Economy and Society Volume 36 Number 2 May 2007: 179 Á 211

The (im)possibility of development studies
Stuart Corbridge

Abstract
Development studies is commonly understood to be committed both to a principle of difference (the Third World is different, hence the need for a separate field of studies) and a principle of similarity (it is the job of development policy to make ‘them’ more like ‘us’). This double commitment has led to important challenges to the intellectual standing of the discipline and/or its object of study, development. This paper begins by reviewing five theorems which pronounce the impossibility of development studies. It then offers a more sympathetic account of the field. While recognizing the urgent need for development studies to be critical and at times oppositional, the paper suggests that an allied commitment to public policy-making can be taken as a sign of maturity. Development, and development studies, should be understood as sets of social practices, or technologies of rule, the organization and effects of which need to be (and in key respects are) contested and subjected to political and scholarly review. Keywords: development; development studies; impossibility theorems; technologies of rule; morality of critique.

Introduction Development studies is an unusual enterprise.1 It is committed both to the principle of difference (the Third World is different, hence the need for a separate field of studies) and to the principle of similarity (it is the job of development policy to make ‘them’ more like ‘us’).2 This is a crude characterization, but it is not an inaccurate view of how many people see the subject. In this paper, I will argue that the double commitment that lies at

Stuart Corbridge, Development Studies Institute, London School of Economics and Political Science, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE, UK. E-mail: s.e.corbridge@lse.ac.uk Copyright # 2007 Taylor & Francis ISSN 0308-5147 print/1469-5766 online DOI: 10.1080/03085140701264869

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the heart of development studies is a source of strength Á a sign of maturity even Á as well as of weakness.3 That it is a source of weakness is well understood. The field of development studies has been painted in recent years as irrelevant, teleological, colonial in intent, masculinist, dirigiste and/or a vehicle for depoliticization and the extension of bureaucratic state power. It stands accused of being the source of many of the problems of the so-called Third World.4 Some economists have called for a return to mono-economics, or the doctrine that the essential truths of neo-classical economics hold independent of time and place.5 Many on the post-Left, meanwhile, have placed developmentalism under the spotlight of the post-colonial turn. They prefer to see development as a set of experimental techniques that produces the ‘Third World’ as a pathologized site of difference/underdevelopment. It then stands ready to be ‘mended’ by the agencies of a richer First World. In some cases, as for example in the work of Arturo Escobar, the call has been floated for the dis-invention of development. Escobar and others have also called for the de-linking of the ‘less economically accomplished countries’ from forms of governmentality which lock them into a game in which they cannot hope to compete.6 What is less well understood is that the forms of rule which have been proposed by development practitioners Á including, most recently, doctrines such as participation, good governance and sustainability Á are neither singular nor are they unidirectional in their effects. It is right that the concept(s) and practice(s) of development are rendered problematic. We also need to understand that the origins of development studies were closely linked to the beginnings of a Cold War between the First and Second Worlds, and that the broader development business is often beholden to geopolitics.7 Recent events in Afghanistan and Iraq tell their own story. Yet it is obvious that there are social and economic problems in poor countries, as in all countries, and that these problems must be addressed by particular forms of government and non-government intervention, the effects of which cannot always be anticipated. Governmentality is not something that can be escaped from, at least not if a person, group or country wants to participate in generalized forms of production, exchange and rule.8 It follows that development studies should not be condemned for its schizophrenia; rather, we need to understand and constantly challenge the particular forms of governmentality that are sponsored in its name. In addition, I want to propose that what might be called ‘the responsibilities of critique’ should not be reduced to the oppositional, nor should deconstructive forms of criticism be elevated above other forms of critique, whether radical (free market or Marxist), pragmatic or apparently non-judgemental. Development studies might be under sharp attack, but it should not be put on the defensive simply because of its commitments to difference and sameness. What matters is the way in which these commitments are combined, not the fact that they are made at all. The rest of the paper is organized as follows. The second section outlines four of the most pressing critiques that have been made of all or some parts of

