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Progress in Development Studies 6, 1 (2006) pp.



Critiquing ‘race’ and racism in
development discourse and practice
Uma Kothari
Institute for Development Policy and Management, University of Manchester,
Harold Hankins Building, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9QH, UK

I ‘Race’ in development accordingly as its object of study and inter-
Forms of racism and expressions that articu- vention. These articles explore how racialized
late ideas about ‘race’ are fluid and multiple, forms of power and inequality build upon this
contingent and contextual, ranging from foundational distinction between the ‘devel-
overt to covert and unreflexive. Historically oped’ and ‘developing’ and draw attention to
and geographically rooted, such expressions the various, unspoken assumptions about
have become increasingly variegated, even ‘race’that underpin some of the key ideological
detached from their originary impulses, and bases of development thought and practice.
can travel far and wide. It is in this spirit of Additionally, they identify the need for further
critical enquiry that the papers in this special exploration of the subtle manifestations of
issue aim to reveal some of the tenacious racism within international development.
strands of racialized forms of knowing Postcolonial, postdevelopment and anti-
and representing in development discourse development critics have provincialized the
and practice. This is a realm that has supposed universality of western notions of
remained curiously untouched by the post- development and have critiqued the inability
colonial critiques and debates about ‘race’ in of the west to theorize non-western experi-
other social science disciplines (see Biccum, ences. However, while these accounts have
2002). Together, the papers attempt to dis- alluded to ‘race’, they have largely focused
rupt these ‘disturbing silences, banalisations on challenging eurocentrism (Escobar, 1995;
and erasures’ (Grovogui, 2001: 437) and, Pieterse and Parekh, 1995). This does not
focusing on a diverse range of issues from mean that ideas about ‘race’ have been
varying perspectives, question the absence of completely absent in accounts about devel-
discussions around ‘race’. They suggest how opment. Other research and writing, largely
understanding development in terms of ‘race’ within geography, have explored the relation-
can spotlight inadequacies, contradictions and ship between gender/feminism, postcolo-
misrepresentations in development ideolo- nialism and development (Robinson, 1994;
gies, policies and practices, as well as relations Parpart, 1995; Midgely, 1998; McEwan,
of power. 2001), uncovered continuities between
Escobar (1995) argues that discourses of colonial histories of development and con-
(western) development discursively produce temporary representations of the third world
the third world as different and inferior, and (Crush, 1995; Cowen and Shenton, 1996;

© 2006 Edward Arnold (Publishers) Ltd 10.1191/1464993406ps123ed

Some individuals are does the silence of ‘race’ conceal the complic. injustice and poverty while other discourse of development nor deny the categories of social differentiation such as existence of dissenting practitioners in the ethnicity. 2003). poverty.. 2001). its reach. 2005) political. ings of socio-economic change in the third Ideologies. Goldman. others in decision-making and Here we attempt to address these questions policy formulation and implementation. policies and methodological world. exclusions and seen as an almost ‘empty’. Kothari. 2001. religion and culture are perceived west and elsewhere. while by throwing a spotlight on discourses of the majority constitute the so-called bene- development and interrogating explanations ficiaries of development. address this geopolitics of ‘race’ by focusing on ters and relationships (Crewe and Harrison. injustice and inequity. Lewis et al. 2004). 2003. fluid and outdated privileges and obstruct the full realization of category with little consensus about its mean. ‘race’ are evidently not unique to the west. encapsulating a diverse range of cooperation and aid. raising ‘race’ is too institutions. countries in ways that often issue directly Felice (2002: 205) questions whether from their own preoccupations and strategic ‘race’ can be abstracted from other indivisible . have meeting in Durban in 2001 on the Elimination not effected a serious interrogation of the of Racial Discrimination highlighted. on a racialized eurocentrism. as the discussions at the White. cultural and economic objectives and and examined the institutional machinery of perspectives’. challenged conventional understand. 1999. to varying representations of the third world. Thus. Yet. political and and responses to problems of underdevelop. Thus. disruptive and demanding? Or varying perspectives. mapping and a first world/third world or developed/ practising development today’ since develop. whatever Marcus Power (2003: 12) reminds us of the objectives of those involved. Power. agencies and individuals with distracting. of power. homogenized inequities. teachers and ity of development with racialized projects? researchers. understanding ment is largely ‘related to a “geopolitics” of global distinctions. While different of difference in terms of ‘race’. Indeed. Those attempts of people involved in the development to foreground ‘race’ specifically (for instance. underdeveloped divide. the ways in which ideas about ‘race’ approaches vary spatially as do the individual flow through development discourses are sensibilities of the increasingly diverse range rarely spoken about overtly. human rights everywhere (United Nations ing (see Pieterse. Is the invisibility (UN). consequences as the support of social. 2002 and Goudge. 2003). to have greater significance? Perhaps within a The development machine is global in discourse framed around humanitarianism. ‘race’ discourse. industry. ideologies and influence understandings and While these accounts have. development the necessity to ‘flag up the continued is framed by a distinct relationship between importance of whiteness. ideas of degrees. therefore. some understand its primary purpose understandings of the causes. encoun. where “developed” countries take an ships becomes especially pertinent in the interest in and consider the needs of poor study and practice of development. racism and racial aid donors and recipients mapped onto formations in thinking about. because it is consid. involved primarily as academics. We explore motives and interests for development how analyses of ‘race’ can contribute to coexist.2 Critiquing ‘race’ and racism in development discourse and practice Sylvester. privilege consequently work towards alleviating and inequalities. although the focus here is around ‘race’. importantly. hierarchies and relation- “race”. how racialized discourses underpin western 1998. Perhaps this is because ‘race’ is and racism shape distinctions. While some of the papers do development discernible in agencies. economic change in third world countries and ment and. it is not the ered relatively unimportant in shaping intention to suggest a singular.

