Development. Copyright © 2000 The Society for International Development.
SAGE Publications (London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi), 1011-6370 (200012) 43:4; 11–14; 016341.
Beyond the Search for a Paradigm? PostDevelopment and beyond
ABSTRACT Arturo Escobar reviews the critiques around postmodernist critiques of development. He looks at the reading strategies employed and argues for a cultural politics of difference. KEYWORDS modernization, livelihoods, locality, poststructuralism
Unsettling development The status of development has become again difﬁcult to ascertain. During the ﬁrst decades of the development era, and despite an array of positions, there seemed to be clear agreement on the need for some sort of development. Modernization and dependency theories were the paradigms of the day. Littleby-little this consensus began to erode because of a number of factors, both social (the increasing inability of development to fulﬁll its promises, the rise of movements that questioned its very rationality) and intellectual (the availability of new tools of analysis, chieﬂy post-structuralism). In the 1990s, poststructuralist critiques succeeded in casting a serious doubt not only on the feasibility but on the very desirability of development. Going beyond most previous critiques, development was shown to be a pervasive cultural discourse with profound consequences for the production of social reality in the so-called Third World. The deconstruction of development by the poststructuralists resulted in the possibility of imagining a post-development era, one in which the centrality of development as an organizing principle of social life would no longer hold. In the second half of the 1990s, these analyses became themselves the object of poignant criticisms and rebuttals. Many of these works are directed against what is now described as ‘the post-development school’ or position. I do not want to suggest that this new set of works constitutes a uniﬁed position or even a trend.
Marxist. These volumes are singled out in several of the articles in question as the main texts on postdevelopment. impure. and in the name of. It says something like: ‘You represent development as homogenous while it is really diverse. 1997. which makes it the most puzzling (e. Rist. 1999). indeed. the problem is not so much with development. Encountering Development (Escobar. 1992). better theory. and about the character of political practice and the agent of social transformation. 1998). a particular location. can be grouped as taking place under three banners: the real. many struggles today are about access to development. 1999) espoused by some of these writers is commendable in many ways. it is subverted at the local level’. Moore. 1999. These disagreements arise in great part out of contrasting paradigmatic orientations (liberal. 2000. • they romanticized local traditions and local social movements. post-development. This is a valid epistemological choice that has political consequences. 2000. For the sake of brevity. 1995). Kiely 1999. This assertion is undoubtedly true. Crew and Harrison. However. I cannot address these differences here.g. Little and Painter. Kiely. if one is to go beyond ‘my paradigm or yours’. Development is heterogenous. for the Marxist critics. and the people. It restates the primacy of the material over the discursive. These critiques of post-development. • they failed to notice the ongoing contestation of development on the ground. some times creating strange bedfellows brought together by their anti-post-development position. cf. contested. 1995. I should say that in most cases you ﬁnd two or even the three strategies at play. I want to treat them as a group by outlining what I consider to be the main concerns expressed by them. In the name of (better) theory This strategy comes chieﬂy from fellow poststructuralists. The Development Dictionary (Sachs ed. 2000. and what I believe is at the basis of these concerns. or what have you that is. hybrid. while for poststrucuralism it is the main vehicle for the production of reality). to some extent Arce and Long. These reading strategies are conducted from. in the limited space allowed. although there are other authors added at times to this set (e. Almost certainly behind these critiques are serious disagreements about the nature of social reality (e.g. The critical modernism (Peet and Hartwick. as with capitalism. and The Post-development Reader (Rahnema and Bawtree eds. Some critiques of post-development In the name of the real This strategy is practiced mostly by authors of Marxist orientation (e. on the other. to borrow Pieterse’s (1998) catchy title.g. 1995).1 Deﬁning the readings I see three main claims in the anti-post-development literature: • post-development critics presented an overgeneralized and essentialized view of development. Berger. I will also accept the identiﬁcation of the ‘post-development school’ with three visible works. but I would like to highlight the importance of reﬂecting on these paradigmatic differences if we are to construct a more meaningful dialogue about development. Pieterse 1998. it seems to me.g.Development 43(4): Upfront
However. while in reality there are vast differences within various development strategies and institutions. ignoring that the local is also embedded in global power relations and that. these authors fail to acknowledge (a) that their own project of analyzing the contestation of development on the ground was in great part made possible by the deconstruction of the development discourse (in the same way that this latter was
. Vandana Shiva’s ‘ecofemism’. even less so with modernity. or poststructuralist). It seems to me that it is possible to distinguish three main reading strategies on the part of the antipost-development writers. For these authors. yet it can be said that it arises out of their unwillingness to accept the poststructuralist insight about the importance of language and meaning in the creation of reality. Babbington. Peet and Hartwick. discourse has little to do with reality. 1997). on the one hand.
