodern development critique there is no subjective or objective criteria, that differs between power (illegitim) and knowledge (legitim) or between different forms of knowledge, to value anything a being negative, bad, evil, ugly, every negation is again only the expression of a certain power relation“4 (Engel 2001: 123).

Ziai finds a more constructive and reflective answer to this point of critique. The rejection of universalism is nonetheless based on the implicit right of self-determination. Human beings of one community should decide together about the rules of living together, without somebody external intervening in the name of universalist principles (Ziai 2007: 105). This does not mean cultural indifference, but includes the realization, that the western model of consumerism may not be generalized.

It is about the consensus that needs to be find and negotiated. In reference to Escobar, culture is never static, but a „transformed and transformational force“ (Ziai 2007: 104). Ziai puts it right in stating: „If culture in terms of constructivist manner is defined as the sum of (the changing) norms and practices of one specific group, deviating behavior is a sign, that some practices are no longer capable of belonging to the consensus“5 (Ziai 2007: 105).

5.) The problem of discourse analysis to focus on power structures and seeing individuals as vehicles of institutional power is articulated in Katherine McKinnons article about development projects in Northern Thailand. In her research she came to the conclusion, that a Foucauldian analysis limited what could be seen and said about professional subjects – and what could not be seen: „The focus, in other words, is on structure over agency – on the discourses that shape our becoming subjects, rather than how subjects might shape the discourses“ (McKinnon 2008: 287). In terms of a Foucauldian analysis, development workers could be seen as agents of governmentality, their role of acting like community advocates and their ambivalent role of realizing this role and being institutional agents at the same time, is not being observed. In reference to Judith Butler McKinnon states: „(…) we must presume that subjects are not only made of in the enactment of normative discourse through self-government, but that also, as Butler (1993) has argued, with each act of constituting ourselves as subjects, we not only repeat a normative model, but also alter and reinvent it“ (McKinnon 2008: 287). This argument leads me to the last point: does Post- Development has no vision? Is it only deconstructive?

6.) Nederveen Pieterse accuses Post-Development theory of only echoing „the ‚myth of development‘ rather than leaving it behind“ (Nederveen Pieterse 1998: 366). Post-Development authors would only deconstruct, but never try to find perspectives or visions for the future. Of course, as being at the first point a critique, the intention of Post- Development was and is to highlight the powerful mechanisms of development. If some authors do not offer a solution, this still does not discredit Post- Development: it is not the aim of post-development to offer a normative, new solution.

Nonetheless, with its solidarity for local movements, and its claim for authenticity it takes a stand.

Therefore, it is important to differ anti-development from Post-Development. Post-Development does not mean indifference towards poverty, neither should it stuck on using only Foucault. McKinnon offers a perspective in using both discourse analysis as well as Laclau's and Mouffe's concept of hegemony: „using the tools of post-modern and post-colonial analysis, the job of Post-Development then is to locate alternative ways of doing development that build upon critical histories of development, and seek new, post-development ways of doing development“ (McKinnon 2008: 289).

Deconstruction of so-called truths leads to new ways of seeing reality. In my opinion, therefor it definitely is constructive.

3.3 What Next?

Summing up, some points of the critique can contribute to a reflective, self-critique Post-Development. It is important that Post- Development thinkers are aware of their starting point. As I mentioned in chapter 2 it makes also sense to differentiate between the various authors that belong to Post-Development. If authoritarian and ethnocentric elements of development theory and politics should be avoided, it is not possible to define ‚development‘ as a normative model (as a state of 'good society for example). Following the logic of postmoderism, these definition can only be made by affected persons in a democratic discussion (Ziai 2006).

Post-Development and Postmodernism consequently do not mean to be lost in diversity. Referring to Rapahel Daum, agency and its legitimation out of a postmodern perspective means in the first place to respect difference and diversity. From that a „small“ consensus can be worked out, which is not a new story of truth, but which can and should resume to the better aspects of modernity, its emancipatory force and human rights (Daum 2004).