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development studies since 1980. The third section notes some objections that have or can be raised against the first three impossibility theorems set out in the second section. In the fourth section I consider how the work of Partha Chatterjee sits alongside and develops the fourth of these theorems. Chatterjee is less well known in development studies than Arturo Escobar, Deepak Lal, Jean-Philippe Platteau, Robert Bates or James Ferguson, but his work has considerable implications for the subject. I am most concerned here with Chatterjee’s work on the contradictions of colonial and post-colonial modernity. This work leads him to conclude that the idea of civil society has little purchase for poor people in what he calls ‘most of the world’. Chatterjee suggests that poorer people must deal with governmental institutions through mediating agencies in political society. In the fifth section I consider the value and purchase of Chatterjee’s critique of civil society, and also of development more broadly. There is considerable merit in this critique. At the same time, I challenge the usefulness of the ‘civil versus political society’ distinction around which Chatterjee’s argument is fastened. I do so with reference to village meetings in Bihar and West Bengal, India, and with regard to such everyday markers of modernity as queuing (waiting in line), complaining and photocopying. The sixth section tries to generalize these observations. I focus on the epistemological basis of impossibility arguments and on the politics of the critique they embrace. Many critics of development studies share a commitment to an ‘ideal outside’. This is a perfect vantage point from which all things are judged. I suggest that the moral high ground that is sometimes sought by these critics (Escobar and Lal more so than Chatterjee) is no high ground at all. Max Weber once argued that an intellectual in the service of moral forces must take responsibility for the actions that are proposed, both explicitly and implicitly, in his or her name. I reflect on this observation in the sixth section and in a short conclusion.

Impossibility theorems The claim that development studies is in crisis will ring hollow in some quarters. If we look at the number of journals in the discipline, for example, and the vitality of them (as measured, for example, by acceptance to submission rates (less so in terms of impact factors)) the subject is doing well. Economic Development and Cultural Change was the first journal of development studies. It began publication in Chicago in 1952. Later came Development (US, 1957), the Journal of Development Studies (UK, 1964), Development and Change (Netherlands, 1970), World Development (US, 1973), Third World Quarterly (UK, 1979), the Journal of International Development (UK, 1989) and Progress in Development Studies (UK, 2001), along with more focused journals for development professionals and area studies specialists. Development sociology supports its own specialty groups on both sides of the Atlantic, as do development geography, development anthropology and

The Observer. the London School of Economics and Political Science. The idea that development might be ‘immanent’. My own university. The propositions advanced by one version will sometimes be held in some degree by another. Within human geography and cultural anthropology the word ‘development’ is so mistrusted that some departments are reluctant to hire in this area or to mount courses under its name. takes it as read that the word ‘development’ in the title of a Master’s degree is a positive selling point. as we shall see. NGOs and campaigning groups. They maintain Á as thinkers as diverse as Mohandas Gandhi. Away from the worlds of business and masters degrees. South Africa. and still others for management consultancies like Price Waterhouse Coopers. but large numbers of students from countries there have taken graduate-level courses on development issues. this stems from misunderstanding about the purpose and aims of the field. North America. the preference being for modules on globalization or post-colonial studies. They are treated under separate headings for convenience. for his own forthright views on the dangers of foreign assistance.10 In part. Paul Baran and Andre Gunder Frank maintained before them Á that ‘development’. I briefly consider four versions of the impossibility theorem. and Peter Bauer was dubbed Lord Anti-Aid by the British newspaper. is largely ignored.11 Here. however.12 Bauer suggested that the Third World was called into existence by the giving of aid. Bauer also developed a challenging and largely consistent line of thought on the absurdities of dirigisme in West Africa. As always. Ernest Schumacher. These arguments advance one or other version of an impossibility theorem. to use a helpful distinction proposed by Cowen and Shenton. He spoke up in defence of the African entrepreneur. He also joined with Anne Krueger and Harry Johnson in linking dirigiste economic strategies to the . there is a looming sense of unease about the enterprise of development studies. New programmes in development studies are continuing to open in Europe. Milton Friedman denounced foreign aid programmes shortly after they began in the 1950s. There are fewer programmes in the global South.182 Economy and Society development economics. the unease I detect is underpinned by a growing number of intellectual arguments that demand attention. Many of the students who graduate from these degrees hope to work for the ‘development business’.9 In part. others for national aid agencies. though. Australia and New Zealand. an argument that was later adapted by Arturo Escobar to serve a very different political project. Some aim for the UN institutions. there were antecedents. as conventionally defined. cannot be prosecuted successfully in ex-colonial countries for one or more reasons. The misconceptions of ‘development economics’ The most influential critique of development studies since 1980 has come from the neoliberal (or liberal) ‘Right’. rather than ‘intentional’.