and (b) that the poststructuralist project was a different one: that of ‘slaying the development monster’. there is no livelihood without culture). critical and practicable (yet in this case we would need to unpack further his notion of livelihood. and the like. and part of the problem from the postdevelopment perspective. or in Fagan’s (1999) suggestion that the cultural politics of post-development has to begin with the everyday lives and struggles of concrete groups of people. there is a triumph of the realpolitik at the expense of other visions of the possible. and Foucault). The post-development movement was at least more diverse at this level. Finally. there are many valuable aspects of the criticisms I reviewed so hastily here. this naturalized morality domesticates our ethical sensibilities. Lastly. Without invoking self-serving identity politics. Freire and Fals Borda to the dependentistas. as the growing transnational networks against globalization are demonstrating in the most recent times. not in discourse). 1995). not the enactment of a cultural politics in which development and the commodity might mean very different things. perhaps the most common denominator was that of being middle class in our respective countries or countries of origin. in Sylvester’s (1999) warning about being mindful of the effect on our accounts of the world of our distance from those we write about. in the spirit of poststructuralist genealogies. As Graham says. this position is blind to the potential of social movements in mounting important challenges to capitalism and development. This view also assumes that any contact with development and the commodity is a desire for development and the commodity on the part of ‘the people’.g. living and working in both the North and the South. Cabral. But we came from many places and experiences and had diverse intellectual and political interests and connections to social movements. it is puzzling that almost without exception the antipost-development critics are white male academics in the North. even if naturalized and normalized. it was not because of a relativizing conceit (what Kiely labels the ‘Pontius Pilate attitude’). ‘needs’. Storey. Pieterse. and our actions in ways that can only serve the interests of those in power. we see all too well how this normative stance has always been present in all development discourses. ‘livelihood’. and takes different forms. Little and Painter. that what is at stake is livelihood and people’s needs. 1998. Beyond paradigms? As I mentioned. particularly women. our thinking. not theoretical analyses. For the post-development advocates. ‘scratch a post-structuralist. 2000. and you will often ﬁnd a realist’. Nyrere. Besides our rejection of development. or. In the name of the people This is perhaps the most problematic strategy. that because of our romantic. 1999. but precisely because. or in Babbington’s (2000) call for a notion of development that is at once alternative and developmentalist. it is difﬁcult not to raise the issue of the social basis of the anti-post-development critique. lest we continue to uphold a European matrix at the root of all modernities). neo-luddite and relativist stance we patronize ‘the people’ and overlook their interests (e. and as the poet might have said. This means that the dialogue goes on. we should be thankful less about arriving at the ‘right’ notion of development or post-development than at the fact that these constructs gave us
. in Arce and Long’s (2000) project of reclaiming and pluralizing modernity via strategies of development that run counter to the dominant model (yet one might raise the question of the different genealogies of modernity. Kiely. And if we refused to theorize about ‘how things must be instead’. It might suggest that postdevelopment advocates do not understand power (power lies in the material and with the people. from Illich. I see this as a reﬂection of the chronic realism of many scholars that invariably label as romantic any radical critique of the West or any defence of ‘the local’. to paraphrase GibsonGraham’s (1999) metaphor in their debunking of capitalocentrism in political economy.2 We did not try to represent ‘the real’ (of the Third World). I ﬁnd great value. This was everybody else’s project. ﬁnally.Escobar: Beyond the Search for a Paradigm?
enabled by earlier critiques. including men and women from both the North and the South. Galtung. for instance. In this strategy. At stake in this position is also a realist notion of social change that is problematic because it does not unpack its view of ‘the material’.
