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Post-development, Post-modernity, and Deconstructionism: A Practical Program?

Development studies has transformed over the years to include a wide array of opinions and perspectives. Development theory and practice has traditionally followed a modernist paradigm in the past and many development academics and agencies continue this tradition today. However, development studies and practice have been influenced by academics who evaluate development through the lenses of post- modernity and deconstructionism, two theories that challenge the mainstream views of objectivity and reality. The influence of these alternative development thinkers has created change to the point where development discourse and, to a lesser extent, practice is becoming less modernist and arguably more reflexive. This has resulted in alternative views of development studies and practice, one of which is post- development. This young and diverse academic perspective had its start in the 1990s with academics, such as Arturo Escobar and Majid Rahnema, who heavily critique current development theory and practice (the modernisation-as-development paradigm) and call for an alternative to development. However, critiques of development can be found much earlier in the literature, such as Illich, Ferguson and even Gandhi, and are key influences in early post-development writings. While this evaluative body of academia has influenced development studies and practice, many authors suggest that post-development lacks practical programs to fix the failings of current development practice. Post-development does not offer a ‘practical program.’ However, post- development thinkers have many suggestions for fixing the problems they see in current development orthodoxy, such as deconstructing modernity, utilising post-colonial thought to create new paradigms, and using grassroots social movements and local ways of knowing to resist global modern hegemony. The solution, according to some post-development thinkers, is to move away from ‘development’ all together and observe local communities creating their own paradigms for achieving the society that they desire based on their actual needs and local ways of knowing.

Brief Introduction to Development

The beginning of development as a project and as a Western political discourse is often attributed to the former United States President Harry S. Truman’s inaugural address in 1949 (Illich 1990; Sachs 2010). It was in this address that he stated that foreign nations, particularly those that were labelled as ‘underdeveloped’ would require assistance in order to achieve “industrial progress” and a raised standard of living (Illich 1990, p. 6). Development was seen as a universal model that would withstand the test of time and today it has become an industry in which certain players have long term vested interests. The anthropological self-reflective and often ethnographic nature of development studies has led many academics to critique the dominant discourse of mainstream development agencies, which has broadly followed the Washington Consensus and modernist thought. Arturo Escobar (1995) in his classic post-development text, Encountering Development, describes how the dominant development discourse plays out. The discourse is based on modernisation and the Western idea of progress, which creates a Third World made up of disadvantaged and needy populations (Escobar 1995). To ‘help’ the Third World to become modern and ‘progressive,’ the mainstream development discourse prescribes the help of the First World -- countries who model modernity and progress and have the power and knowledge to ‘help’ the Third World (Escobar 1995). From the post-development perspective, this is an ethnocentric way to look at the world’s inequalities, and development practice based on this discourse only makes the inequalities more pronounced rather than alleviating them.


In order to make this essay more clear to the reader, I find it necessary to define certain terms since they do not have accepted definitions within development discourse. Deconstruction “Deconstruction is impossible to pin down in any tidy definition and it takes various forms” (Winter 2007, p. 72). For the purpose of this essay, deconstruction (also deconstruct, deconstructionism, deconstructionist) refers to Jacques Derrida’s philosophical methodology which prescribes “the process of breaking down conventionally accepted concepts, categories, and oppositions” (Hogg 2010, p. 195). More specifically, deconstruction in this essay critiques the received essence, or what is

perceived as natural and normal by the mainstream, of categories, concepts or oppositions (Hogg 2010). Derrida, however, would say that deconstruction is not a critique or method, but rather is something that occurs everywhere if one looks carefully enough at text (Winter 2007). For example. Derrida states that words do not have static meanings; they have histories in which their meanings change through time (Winter 2007). Therefore, one can never predict the meaning of or fix meanings to words (Winter 2007). When one applies this to concepts and ideas (not just words), then one must question the concepts and ideas in context instead of accepting them as universal truths. For example, Derrida (2002) talks about the Enlightenment, a framework proclaiming that the use of science and intellect is superior to religion and superstition. He states that Enlightenment ideas must be questioned as a framework and discourse in order to understand how Enlightenment ideas are naturalised and are used to legitimise certain ideologies (Derrida 2002). According to deconstructionist thought, this is important because normalising discourses conceals the possibility of recognising other possible discourses (Winter 2007). Post-modernity According to Müller (2006), post-modernism lacks a static definition and is understood through finding commonalities among the various authors who critique modernism. For the purpose of this essay, post-modernity (also postmodernity, post- modernism/postmodernism, post-modern/postmodern, postmodernist/post-modernist) is a school of thought that challenges knowledge that is taken for granted (Rosenau 1992). For example, concepts such as objectivity, democracy, necessity, and causality are questioned (Rosenau 1992). In essence, the whole of modern social science is deconstructed in the manner of Derrida, and finding an alternative school of thought is generally not attempted (Rosenau 1992). Post-development Like post-modernity and deconstruction, post-development (also postdevelopment, postdevelopmentalist/post-developmentalist) is not easily definable as there is no accepted definition and existing definitions tend to be too broad or too specific. Generally speaking, post-development thinkers are those who critique development and the development industry (Jakimow 2008). Post-development is