Lal could not bring himself to lose the scare quotes. Lal argued that ideas have consequences. to a ‘Hindu rate of growth’ of about 1 per cent per annum per capita. and that the bad ideas of development economics (studies) had led to especially bad consequences. in the memorable phrase of Raj Krishna. Rather. the basic propositions of neoclassical economics hold in poor countries just as they hold in rich countries. Markets fail. The economies of the Third World were not substantially different from those elsewhere. respond rationally to price signals and other incentives. The mistaken pursuit of equality had caused governments to neglect the importance of economic growth. The doctrine of import-substitution industrialization had opened a door to lame-duck industries and huge balance of payments problems. For Lal. Indians living out of India were known to work hard and to be entrepreneurial. Economic agents. In each case. but so do governments and usually to worse effect: there is no general case ‘to improve the outcomes of a necessarily imperfect market economy’ (Lal 1983b: 11). Free trade benefits producers and consumers alike. Post-developmentalism Neoliberal thought and policy made a huge impact on economic and social affairs in the 1980s. Lal took issue with ‘The poverty of ‘‘development economics’’’ Á what he referred to in a short paper for Finance and Development in the same year (Lal 1983b) as ‘The misconceptions of ‘‘development economics’’’. This was true in the UK and New Zealand just as it was in much of the global South following structural adjustment.13 These were the first stirrings of what John Toye called ‘the counterrevolution in development theory and policy’ (1987). That elite had condemned India.Stuart Corbridge: The (im)possibility of development studies 183 formation of predatory political regimes and the generalized pursuit of rentseeking behaviour. The same entrepreneurial classes in India had been crushed by the dirigiste instincts of a badly informed ruling elite. The doctrine of planning had led to unproductive rent-seeking and the misallocation of scarce resources. Governments built grandiose projects for political reasons and/or because they tried to second guess the market. They were brought to the boil in 1983 in a pamphlet written for the Institute of Economic Affairs by Deepak Lal. including peasants and other supposed satisficers. Not all countries need to industrialize. The fruits of economic growth will trickle down as labour markets tighten. they had been made different at great social cost. They were the result of a doctrine of development economics that had turned its back on the essential truths of orthodox economics. Lal maintained that these and other bad policies were avoidable. Informal credit markets enhance the efficiency of institutions in environments of endemic risk. The success of the . there is no case for developing a separate body of theory to deal with the economic problems of poorer countries. In short.

