Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Post-colonial and Post-development approaches in Modern development discourse by Ivan Fukuoka

Both post-colonial and post-development movements with their distinct approaches for progress evolved from modern development theories and practices. The former as reaction to imperial Europe’s colonial practices, while the latter as the result of [continuing] failures of modern [industrial-economic] development to solve the problems of poverty, inequality and injustice everywhere. 

Modern development theories and practices are heavily influenced by the power-relations dynamics of global socio-political and economic context. The prevailing modern ‘development’ paradigm is a system belonging to the neoliberal-freemarket capitalist economic regime that recently also includes socialist-states [guided] 'semi-capitalist' economies like China and Russia. There is little left of true socialist/communistic countries in the world, perhaps Cuba and the Indian state of Kerala are exceptions.

Post-colonial theorists contribute towards better understanding of the workings of the capitalist [economic] system through its critical questionings and critiques of the status quo. Decolonisation [i.e. independence movements] from the established order and alternative development characterised post-colonial approaches. While post-development thoughts explore the possibilities of alternative to development which may be influenced by or transcend both modernist and Marxist concepts altogether [e.g. Illich, Majid, and Sach] who proposed the return to conviviality and the vernacular. At times post-colonial and post-development approach may overlap in synergy and other times they are independent. We will study their qualities and also assess their respective usefulness.

Decolonisation period
During the old colonial rules of imperial Europe many colonised territories and its people were subjected to unfair treatments and discrimination. These conditions lead to dissatisfaction among the local or indigenous population against the colonial ruler. So when the European colonialism were weakened at the end of World War II many anticolonial [liberation] movements previously subdued under the colonial rulers gained support from the masses thus fuelling the drive for partial and full independence (McMichael, 2008, p.37 & p.184).

This movement towards independence in many former colonies is the main feature of the decolonisation period. Often a new nation state is born though it may still retain part of the former colonial structure albeit in a different make up. However, Edward Said reminds us that the process of breaking down colonialism involves the [automatic] building up of yet another system of exploitation (Said on Fanon, 1994, in Nandy, p.178).

In this hierarchical structure/system, the  modern Western development discourse is dominantly or 'unfairly' located at the top – a position contested by post-colonial writers and scholars, like Gandhi, Fanon and Escobar among others. Their main concern is about questioning and deconstructing the established singular development model. Here post-colonial and post-modern thinkers share their rejection to modern hierarchical [managerial] approach but with different reason. Post-colonial thinkers resent this paradigm of hierarchical domination while post-development writer refused to be part of this problematic paradigm altogether. Later the managerial approach developed into professionalism and managerialism as we know it.

Worth noting here is the different strain of post-development approach, for example between alternative development and alternative to development, the former is still part of development while the latter is searching for ways outside ‘development’.

The homogenising ‘development age’
The foundation of modern development can be traced back to the US President Harry S. Truman's inaugural speech in 1949. In his speech, he declares that the ‘economically backward’ former colonies of imperial Europe as ‘underdeveloped’ therefore need to be ‘developed’ [according] to the US/Eurocentric industrialisation program (Truman in Rist, 2002, p.71). Moreover, Truman’s statement also effectively categorised half of the world population as ‘underdeveloped’ without their prior consent – so begins what Gilbert Rist  called the ‘development age’.

Modern ‘development’ is a product of a political system, for example Rostow’sStages of Growth’ linked with ‘Cold War’ politics. The consequence of this politics and policies ‘tied-up’ is development loses its objectivity and becomes dependent on short to medium term (3 to 5 years) elected government politics and values. This description is in line with Escobar's definition of development, i.e. a system consisting of ‘...a set of relations which ensured their continued existence.’(Escobar, 1988, p.430).

In the 1950s modern ‘development project’ [under US management] tools to achieve progress relied on the linear Rostovian ‘Stages of Growth’ method that measures progress in mainly economic terms. This narrow and reductionistic mind-set and method of measuring progress is problematic for both post-colonial and post-development thinkers/theorists alike since it excludes the [local] historical, socio-cultural and knowledge base so important in post-colonial and post-development discourse [of alternative development and alternative to development] (Sidaway, 2008, p.16).

Moreover this homogenising brand of ‘development’ that focus  mainly on economic growth is made possible at the high costs of  local, regional and global environmental/ecological services destruction. In short, growth-based [economic] development is unsustainable in a resource-limited planet (Wackernagel (2002) in Brown, 2006, p.6).

