The Poverty of Progress? - Development Studies Association

The Poverty of Progress? Studies: the Case for Development
Annual Conference of Development Studies Association,
London, 1 November 2014
Professor Richard Haines
Head: Department of Development Studies &
Director: Unit for Economic Development & Tourism
The expansion internationally of Development Studies and its variants
has seen the increased institutionalization of this terrain.
This is not a search for disciplinary purity but rather to indicate the
expansiveness and inclusiveness of the terrain of Development
Studies for new approaches and syntheses.
A revisioned Development Studies could and should incorporate
approaches and contributions from the South, take more cognizance
of the complexity of social and economic reality, and of course, recentre the question of what it is to be human.
The Parameters of Development History
The argument of this paper is that we need to constitute more formally a terrain of study or
sub-discipline within the theory and practices of contemporary Development Studies
It focuses more on the need for such a formal enclosure rather than the epistemology
underlying such an endeavour. The latter will be the focus of more long-range and collective
work which will need to find ways to incorporate the diversity of future scholarly work
The creation of sub-disciplines and/or fields of inquiry such as historical geography, economic
history, and historical sociology can provide certain touchstones and certainly ideas for a
future Development History
The formalization of development history will not be an exclusive construct, but rather a site
where there is due and quite extensive overlap with work in complementary disciplinary and
transdisciplinary fields.
The Parameters of Development History
Development history would entail a multifaceted approach aimed at providing more
historically sensitive undergirding to the growing and diversifying terrain of
Development Studies.
It also investigates a series of epistemological interrogations and shifts within the
social and economic sciences
This couples with a growing interest in new explanations for economic and
business behaviour which map out the industrial development paths or historical
trajectories of particular countries.
The Parameters of Development History
The dimensions of Development History are essentially five-fold:
Firstly, the discipline of Development Studies and its variants increasingly require
a more systematic genealogy
There is a need for more synoptic analyses of economic development and
development histories, as opposed to the orthodox economic histories
The local, nation and regional particularities of development approaches and
experiences need to be studied in a more comprehensive and reflective manner,
with the policy relevance of such development narratives being used actively in
development reform and design.
The Parameters of Development History
The dimensions of Development History are essentially five-fold:
The historical dimension is a crucial corrective to a tendency to invoke simplistic
and/or universal notions of issues such as human progress, and to work with selfreferential (and thus ultimately unsatisfactory) metaphoric imagery and concepts in
regards to explaining and prescribing development.
Finally, there is a need to explore the diversity of ways in which development
thinking and practice is created and mediated over time in differing texts and
genres, both fictive and non-fictive.
The Idea of Progress: Beyond the Enlightenment Project
A more self-conscious and systematic production of development history would seem
to be central to the shifting meanings and practices of development over time.
Development Studies is in its earlier grand aims and objectives, and its current
underlying assumptions regarding the possibilities of human progress and reform, has
echoes of the enlightenment project
There is also a need for histories of alternative macro narratives and views of
development. The burgeoning work of Latin American, African and Afro-American
scholars in this regard is indicative of this. Exploring alternative pasts opens up
alternative futures.
And what a more formalized constitution of development history will bring, however, is
the stimulation of new and classic debates from the micro to macro levels, in which the
interpretation of historical evidence and the quality of this evidence will be
contextualized within an expanding and more globalized process of academic
knowledge production.
The Idea of Progress: Beyond the Enlightenment Project
While the centrality of the ‘people’ within the development enterprise was a strong and
continued theme in scholarship in the 1980s and we did not interrogate sufficiently the
dynamics of human agency both past and present
Too often ‘the people’ or ‘the community’ have remained a kind of ‘floating signifier’.
The complexities of the human condition and the individual or human subject –
mediated, socially constructed and articulated as s/he may be -- was somehow not the
stuff of development thinking.
The constitution of ‘rich human beings’ – a theme in certain emerging Marxist writings
in the 2000s – is certainly one which looks at a more dynamic relationship between
human actors and their communities and environments.
The application of complexity theory to development thinking would allow us to find
ways to bridge the seeming dichotomy between individual/community and
The Idea of Progress: Beyond the Enlightenment Project
Not dissimilarly the ‘idea of progress’ can be too easily dismissed as a discourse/s
instrumental to the expansion of capitalism and empire, or alternatively as the imagery
of modernity.
What is pertinent, and probably under-examined in the relevant scholarship, is how the
notion or even myth of the possibilities of human betterment and the associated ideas
of technological and social advancement have been received, interpreted and remade
over time
Susan Neiman in her 2009 work argues the need for progressive scholarship to reconsider the desire for and continued pursuit of the enlightenment Ideals of happiness,
reason, reverence, and hope,
‘Hidden From History’: Narratives of Development Activism
• In the appreciation of the play of human agency and expanding our grasp of
progressive developmental work past and present, an institutionalized
development history can both widen and deepen our current understanding of
the parameters and possibilities of such activities
• By providing scholars with a more systematic record and analysis of
particularity of development work across space and time, we should be able to
create more dynamic theoretical models at micro, meso and macro levels, and
be better positioned to reflect on the complexities of development processes
and challenges
• Particularly important for contemporary Development Studies is the question of
development activism.