He argued that. sociologically. untold exploitation and oppression. this discovery in turn sharpened the divisions between the so-called First and Third Worlds and made experts from the former responsible for the salvation of the latter. The core exploits . Asia and Latin America’ (ibid. But there is an important twist here. and violence are only the most pathetic signs of the failure of forty years of development. instead of the kingdom of abundance promised by theorists and politicians in the 1950s. . (b) that the prosecution of development required the ‘‘discovery’ of mass poverty in Africa.: 21). or the study of development. the possibility of capitalist development in the South is turned into an impossibility. increasing poverty. Gunder Frank blamed that impossibility on the asymmetries of capitalism. scientifically. (Escobar 1995: 4) Once again. the discourse and strategy of development produced its opposite: massive underdevelopment and impoverishment. and (c) that the ‘dream’ of development which emerged after the Second World War: progressively turned into a nightmare . Escobar maintains: (a) that a discourse of development was invented by the United States and its allies during the Cold War period. and was initiated by President Harry Truman’s announcement on 20 January 1949 of a ‘fair deal’ for peaceloving people in the whole world (Escobar 1995: 3). In some cases. Said developed this insight in light of his reading of Foucault on power and governmentality.15 It took some time for these ideas to make their way into development studies.184 Economy and Society counter-revolution also deepened the impasse in Marxist development studies. although clearly not in all. . malnutrition. and imaginatively during the post-Enlightenment period’ (Said 1978: 3). Post-structural theories began to affect the humanities and the social sciences (economics largely excepted) at about the same time that versions of the counterrevolution were making their mark on public policy. ‘without understanding Orientalism as a discourse one cannot possibly understand the enormously systematic discipline by which European culture was able to manage Á and even produce Á the Orient politically. Another eleven years followed before Escobar published his book-length treatment of ‘the making and unmaking of the Third World’.14 The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union further called into question the case for socialist development strategies. the Sahelian famine. . Said accepted the importance of ‘unlearning .16 In Encountering Development . Edward Said published his famous analysis of Orientalism in 1978. ideologically. the radical critiques of the 1960s and 1970s were reworked in the light of the post-colonial turn. militarily. . the work of Foucault was first applied in a systematic fashion to a study of ‘discourse and power in development’ by Arturo Escobar in 1984. . To the best of my knowledge. the inherent dominative mode [of reasoning]’. Although he later broke with Foucault on the importance of universals in practical politics. The debt crisis.

Stuart Corbridge: The (im)possibility of development studies 185 the periphery. The Third World. Escobar invites the reader to ‘imagine a postdevelopment era’ (ch. Deepak Lal and his colleagues blamed the inefficiencies of dirigiste capitalism. The unmaking of development will be ‘slow and painful’. To imagine a post-development era is to reject these discursive practices. has been and still is produced ‘as an effect of the discursive practices of development’ Á practices which are ‘linked to an economy of production and desire. to help transform a situation in which recourse to external sanctions is necessary into one in which a ‘good’ equilibrium (such as that represented by mutual trust) becomes possible and to guide the society towards that position. The task rather. In contrast. But the counter-politics of Encountering Development is informed at least as much by feminism. It is the dream of abundance that now comes under attack. it is first necessary that the problem of trust is solved. (Platteau 1994: 535) . The gist of Platteau’s argument is as follows. They need to be actually supported by norms of generalized morality aimed at fulfilling the following functions: to reduce the enforcement costs entailed by external sanctioning.: 215 Á 17). They subscribe to one version or another of the mono-economics doctrines promoted by the counterrevolution in the 1980s. Platteau disagrees. The World Bank seems to believe that the agenda of good governance will suffice to deal with this issue. Economic agents need to know that their contracts will be honoured. and can be made to do so in short order. Escobar. Escobar and his fellow post-developmentalists voice their opposition to the discourse of development itself. For market economies to work. Embeddedness and generalized morality A third and rather different version of the impossibility theorem was developed by Jean-Philippe Platteau in a long and challenging paper that was published in two parts in the Journal of Development Studies in 1994. says Escobar.: 214). is to celebrate difference and hybridity. In the conclusion to his book. contends. and should not collapse into a veneration of predevelopment ‘traditions’ (ibid. however. Escobar draws on Foucault and Said to sketch out what he calls ‘the discourse of development’ and its knowledgepower effects. The World Bank and other leading development agencies are keen to promote market-based economic reforms across the developing and post-communist worlds. cultural theory and environmentalism. difference and violence’ (ibid. The job of political activity is to carve out spaces of empowerment where ordinary people can define their lives outside the imprisoning architecture of developmentalism. The first part of his argument holds that the establishment of legal codes and other institutions [is] not sufficient to make the market order an effective regulating device. It also mixes insights that could have been taken from Frank and Schumacher. 6). but also of closure.