a nascent idea and therefore is not a theory and post-development authors do not

share a unified position (Escobar 2000). According to Escobar (2000, p. 11), a post-

development thinker, post-development is not “even a trend.” Despite the fact that it

is not a consistent academic theory, there are two distinct and entwined concepts in

post-development texts: knowledge and power (Jakimow 2008). ”The central claim of post-development is that the knowledge deployed in development is a product of the epistemic perspectives of the ‘West’” (Jakimow 2008, p. 312). Pieterse (2000), a critic of the post-development school, expands on this to state that the key themes of post- development thought include dissatisfaction with the “business-as-usual” modernisation- as-development practice and, at the same time, the movement away from alternative development practices. Some would posit that post-development is synonymous with ‘anti-development,' which rejects the oppositions of ‘Third World’ & ‘First World’ and ‘developed’

& ‘underdeveloped’ (McKinnon 2008). Others might state that post-development

analyses the power dynamics involved in development that are present in development discourse (McKinnon 2008). For example, a post-developmentalist might critique development for their use of the phrases ‘the poor,’ ‘the needy,’ and ‘poverty’ because they label people placed in these categories as ‘needing assistance’ from the ‘more fortunate’ who happen to be the industrialised nations of the ‘First World’ (Rahnema 2001). “In all cases, however, post-development involves a critical engagement with what development is and what it has achieved” (McKinnon 2008, p. 281). In this critical engagement, post-developmentalists tend to critique modernisation-as-development for over-generalising in terms of putting development policies into practice, and in doing so, ignoring and even destroying cultural differences (Müller 2006). Another common critique of development is that it actually creates poverty instead of alleviating it because it exposes communities to the neo-liberal capitalist market (Müller 2006). In making these (and other) critiques, post-development thinkers call for an end to modernisation-as-development (Müller 2006). In this way, post-development is a school of thought outside of development that “question[s] the very desirability and centrality of the notion of 'development' itself” rather than coming up with more appropriate alternative modes of development (McGregor 2007, p. 156).

The recent “post-development” turn in development studies in the context of deconstructionism and post-modernity

Post-development and deconstructionism According to Arturo Escobar (2000), the deconstruction of development gave rise to post-development. “Deconstructionists argue that words, as signifiers, are

arbitrary; there is no reason to suppose that they perfectly match the world. Moreover, words are always defined in terms of other words, so to suppose that any given word perfectly refers to the world would be to suppose, quite implausibly, that the entire language perfectly matched the world” (Hogg 2010, p. 196). Therefore, using words such as ‘development’ must be understood in the context of how the word evolved. It is

a western construction, which is not based in truth or objectivity despite the modernist

claim, but rather is a subjective text. This same deconstruction applies to the entire development discourse. Rather than being a generalisable and objective model of global aid as it is perceived by mainstream modernists, development is viewed in terms of its historical context, which post-developmentalists might argue is actually based in Western ethnocentrism, imperialism and colonialism. In this way, post-development thinkers deconstruct the received essence (the assumed static meaning of a concept, category, or opposition) of ‘development’ by challenging what is descriptive and what is normative in terms of development policies and outcomes (Winter 2007). Deconstructionist thought posits that received essences are violent to society; therefore, challenging received essences “is not simply a way to see the world more

clearly; it is also something that ought to be done” (Hogg 2010, p. 197). Derrida (2002) builds on this sentiment by stating that justice is not deconstructable. In fact, Derrida (2002, p. 243) goes so far as to say that “deconstruction is justice.” In this way, post- development as a deconstruction of development is also a means of achieving justice. This could certainly be argued considering the post-development critique of the general failure of modernisation-as-development discourse and post-developmentalist’s call for

a more human-focused, locally-based, grassroots alternative to development (Esteva and Prakash 1998; Escobar 1995; Rahnema 1997). Post-development and post-modernism