on serious examina- global forms of ordering through development tion. 2000: 172) and always distinctions and exclusions. 2002). a person does not exist only as a racial continues to be known through ‘types of category’. material and embodied. Indeed these categories mediate bodies’. biology. while sharing the notion that these human traits are. it seems There is no biological basis for distinguishing to be easier to talk about gender and ethnicity people along racial lines. papers here draw upon. for example. they empha- that while the meanings of ‘race’ are socially size different aspects of these racialized . He explores the social processes ‘race’ matters and needs to be taken seriously that produced these apparently fixed bio- in all aspects of development discourse and logical signifiers and how notions of perma- practice. 2002: 7). U. ‘although races whereas the subject of ‘race’ appears to be typically continue to be identified by their particularly taboo. discursive and social markers. found to be ‘imprecise if not completely produce a variety of interlocking forms of arbitrary’ (Winant. focus on the social rather than biological. 2001: 373). therefore. 1990). embodied. therefore. for here. macro-levels. racial signification is always and necessarily a Whilst the intersection of these social social and historical process’ (2000: 172). Whilst this concept of ‘race’ seems to one another and have relational effects so appeal to biologically based human character- that class and gender. are also istics. The arguments presented phenotype’ (Bonilla-Silva. social scientists would now acknowledge that races are ‘socially determined categories of III What the papers say identity and group association’ (Bonilla-Silva. ‘race’ world. Wade (2002) develops and challenging perspectives by addressing these ideas. debates have concentrated on on some of these in the context of the field of challenging these dichotomies. Moyo and Kawewe. political conflicts and interests in reference one that is socially constituted rather than to different types of human bodies’. Winant (2000: 172) defines ‘race’ as a While the papers here discuss ‘race’ as a dis- ‘concept that signifies and symbolizes socio. 1997: 469). That is. particularly in of culture and biology. heredity and physical appearance tional elements of ‘race’ and racism from. and the power’ (Persaud and Walker. material and institu. There has various articulations on the meanings of ‘race’ been some critical thinking about boundaries focusing primarily around ‘opposing demands between nature and culture. Winant insists that ‘selection of these constructed along racial lines (Whittle and particular human features for purposes of Inhorn. neces- contributions to this collection offer critical sarily contextual. categories has been acknowledged. it is not possible to cover all ‘nature’ is itself socially constituted and facets of ‘race’ in the industry. racial differ- 1997: 472). for biological explanations have ence is identified by a variety of material. cursive category of difference and inequality. Others have problematized the divide Given the breadth and complexity of between nature/culture suggesting that development. But there remains a tension in much of the II Understanding ‘race’ literature between challenging these ideas There is great difficulty in defining concepts of permanence and yet seeing ‘race’ as of ‘race’ and racism (see Banton. for ‘in the real constructed and politically contested. invisibility and effects of ‘race’. As Saldanha (2006) summarizes. the biological distinctions are. and most development. largely been discredited. However. mistakenly imply that ‘race’ is immutable and micro. 2002) with grounded. Kothari 3 discursive classifications. nence came about (Wade. rooted in biological distinctions. develop and reflect More recently. emphasizing that permanent. arguing that references made to some of the discursive. knowledge and discussions of gender (Butler.

