Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2004

Abstract

The objective in this article is to construct and then deconstruct the concept of development, and to question whether development is so fundamentally flawed that it should be abandoned in favor of a post-development paradigm.

Part I constructs the theory of development, beginning with the discovery of global poverty after the Second World War. It establishes how poverty is in some respects socially contingent, and how the notion of global poverty suddenly homogenized and problematized the lives of the majority of the world's peoples. With the impending Cold War and the disintegration of colonial empires as crucial backdrops, industrialized nations set out to eradicate poverty and bring the benefits of modernization to the impoverished masses of the newly de-colonizing world, and thus development as we now know it was born. From its inception, development was informed and shaped by the meta-narrative of modernization, which is explored as the primary theoretical foundation for the undertakings that were to follow. Law and development is also analyzed as the legal manifestation of modernization theory and as an additional theoretical underpinning of development.

Part II explores how development has been constructed in practice. It begins with the international financial institutions that form the institutional edifice of the development project with particular emphasis on the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. It then focuses on the succession of often-contradictory economic experiments and development theories that have emanated from these and other institutions. Development theories have run the gamut as sustainable development, micro-development, women-centered development, endogenous development, appropriate development, "Basic Needs," and both state and market-led development have all had their days in the sun. What began as economic growth to eradicate poverty evolved to include "enhancing participatory democratic processes", "enlarging choices", "affording the opportunity to develop to one's fullest potential", "participation in decisions affecting one's life", and affording the "means to carry out national development goals and promote economic growth, equity and national self-reliance". One consistent theme, however, is that the development project has grown ever larger and more comprehensive. More disturbingly, international financial institutions now determine policy in many Third World countries -much in the way colonial powers once did. IS Yet, despite myr-iad inconsistencies and the well-documented pain and disasters that have resulted from their strategies, these institutions and the concept of development enjoy continuing and largely uncritical support within the international community.

Part III turns to legal constructions of development and the seriatim attempts by Third World nations, over the past fifty years, to use international law in the pursuit of development. These efforts began with the demand for Permanent Sovereignty Over Natural Resources, and then turned to broader demands for a New International Economic Order. When these failed, Southern nations asserted a Right to Development, seeking to incorporate development into the burgeoning rights discourse. Reparations are the most recent evolution in the campaign for economic justice, as some Third World nations now demand compensation for the exploitation and crippling consequences of slavery and colonialism. To the extent that these initiatives sought to establish legal obligations for the West, they have been unsuccessful. As this section demonstrates, international law has only reinforced and reproduced the economic and political inequities present in the international economic system.

Part IV turns to deconstructing the discourse of development, demonstrating that it is a method of conceptualizing the world that, in turn, shapes the world. Although portrayed as a neutral and universal concept, development is planned, directed and controlled by specific international and national institutions that act in ideological concert and reflect the views and interests of certain communities, societies and cultures. This ideology creates and defines the "Other" while providing the legal and moral rationale for interventions that locate and cement the Third World on the lower rungs of the international system. Development is the product of a particular perspective and that perspective problematizes and homogenizes the majority of humanity. Deconstructing this discourse suggests that it is at least possible to imagine a post-development world and to perceive the people of the Third World in a fresh light.

Given the failures of development, the power relations it engenders, and its generally negative and degrading view of non-Western peoples and cultures, Part V attempts the very difficult task of envisioning a different approach to thinking about the world. No new meta-narrative or grandiose strategy to replace the development paradigm is proposed, for the aim is to reject, rather than substitute, meta-narratives. Nor is the objective to glorify and resurrect Third World traditions, for tradition is seldom faultless and idyllic. Third world peoples have had varied and complex encounters with development, and these experiences must not be over-simplified. Our objective is to begin to envision approaches that accord agency to the people develop-ment presumes to assist. We hope that these alternative visions can somehow give voice to the local, including the voice to embrace, transform, reject or otherwise engage the West and the entire modernization project. We believe the West must abdicate some of the power it has presumed and to begin to re-imagine the lives and agency of others, and in the process perhaps reject often unarticulated but crippling assumptions about "the Other". The objective is to pose different questions, to let others pose questions, to learn to listen and to actually hear the responses of others rather than assuming that the answers are already known.

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Posted with permission of the Wisconsin International Law Journal.

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