The analysis of the criticism is important to proceed in the process of ‚decolonizing our minds‘ and searching for ‚new landscapes‘ Escobar speaks of.

One practical implication of Post- Development is the engagement of the local level. This proposition can be find in Sally Matthews article „Post-Development politics and practice“. In her opinion Post-Development „suggests that we ought to work to undermine the relations of power that cause injustice and oppression and that such work includes working within privileged societies.“ (Matthews year not known: 4). Practically spoken, she supports other Post-Development authors as Ferguson in their proposal for engaging in existing popular initiatives. Furthermore, and what seems to be the most relevant here, is her underlining of the work that can be done ‚at home‘: contributing to a counter-hegemonic discourse, by changing teaching schedules, in being engaged in transforming the public perspective, the public discourse. We „need to change the way in which the more privileged regard their own privilege and the poverty of others“ (Matthews 2008: 1045) is the central statement of Matthews.

4. My Personal Encounter With Post-Development

As in my role of a researcher I am confronted of different ways of seeing reality, it clearly does not leave me without influence. In discussing theory it always makes sense to be self-reflective. To be aware of my own starting-point, of my own experience that connect myself with theory does not only help to understand, but also helps to adapt theory in personal life.

The conclusion in chapter 3.3 leads to the questions that I ask myself: What now is its impact on me? What is my personal encounter with Post-Development?

Discussing post-development in the seminar seemed like a summary of my whole study of International Development. The question „What is Development?“ was raised in my first university session some years ago. Step by step ‚development‘ and my positive, world bettering view on it was disillusioned, the world – my world – deconstructed. I did not only feel that these deconstruction is destructive: it brought a new, profound way of thinking and a seeking for reality, that has many different facettes – negative and positive.

Though, the reading of different critical comments on Post-Development, reminded me on the criticism that I put on my study of International Development. Because in my study there can be found a lot of influence of Post-Development theory, the points of critique that are formulated on Post-Development theory parallel my thoughts towards my field of study. Feeling without perspective in this whole criticism, that made sense, but also involves the danger of hopelessness.

In any case, it is clear that change starts at the local level. Regarding Post-Development, supporting development practice, the support of local movements, is a way to adapt theory in practice. In my personal life, the local engagement in my environment became now more theoretically reasoned. Being aware of the privileges as well as of the contradictions in my society and articulating areas of tension leads to a questioning of normatives. To deconstruct existing elitist, racist, sexist, hetero-normative and anti-Semitic signs and self-reproducing strategies of accepting poverty can evoke debates and a change in minds as well as in practice.

Concluding, Post-Development means the deconstruction of so-called truths as well as the encouragement of engagement and reflexive action.