provide an agenda for this and identifies three 2000: 170). much of the The papers draw on conceptual under. they problematize the White). he examines the legacy of colonial . accounting for social exclusion. there has been very explored in the papers by Emma Crewe and little research and writing on this issue. for exam. What they also demonstrate potential areas for further examination. The relations. sociology and anthropology. racism and divergences raised in Kothari’s paper. to address are some points of connection between how the development/colonialism interface the papers. The Additionally. Priyanthi Fernando. stereotypes example. postcolonial development literature has standings from a range of disciplinary areas tended to focus on challenging eurocentrism including geography. and second concerns the power of whiteness and some reflect on their personal experiences in specifically how authority. impacts. She suggests that. However. the imperative here is to signal the The following paper by Marcus Power diverse racialized relationships in develop. expertise and and of development agencies. to date. ideological and discursive dichotomies while variously exploring their constructions (see Duffield. Taken together. The paper ple. while others are more concerned broader construction of racialized global with historical. for example. first is the continuing legacy of colonial con- structed and politically contested. racism in development is not an easy task for. are as structions and the persistence of forms of multiple as the social contexts in which they racial difference and hierarchy in develop- have effect. ‘local’ and ‘expertise’. the papers link the represen. institutions and ‘race’ might be disguised through the use ideologies of global development. would necessarily have to focus on a concludes by suggesting that debates around specific development issue or it would be multiculturalism and anti-racism could inform considered too general. particular he examines anti-racism and the Despite the range of issues covered there notion of ‘overdevelopment’. are also as already mentioned. politics and international rather than addressing ‘race’ specifically. To bring knowledge become racially symbolized. ment. context of colonial legacies and develops sent a beginning of more open. analyses ideas about anti-racism in the ment. ‘expatriate’. the meanings of ‘race’ are as third area for further investigation is how diverse as the individuals. from the local to the global’ (Winant. they demonstrate how racism is not the Portuguese empire in Africa as a specific confined to individual prejudice. racial categories and and assumptions about other people but meanings are given concrete expression inheres in the very idea of development and through individual encounters and relations its principal distinction between first and third (see papers by Crewe and Fernando. Taking the dying days of history. as socially con. Invoking socio-cultural readings continues to be subject to competing geo- of ‘race’1 and acknowledging its (colonial) political strategies. In development. from the individual to the organiza. this collection can only repre. systematic the issue of postcolonial continuities and and rigorous thinking about ‘race’. together a collection of papers on ‘race’ and Racialized constructions of. Power). As such.4 Critiquing ‘race’ and racism in development discourse and practice expressions. since ‘race’ a shift away from racialized representations has not been so widely acknowledged or and inequalities prevailing in development. Uma Kothari’s paper attempts to tional. That there is a silence around ‘race’ tational/discursive elements of ‘race’ with in development discourse and practice is structural/institutional ones and show how unquestioned in these papers and there is a meanings about ‘race’ are open to many types clear recognition of the need for further of agency. integrated. In some. and Sarah White. research. and worlds. A special of specialized terminology and criteria in issue on gender and development. In so doing. The is that meanings of ‘race’. Kothari.

Bringing together themes of inter- to be particularly evident in the construction national migration. justify power structures that discriminate The final paper by Mark Duffield draws on against and exclude people. tions and forms of thought that took place in colonial debates around racism and anti. relation to gender issues did not lead to a racism in Mozambique from 1975 to 1988. He shows edging distinctions between ‘stereotyping’ that following decolonization. incorporate black feminist perspectives into vidual roles and assumptions within develop. and development (GAD) as a whole has not been suggests that anti-racist critiques and decon. and use of development language and termi. Drawing on promotion of ‘women’ as an undifferentiated examples from development agency staff and category has masked the significance of racial their experiences of working within a range of difference. they highlight the persistence of of global population migration shifted and everyday practices that inform how people subsequently sociocultural categories became connect. she argues that gender and nationalism following independence. undermine self-reliance and thereby give rise the consultation rituals and processes of to particular forms of international migration decision-making. he contends that contemporary conflicts nology. the promotion of ‘homeland’ social of development interventions. shift in racial discourse. but are not limited generalizations about different ‘racial’ groups. rather than more and better planning. place and rules of funding. The paper goes on to other people but this time within a particular consider the implications of these highly subfield of development. particularly in terms of the policing of this global circulation of their impact on the processes and outcomes people. Kothari 5 rule and representation. She concludes by suggesting a institutions. increasingly important in every-day racial lege some while excluding others are shown discourse. broader consideration of ‘race’. gender dimensions. the dynamics and ‘racism’. While recog- The paper concludes by identifying the nizing that feminists have been relatively need for further conceptualization of the over-represented in raising issues of ‘race’ in relationship between deracialization and state development. The racialized identities that privi. This constitutes a They argue that racist representations profound challenge to normative develop- and rituals significantly contribute to how ment assumptions and thus ultimately social relationships and encounters in international change may come through more and better development are shaped and can be used to politics. At times. taken together the . to. technology of global biopolitics. The use of cohesion and the use of development private conversations. Disrupting the Foucault to conceive development as a simplistic black/white dichotomy and acknowl. the interconnectedness of under-researched. Sarah White’s paper also examines the While focusing on different aspects of a racialization of ideas and assumptions about racialized discourse. the time. unspoken racialized of mass society’. core conceptual approaches. anecdotes and per. He argues that following assumptions about other people have been decolonization. U. this is particularly evident in the failure to Power’s suggestion that we explore indi. They conclude by arguing that are perceived to threaten ‘the way of life that these widespread. resources to reconstruct borderland states sonal experience in this paper reflects the and contain their populations. innocent of racial bias. She demonstrates how structive analyses may provide critical tools. racism and development. She asks why the racialized discourses following independence critical questioning of development institu- through an examination of some of the post. consequently ment as well as its apparatus is partly taken limiting its analytical power. Emma Crewe and Priyanthi broadening of the movement for social justice Fernando demonstrate the pervasiveness of in ways that include. has led to a public silence about ‘race’. the up in the following two papers.