Jonathan (1997) Southeast Asia. Moore. Peet.Development 43(4): Upfront
the opportunity to undertake the journey in the ﬁrst place. (ed) (1992) The Development Dictionary. Politics. S. Rahnema. London: Routledge. R. (1999) ‘Cultural Politics and (post) Development Paradigms’. For me. Third World Quarterly. A. Annals of the Association of American Geographers. Rist. and E. April 1999. London: Pluto Press. Anthropological Perspectives. New York: Guilford Press. Finally. The Human Landscape of Modernization and Development. Long (2000) Anthropology. April. P. Gardner. Berger. Oxford: Blackwell. London: Zed Books.N. there are texts that do not ﬁt easily into any of these two categories. G.
References Arce. and R. Fagan (1999). A. 717–728. those subaltern groups that continue to enact a cultural politics of difference as they struggle to defend their places. Little. A Critical Introduction. in Munck. Sachs. Kiely. R. Storey. Presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Geographers. this is a journey of the imagination. (1997) The History of Development. Princeton: Princeton University Press. (2000) ‘The Crucible of Cultural Politics: Reworking “Development” in Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands’. Lehmann (1997). 179–195. Rigg. (2000) ‘Reencountering Development: Livelihood Transitions and Place Transformations in the Andes’. W. (1996). Babbington. Haggis (2000) Culture and Development. Pittsburgh. Schech. ecologies. M. (1998) ‘Post-modernism and the Calling out of Development Geography’. A Guide to Knowledge as Power. Rigg (1997) and Storey (2000). Post-Development. Kiely (1999). (1995) ‘Post-Cold War
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Development Process: Reﬂections on Escobar’s “Anthropology and the Development Encounter”’. and D. Escobar. A. Lehmann. 90(3): 495–520. London: Routledge. and along with. Blaike (1998). D.L. See for instance Gardner and Lewis. Bawtree (eds) (1997) The Post-Development Reader. Peet and Hartwick (1999).4. (1998) ‘My Paradigm of Yours? Alternative Development. (1999) ‘The Last Refuge of the Noble savage? A Critical Assessment of Post-Development Theory’. pp. E. Journal of Development Studies 33(4): 568–578. Crew. London: Zed Books. A. Stirrat (eds) (1997) Discourses of Development. (1999) ‘Development Studies and Postcolonial Studies: Disparate Tales of the “Third World”’. D. Sylvester (1999). Third World Quarterly 20(4): 703–721. and V.H. Development and the Postmodern Challenge. O’Hearn (eds) Critical Development Theory: Contributions to a New Paradigm. and cultures. American Ethnologist 22(3): 602–616. Hartwick (1999) Theories of Development. M. Development 43. Grillo and Stirrat (1997). Boston. 2000. American Ethnologist 26(3): 654–689. Schech and Haggis (2000). K. 2 Conversation during the meetings of Association of American Geographers. Pieterse (1998). and M. P.
Notes 1 The main texts that to a greater of lesser extent adopt an explicit anti-postdevelopment position are: Babbington. while critical of the poststructuralist analyses. Sylvester.D. Ch. (1997) ‘An Opportunity Lost: Escobar’s Deconstruction of Development’. London: Zed Books. and J. Development and Change 29: 343–373. a dream about the utopian possibility of reconceiving and reconstructing the world from the perspective of. Development and Modernities. G.
. Grillo. take them constructively as an element for redeﬁning development theory and practice. I have not included here those texts that. Fagan. Oxford: Berg. (2000) ‘Post-Development Theory: Romanticism and Pontius Pilate politics’. and D. R. and Reﬂexive Development’. such as Arce and Long (2000). Pieterse. and N. J. London: Zed Books. Blaike. Painter (1995) ‘Discourse. Berger (1995).