According to Jakimow (2008), the 1990’s saw the emergence of post- development in response to the failing development industry. This new school of thought was inspired by post-modernist thinking and called for an abandonment of the modernisation-as-development paradigm (Jakimow 2008). Post-modernism and post- development are both schools of thought that have completely rejected certain aspects of modernism (Müller 2006). Therefore, one could state that post-development is a school of thought under the umbrella of post-modernism. Post-development critiques modernism as a development model, or modernisation-as-development. Some of these critiques have been commended widely in development studies, even by critics of post- development, and have led to the creation of alternative development strategies by development thinkers outside the post-development school of thought (Müller 2006). According to Escobar (1995), modernisation-as-development is legitimated and justified by the idea that knowledge, as westerners define it, is objective and ‘above’ those that are in need of ‘developing.’ Hobart (1993) echoes this in stating that those labeled as underdeveloped are seen as having a lack of knowledge by modernisation- as-development thinkers, and therefore require the help of those labeled as developed to escape their perceived condition. In rejecting modernism within development studies, post-development thinkers embrace facets of post-modern thinking and make it specific to development studies and practice (Müller 2006). In critiquing development, post- development thinkers deconstruct development while focusing on the role of power and knowledge in modern development (Müller 2006).

Post-development and a practical ‘program’ for fixing the problems of modernisation-as-development

Development is posited on modernist principles, which is why I have chosen to call it modernisation-as-development. It is concerned with transforming facets of global society towards an alignment with the Western ideal of ‘progress.’ Post-development thinkers ask what ‘progress’ is and towards what development is ‘progressing.’ It critiques the modernist ideas of universal assumptions in development, including the assumption that economic growth will solve the diverse problems facing the ‘Third World,' and the consequences of phrases like ‘Third World’ or ‘underdeveloped’ existing

in development discourse (McKinnon 2008). Post-development thinkers may even conclude that development must be done away with completely (McKinnon 2008; Escobar 1995; Jakimow 2008). Indeed, Escobar (2000) calls for an alternative to development rather than alternative development. “Because [post-development] is so critical, much post-development literature is accused of focusing only on a critique of development without offering any suggestions for how to move forward” (McKinnon 2008, p. 281). So the question remains: does post-development offer a practical program for fixing the problems of development? First, it is necessary to deconstruct ‘practical program.’ Having a ‘practical program’ for fixing the vast array of problems associated with current development practices is a modern idea, and the post-modern, post- development school of thought does not provide such a ‘program.’ As Escobar (1995, p. 217) states, “the process of unmaking development, however, is slow and painful, and there are no easy solutions or prescriptions.” However, post-development thinkers do provide some insight on where to go from here in terms addressing the problems associated with modern development practices. In this essay, I will briefly cover the insights of Arturo Escobar and Majid Rahnema. Arturo Escobar The first step, according to Escobar (1995; 2004) is to move beyond modernity. “In short, the modern crisis is a crisis in models of thought; modern solutions, at least under neoliberal globalisation (NLG), only deepen the problems. Moving beyond or outside modernity thus becomes a sine qua non for imagining after the Third World” (Escobar 2004, p. 209). In order to make this move, it is necessary to deconstruct modernity. Escobar (2004) suggests to question the received essence of modernity and view it in its intra-European context. In deconstructing modernity, we must recognise that modernity is not an inescapable force of globalisation and that we can move beyond it, toward alternative local worlds (Escobar 2004). In order to make this move, there needs to be an examination of emerging social movements from the perspective of colonial structures and race relations (Escobar 2004). In this examination, one can see that current social movements, such as the Occupy movement and those of the Arab Spring, are much less hierarchical and have more decentralised power structures

than social movements of the past. “This logic is partly strengthened by the self- organising dynamics of the new information and communication technologies (ICTS), resulting in what could be called 'subaltern 1 intelligent communities’” (Escobar 2004, p. 210). This is a useful way to imagine alternative local and regional worlds after the ‘Third World’ has been deconstructed (Escobar 2004). Finally, Escobar (2004) suggests an analytical framework from which an alternative to development can be sought. He suggests that a non-Eurocentric post- colonial theory be utilised since modernity and coloniality go hand in hand (Escobar 2004). In order to create alternatives to development and alternatives to modern globalised coloniality in general, Escobar (2004) suggests rearticulating the global world from diverse paradigms based on local histories while recognising the differences between the hegemonic ways of knowing on which modernisation is based, and the ways of knowing of the subaltern groups. It might also be necessary to rework colonial difference, the divide between coloniser and colonised, to create hybrid world cultures such as the Zapatistas who successfully created a culture which draws upon Indigeneity, Marxism, and the ‘Third World’ (Escobar 2004). In this way, alternatives to development lie in creating alternatives to the wider modernised and colonial global system through local histories. Majid Rahnema Rahnema (1991), in his work on poverty, states that there is no ‘solution’ 2 to ‘poverty’ within modernity, but searching for alternatives is not easy because of existing power structures that keep the ‘poor’ from creating and maintaining power. The existing power structures include various nation-states involved in development, but also the force of the modern globalised economic market and the control of society by technical elitism (Rahnema 1991). In order to realise alternatives, new paradigms must replace those paradigms which currently have control over and often twist the mainstream view of what is real (Rahnema 1991). To realise alternative paradigms, Rahnema (1997, p. 401) states that post-development “should not be focused on