the Christian church and a growing culture of science and ‘reason’ helped to promote a ‘somewhat unique history rooted in a culture of individualism pervaded by norms of generalized morality’ (ibid. it seems ‘clear that in regions with a bad civic record. Platteau has no difficulty with the difference dimension of development studies: indeed.186 Economy and Society The second part of his argument draws on Max Weber and holds that the formation of generalized morality is exceptional. It was the result ‘of powerful constellations of control that were never intended and in some cases never . Depoliticizing development A similar mistrust of hubris is to the fore in a body of work which challenges the technocratic zeal that is built into most versions of development policy. In this case. For many people. In Japan. even if formal institutional changes are adequate.: 804). Platteau is deeply sceptical of the normalization impulse in development policy. at least in regard to market-based exchanges. Ferguson insists this ‘success’ was not consciously willed by a central agency. but have succeeded in extending bureaucratic state power into the Lesotho countryside. of judging societies that are imbued with limited group moralities against this exalted standard. history will move slowly and the efficiency of economic exchanges will improve only over decades’ (ibid. To date.: 770). the single most interesting book to be published on development issues in the 1990s was James Ferguson’s account of ‘‘‘development’’. Platteau contends that the formation of generalized morality happens slowly and is very far from being the norm. it has been confined to post-Tokugawa Japan. Generalized morality denotes a willingness to treat distant strangers on the same basis that one would treat a member of a kin group. In Platteau’s version of the impossibility theorem. then. Ferguson uses Foucault’s work on discourse. At the same time. and to Western Europe and its settler colony offshoots. and particularly into the construction of development projects. depoliticisation and bureaucratic power in Lesotho’ (1994 [1990]). In Western Europe.: 791). Overly confident ideologies of development which suggest otherwise are badly informed or dishonest. power and governmentality to fashion a seemingly counter-intuitive account of the ways in which development projects in Lesotho have failed to reduce rural poverty or promote agrarian capitalism. the Meiji state used its strong control of the education system to promote a Japanese version of Confucian ethics that placed emphasis on loyalty to the Emperor and selfless devotion to the country (ibid. this is the suggestion that generalized morality and (thus) good governance can be imposed quickly and effectively from on high or from outside. Here I highlight only three. he highlights the value of taking place seriously. It is not a matter.17 A number of excellent books have emerged in recent years to challenge what their authors describe as the depoliticization of development.

Power and voice were transferred to experts.20 He then charges that the Bank adopted Putnam’s work on social networks Á itself little more than the idea that ‘It’s not what you know [that counts] Á it’s who you know!’ (ibid. an observation I shall come back to in the fifth section. and away from local farmers and herders. Putnam’s notion of social capital could in principle be made to fit . There is also common ground between Ferguson’s rendition of the anti-politics machine. and focuses on the World Bank and social capital. as well as about the build-up of bureaucratic state power. but [which] are all the more effective for being ‘‘subjectless’’ ’ (1994 [1990]: 19). The first of them. By ignoring questions of power.18 Many neoliberals would also agree that the over-development of the state in sub-Saharan Africa has much to do with that region’s dependence on foreign aid. that of Robert Putnam. social exclusion and economic inequality. Ferguson’s remarks on loss of voice. goes under the title Depoliticizing Development . Robert Chambers and Norman Uphoff have long cautioned that it is difficult to put the poor first if their voices are drowned out by those of well-paid ‘experts’. their actions served to bolster the power of Rwanda’s ruling Hutu elite. were stilled by the noisy talk which surrounded a mountain of development projects. both in its programme and project modalities.19 I want to conclude this section. published by John Harriss in 2001. however. The development industry became the anti-politics machine of the book’s title. the impossibility theorems that I am reviewing here are not sealed off from one another. Ferguson concludes. Uvin argues that well-meaning development professionals in Rwanda acted for the best of motives and generally bought into the World Bank’s depiction of Rwanda as a development success story. They got used to not being held to account. Important questions about the gendered distribution of land and other assets. by pointing to two books which more directly embrace the forms of reasoning that Ferguson deploys in The Anti-Politics Machine. are mirrored in bodies ´ of work that do not share all of the conclusions of the ‘depoliticization school’.Stuart Corbridge: The (im)possibility of development studies 187 even recognized. however. He first explains how the World Bank settled upon what he considers to be the least interesting account of the meaning and significance of social capital. Alex de Waal has made a not dissimilar argument about the culpability of the humanitarian industry for the reproduction of famines in Darfur. and Peter Uvin’s disturbing account of the ways that the ‘development enterprise’ laid some of the foundations of the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.) Á for reasons unbecoming. The principal such effect. citing Grootaert 1997). As I suggested earlier. was that the technicalization of development Á the endless repetition of expensive ‘failed’ development projects Á exerted a powerful depoliticizing effect on the ways in which development could be talked about and planned. or on etatization . Harriss takes aim at the decision of the World Bank in the mid-1990s to position the previously obscure and poorly understood notion of social capital as ‘the missing link’ in development (Harriss 2001: 2. The politics of Harriss are more conventionally of the Left than are those of Ferguson. outsiders and well-paid state functionaries.