Post-colonial approach
Post-colonialism literally means ‘after-colonialism’ or ‘after-independence’ however according to Radcliffe (1999) definition it refers to ‘...ways of criticizing the material and discursive legacies of colonialism (Radcliffe in McEwan, 2008, p.124). McEwan embolden the above perspectives to also mean anticolonial (idem.)

These anticolonial [post-colonial] discourses have been identified by McEwan to contain four core issues that is:
  1. to destabilize the dominant discourse [of past imperial       Europe and present Eurocentric modern ‘development’]
  2. to challenges the usage of language that homogenise [e.g. ‘Third World’; ‘us’ and  ‘them’; ‘self’ and ‘other’] found in   development writings
  3. attempts to rewrite history, language and power  (knowledge) defined by Western world view
  4. attempts to recover the recover lost historical and contemporary voices of the marginalized, the oppressed and the dominated, thorough a radical reconstruction of history and knowledge production.(Adapted from McEwan, 2008, pp.124-25)
    In this way post-colonial approach challenges the very meaning of mainstream [modern] development discourse.

    The following is a brief compilation of ideas espoused by post-colonialism : 
    • integrate IK(Indigenous Knowledge) system
    • criticise destructive modernisation and imperialism
    • challenge single-path homogenising development
    • analyses words and language [of ‘development’ ]
    • analyses practices and institutional expression of ‘development’
    • influenced by Marxist socio-political and economic analyses [e.g. exploitation, class-struggles, centre-periphery power relations]
    • supports diversity of views and priorities[including non-Western views of feminism] 
    • belief in power-relations dynamic
    • attempts to overcome inequality for non-Western people by linking North – South  through ethical trade; fair-trade.
    There are several weakness/criticism of post-colonial discourse which includes; first, it becomes the institutional representation of Western-based intellectuals [though they may be of Third World origins]; second,  it has grown too theoretical therefore ignorant of real problems facing the Global South; and third, it overlooks economic issues best illustrated by Sylvester (1999), he said , ‘development studies does not tend to listen to subalterns and postcolonial studies does not tend to concern itself with whether subalterns is eating’(Sylvester, 1999 in McEwan, 2008, p.127). However one significant and undisputed contribution of postcolonial studies is ‘it demonstrates how the production of Western knowledge form is inseparable from the exercise of Western power.’(idem).

    Post-development approach
    If post-colonialism is a reaction to imperial Europe’s colonial practices expressed through its anticolonial discourses – post-development is a rejection against the hegemony of modern [Western]‘development’ concept and practice since the outcome of this single-path homogenising practices not only failed to provide solution for the problem of poverty, inequity, injustice and environmental destruction but instead exacerbate it further through its [aid] interventions programmes in the global South (Rahnema and Bawtree, 1997).

    Post-development according to Jan Nederveen Pieterse is ‘...a radical reaction to the dilemmas of development’ (Nederveen Pieterse in Sidaway, 2008, p.16).  However being radical does not mean it is antidevelopment ‘the challenge [for post-development] is to imagine and practice development differently’ as Gibson-Graham suggested (Gibson-Graham, 2008, p.149). While Sidaway saw post-development as ‘a critique of the standard assumptions about progress [modernity], who possesses the key to it and how it may be implemented’ (Sidaway, 2008, p.17).

    The following is a limited compilation of ideas found in the Post-Development discourse:
    • post-development is about exploring possibilities outside modern [Western] ‘development’ paradigm  (i.e. the possibilities of holistic approach to current and future development)
    • think locally, act locally (Esteva and Prakash)
    • consideration into Ecologically Sustainable Development (Daly, Ecological Economic/Steady-State)
    • decoupling from 'specialisation', managerialism, the cult of efficiency and returning the convivial and vernacular
    • holistic instead of Cartesian reductionism
    • consideration into altruistic development (Schumpeter) 
    • use of Appropriate Technologies
    • non-intervention practice
    • reconsideration of identity [i.e. who am I ?] as tool to experiment ‘beyond-development’ condition 
    • possibility of radical unconditioning  of the known 
    • experimenting with the idea of modernity as limitation.
    In the end both of these approach has it place and usage at different conditions [i.e. time, space, cultural background etc]. However both are offshoots of modernity that dates back to Europe’s ‘Enlightenment period’ so can only be compared to a similar tradition [which we do not have] in a globalising world. Modern society is materialistic, individualistic and competitive; armed with advanced science and technology and obsessed with efficiency [managerialism]. But the most dangerous feature of this modern [globalising] society is not because everything about it is bad [there are hospital, man landed on the Moon; Jet plane etc.,] but as Foucault put it, because it is dangerous – here I am referring to its  mad love for [economic] ‘development’ aka growth as the only path for progress (Foucault, 1983, p.231-32) in the world.