1 ‘Subaltern’ refers to the post-colonial use of the term, which describes those who are generally excluded from social or political representation in modern society

2 Here the apostrophes exhibit the use of deconstruction in Rahnema’s work -- he deconstructs both the words poverty and solution to show that they are modern constructions.

merely operational or spectacular ‘plans of action’ or ‘strategies.’” Instead, he calls for a commitment from those ‘good people’ in each community to create new paradigms based on friendship and an actual sense of community with the goal of ending modernity and global hegemony (Rahnema 1991; 1997). Rahnema’s idea for an alternative future for development and the world tend to follow the Foucauldian idea that transforming others is possible through transforming the self (McKinnon 2008). Foucault states, “My role – and that is too emphatic a word

– is to show people that they are much freer than they feel

the minds of people” (Foucault as referenced in McKinnon 2008, p. 289). He states that in order to achieve this alternative future where we all live differently, we all must “begin with ourselves” (Rahnema 1997, p. 402). Once people learn to live outside of modernity as individuals by voluntarily leading simple lifestyles and recognising the limits and possibilities present in the world, they can then gather together to create change in their local communities, eliminating ‘development’ and the perceived need for it (Rahnema 1991). As the people gather, they can create grassroots movements opposing the current world order, especially the globalisation of the market economy (Rahnema 1991). These grassroots movements will focus on self-reliance and using local ways of knowing to create resistance (Rahnema 1991). Through resistance to modernity and the creation of self-reliant communities, modernisation-as-development is made futile (Rahnema 1991).


“In the early 1990s there were expressions of hope that the advent of postmodernism could revitalize the discipline of development studies and enable the theoretical reframing of North–South relations” (Slater 1992). One could argue that these hopeful expressions were realised by stating that post-modernism gave rise to post-development, and post-development offers a way to reframe North-South relations through the deconstruction of development. Upon the deconstruction of development, one might recognise that “development is a rebellion, an obstinate refusal to accept necessity. It implies a simultaneous deconstruction of necessities and a reconstruction of desires into needs. In the development discourse, needs are neither desires nor necessities” (Illich 1990). This is a powerful but worthy description. Development

To change something in

constructs the needs of ‘the needy’ through a Western lens and then forces strategies to achieve these ‘needs’ onto ‘the needy.’ In the end, these strategies do little to help ‘the needy’ and ultimately benefit Western elites. One could argue that post-development is also influenced by post-colonial thought because of the movement away from global modernised ways of knowing (the coloniser’s ways of knowing) towards local (the colonised) ways of knowing. Simon (2005) “sees the postmodern influence in development studies and its post- development manifestation pushing increasingly towards postcolonialism.” Escobar (2004) uses post-colonial thought more explicitly. He states that once a post-modern world is imagined, one can apply this to development by recognising the diverse paradigms and local ways of knowing of those subordinated by the global colonial hegemony of modernism (Escobar 2004). Does post-development offer a practical alternative program to development? No, but that is not the goal of post-development. ‘Practical programs’ are a modernist construction, whereas post-development seeks to abandon the modernist paradigm altogether. While a practical program is not offered, post-development authors do offer alternative frameworks and vague ways of realising these alternatives. Post- development, in many ways, is suggesting that we allow countries and communities at the local scale to pursue their own ‘development’ path as they perceive it without the influences of global capital or other modern forces. Escobar (2004), for example suggests that in order to find alternative frameworks, global society must first move away from and deconstruct modernism. After this, it is possible to view anti-globalisation social movements outside of the modern context in order to imagine a world after development. Rahnema (1991) echoes and expands on this sentiment in writing how grassroots movements can counter modernisation and development through creating self-reliant communities based on local ways of knowing.


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