5. Bibliography

  • Conrad, Simon; Randeira, Shalini (ed.) 2002: Jenseits des Eurozentrismus. Postkoloniale Perspektiven in den Geschichts- und Kulturwissenschaf­ten. Frankfurt/New York, Campus Verlag.
  • Daum, Raphael 2004: Postmoderne Vielheitspostulate bei Jean- Francois und Lyotard, Gianni Vattimo und anderen, online-text.
  • Engel, Sven 2001: Vom Elend der Postmoderne in der Dritten Welt. Eine Kritik des Post- Development Ansatzes. Stuttgart. Ibidem.
  • Escobar, Arturo 1992: Imagining a Post- Development Era? Critical Thought, Development and Social Movements. In: Social Text, No. 31/32, Third World and Post-Colonial Issues, pp. 20–56.
  • Escobar, Arturo 2000: Beyond the Search for a Paradigm? Post- Development and beyond . In: Development (43), pp.11–14.
  • Jakimow, Tanya 2008: Answering the critics: the potential and limitations of the knowledge agenda as a practical response to Post-Development critique. In: Progress in Development Studies 8, 4 pp. 311–23.
  • Kiely, R. 1999: The Last Refuge of the Nobel Savage A Critical Assessment of Post- Development Theory, The European Journal of Development Research 11, pp.30 – 55.
  • Kothari, Uma 2005: Authority and Expertise. The Professionalisation of International Development and the Ordering of Dissent. In? Editoral Borad of Antipode. Oxford, Malden. Blackwell Publishing.
  • Nederveen Pieterse, Jan 1998: My Paradigm or ours? Alternative Development, Post-Development, Reflexive Development.
  • Nederveen Pieterse, Jan 2000: After Post- Development. In: Third World Quaterly, Vol 21, No 2, pp 175–191.
  • Matthews, Sally 2004: Post- Development theory and the question of alternatives: a view from Africa. In: Third World Quaterly, Vol 25, No. 2, pp. 373–384.
  • Matthews, Sallly year not known: Post-Development politics and practice, online-text.
  • McKinnon, Katherine 2008: Taking Post-Development theory to the field: Issues in development research, Northern Thailand. In: Asia Pacific Viewpoint, Vol 49, No. 3, pp. 281–293.
  • McKinnon, Katherine 2008: Exploring Postdevelopment: Theory and Practice, Problems and Perspectives (Review). In: Geographical Research, 64 (4), pp 476–477.
  • Nanda, M. 1999: Who needs Post- Development? Discourse of Difference, Green Revolution and Agrarian Populism in India, in: Journal of Development Societies, 15 (1), pp. 5 – 31.
  • Novy, Andreas 2002: Entwicklung gestalten. Gesellschaftsverände­rung in der Einen Welt. Frankfurt a. M./Wien, Brandes & Apsel/Südwind.
  • Rahnema, Majid; Bawtree, Victoria (ed.) 1997: The Post- Development Reader. London: Zed Books.
  • Raple, John 2004: Development Studies and the Post- Development Critique. In: Progress in Development Studies 4,4, pp. 350–354.
  • Sachs, Wolfgang 1992: The Development Dictionary. A guide to knowledges as power. New York, Zed Books.
  • Saunders, Kriemild (ed.) 2004: Feminist Post- Development Thought. Rethinking Modernity, Post-Colonialism and Representation. London and New York, Zed Books.
  • Simon, David 2006: Separated by common ground? Bringing (post)development and (post)colonialism together. In: Geographical Journal, Vol. 172, No.1, pp. 10–21.
  • Ziai, Aram; Jabobeit, Cord 2003: Entwicklungsthe­orie: Wer ist Wer?. In: Zeitschrift für Entwicklung und Zusammenareit, online-text.
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The author is a political science student at the University of Vienna.

Poznámky pod čarou

  1. In this paper I do not explain in detail what is meant by the classical modern development paradigm, because we already discussed it intensively in the seminar sessions, all life-styles that differ from the western one, cannot be accepted as of valuable, or can only be referred to as underdeveloped.
  2. In English: „The postmodernisation of development theory“.
  3. Original quotation in German: „an die Stelle des modernen Denkens tritt die Heterogenität und Fragmentiertheit eines postmodernen Denkens, welches die verschiedenen Perspektiven und Differenzen betont und die Vernunft als Mittel zur Erkenntnis in Frage stellt“. (Engel 2001:50). Translated into English by the author.
  4. Original: „Da es in der postmodernen Entwicklungskritik kein subjektves oder objekives Kriterium gibt, das zwischen Macht (illegitim) und Wissen (legitim) oder zwischen verschiedenen Formen von Wissen unterscheiden kann, um so irgedetwas als negativ, schlecht, böse, hässlich oder sonst wie werten zu können, muss jede Negation wiederum nur Ausrruck eines spezifischen Machtverhältnisses sein“ (Engel 2001: 123)
  5. Original: „Wenn jedoch Kultur nach konstruktivis­tischer Manier als die Summe der (sich verändernden) Praktiken und Normen einer bestimmten Gruppe definiert wird, ist abweichendes Verhalten ein Zeichen, dass einige Praktiken nicht länger konsensfähig sind“ (Ziai 2007: 105)
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Christiane Loper
9. 7. 2011