‘Hidden From History’: Narratives of Development Activism
• With increasing challenges in regard to ecological and species vulnerability, the
predations of corporate capital and the accumulation projects of political and
business elites, localized and popular struggles against structures of power and
influence are worth locating, analysing, and keeping for future record
• There is a range of relevant social and economic theory to draw from and
• The question of delving into history to better grasp the modes of development
and underdevelopment is underlined for instance by Che Guevara’s coming –
of-age memoir, The Motorcycle Diaries (1996)
Race, Colonialism and Empire
The centrality of notions and discourses such as imperialism, colonialism and
post-colonialism in contemporary reflection on development constitutes a
strategic space or series of spaces for development history to flourish.
A key consideration would be providing more detailed historical studies
allowing for informed deconstruction of such processes and discourses, as
well as exploring their paradoxes and particularities.
Furthermore, the assumptions regarding North-South interactions over time
would surely be qualified
Race, Colonialism and Empire
The modes and mechanisms by which constructs of such as race, imperialism
and colonialism were entwined and reshaped over the decades are processes
requiring further study
The role of South African critics of empire during the interwar years in
informing British colonial policy and subsequently colonial development policy
is but one such series of activities that have for the most part been left underresearched
Also of interest is the shift from the British Empire to Commonwealth and the
ways in which the former colonial territories remained willing to commit
sizeable interests to ensuring the preservation of Britain within this broader
Trends, Trajectories and Terroir
Increasing scholarly interest within the social, economic and eco- and biosciences in linear and non-linear macro shifts in economic and strategic
processes and the associated institutional underpinning and dynamics, has
been reinforced by the 2008-9 economic crisis and its subsequent effects.
Interestingly, a good deal of this work has been in the domain of business and
organization studies and HRM, as firms and organizations look to adapt to a
world characterized seemingly more by flux than stasis.
There are continuities, the re-visiting of certain classical theorists, as well as
emerging theoretical models and approaches.
The regulationist tradition, has found new fields to operate within, including
regional and local development
Trends, Trajectories and Terroir
The related body of work in the ‘varieties of capitalism’ approach focuses on
understanding different (capitalist) development paths
There is a heightened invocation in the social and management sciences of
historically-conditioned theories of macro cycles and trends, including the work of
Nikolai Kondratieff
Neo-classical economics has continued to diversify and has in part taken greater
conceptual cognizance of institutions, agency and even contingency
While neo-classical economic perspectives still inform mainstream thinking and
policy, there would seem to be more room for alternative approaches and
traditions with development economics and Development Studies more generally
Structure, Agency and the Commons
The relationship between the state, modes of governance, and economic
development and development more generally, is an established field within
(and without) Development Studies.
The enduring debates about the impact of democracy and deepened
possibilities and practices of participation on ‘successful’ development
outcomes continue to demand more specific studies considering the patterning
of history and the complexity of the social and political relations involved, and
the inner workings of the associated institutions.
Emerging work on the ‘commons’ and its effects on new forms of economic
activity, open up new areas for comparative and historically responsive
research and theorizing in regard to such phenomena
The South African case shows the value of historical inquiry in deconstructing
contemporary development discourses
Social, Cultural and Heritage Capital
Social capital also offers a useful starting point for development historical
A number of the pioneering and constitutive have a substantive historical
The growing academic literature on cultural capital within social and economic
theory comprises a related area of inquiry that complements work on social
Cultural capital is created and exercised in historical time which in turn
provides the means for interesting new research within a development
theoretic and historical framework, which can inter alia illuminate processes
such as elite accumulation and functioning of alliances of interest.
Heritage capital is a nascent field of inquiry which promises to be of interest
development theorists and by its very nature would attract future work of an
historical nature
There are four key further areas which reinforce the need for a development
1. Among the areas in which a more structured development history could be
operationalized would include consideration of the processes and discourses
of globalization
2. The tendency of development theorists to view terra firma as the metaterritory in which development takes place has left oceanic space undertheorized by the discipline
3. The creation of a more defined and sophisticated historical dimension to
development policy and planning could widen the development planning
4. Given the link of history with the humanities there would hopefully be
introduced into development thinking more awareness of the effects of the
contingent, the play of irony, and even the politics of the absurd.
• This paper has argued that a case can indeed be made for
Development Studies being considered as a more formalized discipline.
• It offers under-appreciated advantages for new theory construction, and
would provide key sites for strategic work in the political economic and
economic institutionalist traditions.
• These factors and the increased appreciation and application of
complexity approaches in the economic and social sciences would be
propitious for the construction of a field or sub-discipline of
development history.
• This enterprise would in turn provide Development Studies as a whole
with a greater reflexivity in regard to theory building in development
policy, as well as in development activism.
• Development history would also contribute to a more refined
understanding of institutional effects on development.