    It seems that the perennial philosophical questions like ‘Who am I?’ or ‘what do I identify myself with?’ is not only valid but may even be the critical missing piece in the intricate and complex puzzle of modern human development. No wonder this seemingly simple question has been asked by sages and the wise  for millennia, arguably because without sufficient knowledge of the self how can we choose to develop properly or for that matter what to develop first? If this is the case then the development industries should first think about priority.

    Perhaps the last 60 years or so of modern development with its emphasis on industrialisation and economic growth need urgent rethinking and reconsideration in the 21st century. This short 60 years of progress or development will be long remembered into posterity as the defining period in what Jeffrey Sach refers to as the ‘Anthropocene’ age. The dilemma of this age will be staged in about one month time at the Copenhagen Climate Summit, and how modernity will response and prioritise between its short-term [economic] ‘development’ goals will determine the Earth’s long-term homeostasis capacity. Let’s hope that those democratically elected leaders from powerful nations made a conscientious decision for the benefit of all.

    Let us hope we will be remembered for our intelligence, quick actions and long term wisdom and not for our short-sightedness, greed and selfishness. Perhaps the key to true development cannot be found in being more modern, more sophisticated or [technologically] powerful but in human ability to intelligently live with less quantity and more quality, as Mahatma Gandhi once said, ‘there is enough for everyone's need but not enough for everyone's greed.’ Drawing inspiration from Gandhi, post-colonial relentless critical questioning in combination with post-development meditative soul searching ways may help [development] thinkers to find the answer.

    Escobar, A. (1988), ‘Power and Visibility: Development and the Invention and Management of the Third World’, Cultural Anthropology, 3(4): 428-443.
    Esteva, G. (1992). Development.  In W. Sachs (ed.), The Development Dictionary (p. 6).  London: Zed Books.
    Foucault, M. (1983). “On the Genealogy of Ethics,” in Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, in H. L. Dreyfus and P. Rabinow, (2nd ed.) Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, pp.231-32.
    Gibson-Graham, J. K. (2005). ‘Surplus Possibilities: Post-development and Community Economies.’ Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, 26(1), p.6).
    McEwan, C. (2008). ‘Indigenous Knowledge and Development’, in: V. Desai and R.Potter (eds.). The Companion to Development Studies. London: Hodder Education, pp.125-129.
    Nandy, A., 1997 in M. Rahnema and V. Bawtree , (2003), ‘Colonization of the Mind ‘, in The Post-Development Readers.  London: Zed Books, Box: Said on Fanon, p.178.
    McMichael, P. (2008), Development and Social Change. A Global Perspective. Thousand Oaks, CA.: Sage, Chapter 2 ‘Instituting the development Project’ pp.24-54.
    Nederveen Pieterse in Sidaway, (2008). ‘Post-development’, in: V. Desai and R.Potter (eds.). The Companion to Development Studies. London: Hodder Education, pp.16-18.
    Radcliffe in McEwan, C. (2008). ‘Indigenous Knowledge and Development’, in: V. Desai and R.Potter (eds.). The Companion to Development Studies. London: Hodder Education, pp.125-129.
    Rahnema, M. and V. Bawtree, (2003) 4th edition, The Post-Development Readers.  London: Zed Books.
    Rist, G. (2002). The History of Development. London: Zed Books, Chapter 4 ‘The Invention of Development’, pp.69-79.
    Sidaway, J. ( 2008), ‘Post-development’, in: V. Desai and R.Potter (eds.). The Companion to Development Studies. London: Hodder Education, p.16.
    Sidaway, J.  (2008), ‘Post-development’, in: V. Desai and R.Potter (eds.). The Companion to Development Studies. London: Hodder Education, p.17.
    Sylvester, 1999 in McEwan, C. (2008), ‘Post-colonialism’, in: V. Desai and R.Potter (eds.). The Companion to Development Studies. London: Hodder Education, p.127.
    Truman, 1949 in Rist, G. (2002). The History of Development. London: Zed Books, Chapter 4 ‘The Invention of Development’, p.71.
    Wackernagel, M. (2002) in L. Brown (2006). Plan B 2.0: rescuing a planet under stress and a civilization in trouble. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.