Routledge. O and Kawewe. Goudge. 33–50.6 Critiquing ‘race’ and racism in development discourse and practice papers insist that ‘race’ deserves serious dis. M. 2003: The whiteness of power: racism in third world development and aid. Princeton University Given the invisibility of ‘race’ in development. editor 1995: Power of development. Jen Peterson for research assistance. J. ‘the Moyo. and Duvall. and unmaking of the third world. while simultaneously conceding status of women in Zimbabwe. Escobar. Biccum. Development and Change 35. Routledge. Journal of International Development 15. 1997: Rethinking racism: towards a cussion. 2001: Come to Africa: a hermeneutics of I would like to thank the reviewers of the race in international theory. McEwan. 2002: The international politics of race. inequality and injustice. 93–111. E. 2003: Practice. 205–36.N. J. I would also like to thank Lewis. U.P.. ment: on a collision course with postcolonial theory. power and meaning: frameworks for studying Note organisational culture in multi-agency rural develop- 1. R. representing others: from anti-apartheid to . editor 2005: A radical history of develop- papers included in this issue for their invalu. Power of development.. Press. A. editor 1998: Gender and imperialism. in writings about race that emerge ment projects. feminism and is often placed within inverted commas to development: intersections and dilemmas. T. and Shenton. 2002: Interrupting the discourse of develop. S. M. Theory and Culture 43. 1995: Encountering development: the making ideological and epistemological practices. global order. and economically word’s tainted history and scepticism about stratified society: understanding the socio-economic its referent.W. Acknowledgements Grovogui. biological distinctions. Lawrence and Wishart. these papers that ‘race’ has shaped systems of Crush. Pieterse. American Sociological Review 62. and Walker. some authors have employed inverted com- Persaud. and to Midgely. decolonization of imagination. ment Studies. 1998: Whose develop- ment? Zed Books. Shah. ethnicized. Gilroy. 1101–102. Power. M. Zed Books. 2000: Against race: imagining political culture special issue will encourage more rigorous beyond the color line. 253–65. the term ‘race’ 541–57. A. 2003: Rethinking development geographies.. W. underline that it is not based on any valid Manchester University Press. ‘Race’ is fundamental in not only Butler. Batterbury. although this does race. 191–217. Zed. S. discussions of ‘race’ and racism in develop. E.. and Harrison. gendered. Kothari. and Parekh. E. that no other word would do the job’ 163–81. 2001: 374). E. Robinson.. 2004: Book review ‘The whiteness of power’. We hope that this Gilroy. 425–48. Harvard University Press. ment as well as examinations of other forms Ethnography 2. R. categorizing individuals and groups. In Crush. able comments. 2002: The UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination: spotlight ‘race’ and racism. gender and develop- ment. and economics and social rights. C.. J. 1994: White women researching/ Culture. Bonilla-Silva. not insisted on a uniform textual presentation.. 1996: Doctrines of and globalized relationships (see Persaud development. (Saldanha. J. J. Feminist Economics 8. 2002: The dynamics of a inverted commas signal an awareness of the racialized. 1995: Post-modernism. D.N. 2006). J. P. and Walker.. Olson. Saddiqui. editors 1995: The Banton. from Britain (eg.. It is evident from Crewe. Human Rights not infer that it is the foremost source of Quarterly 24. Routledge. P. Bebbington. Goldman. Furthermore. Recently. 2001: Apertura: race in mas to emphasize the contested nature of the international relations.. inclusion and exclusion through material. particularly in this time of changing structural interpretation. S. Progress in emphasize that it is a highly discursive way of Development Studies 1. C. 2000). A. M. the strategic necessity here has been to Felice. R. emerged but also how it functions in localized Cowen. 465–80. M. References Pieterse. B. Routledge. 1990: Gender trouble: feminism and the sub- explaining how the modern world system version of identity. of persistent inequality. editor. S. Polity Press. J. 373–76. concept whereas others accept this as given. Alternatives 26. In this special issue we have Parpart. Alternatives 26. Routledge. 2001: The birth of a discipline: producing authoritative green knowledge World Bank style. 2001: Postcolonialism.

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