they found it necessary to reach out to their ‘targets’ (poor households in project villagers) through the good (or bad) offices of more powerful villagers. Cultivating Development presents a rich ethnography of how a well-thought-out development project really ‘works’. Poorer people had less time to learn the ways of the IBRFP. Mosse confirms that it was the most powerful villagers who were quick to learn the languages of the project. This allowed the World Bank. ‘Those who are unwilling to contemplate political challenge to existing structures of power’.188 Economy and Society with conventional forms of project analysis and measurement. Mosse shows how the community organizers of the IBRFP were well versed in the ways of participatory development and participatory rural appraisal (PRA) techniques. A brief critical interlude The first three impossibility theorems dealt with in the previous section would seem to pose more severe problems for the field of development studies than does the charge of depoliticization. to turn a blind eye to the huge and growing inequalities in the distribution of the means of power. then. From here it is a short step to concluding that orthodox economics can coexist with area studies: what does development studies add to the mix? Many . Harriss writes. not for its dissolution. In contrast. with funding from the UK’s Department for International Development. It offered further proof. Deepak Lal has argued that there is no case for development economics. In ‘the field’. Mosse was a consultant to the project. ‘end up on the wrong side’ (ibid. of the impossibility of (‘real’) development through the project mode. in Harriss’s view. is calling for the re-radicalization of development studies. for all the fine intentions that informed its design. and more focused on the matter of participatory development. however. helped at the margin to reproduce and not undermine local structures of power. it emphasizes social cooperation and harmony. for example. In the end. It builds on work carried out by Mosse in the 1990s. They learned to present themselves as ‘poor’ and were able to monopolize most of the benefits that the project put on offer. we might conclude. This was a major participatory development-cum-livelihoods project that was set up by the British and Indian governments in dryland areas of Gujarat. Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. production and distribution that ensure the disempowerment of the world’s poorest. John Harriss. violence. It is less concerned with state power than The Anti-Politics Machine. the IBRFP.: 14) and the possibility of development is undone. They were also mindful that they depended on better-off farmers for work and forms of social insurance. The second book I have in mind was published in 2005 by David Mosse. It made little sense to challenge the hegemony of the village elite for the sake of a bee hive or a few days’ work. More importantly.21 Cultivating Development is a study of the Indo-British Rainfed Farming Project (IBRFP).

Rosenstein-Radan. Platteau. simply but strongly challenges the presentism of most development policy: the idea that ‘they’ can be quickly made like ‘us’. The counter-revolution in development theory has had. It promises the Third World a future that cannot be realized within a developmental framework. for his part. Sachs was also persuaded that power and politics matter: that the policy stance of agencies including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are very far from being informed only by economic theory. it seems. Work by scholars including Lewis and Rostow defines the development discourse. The first two versions of the impossibility theorem are so starkly posed that their threat to development studies is correspondingly weak. The partiality of this approach is then extended to the ‘dream into nightmare’ metaphor that structures Encountering Development .23 The idea. Amartya Sen and Joseph Stiglitz. Development economics has moved on from the days of Nurkse. however. US interests also count for a lot Á as most students of development could have told him when he graduated. something that is consistently placed in the singular. The latter is denounced as violent and contradictory. and continues to have. Balogh.26 Escobar’s work of 1995 takes much the same tack as Lal did in 1983. significant impacts upon development policy.Stuart Corbridge: The (im)possibility of development studies 189 post-developmentalists have gone further. The ‘orthodox economics’ that Lal trumpets must now take on board the work of ‘heterodox economists’ like Douglas North.)25 The challenge posed to development studies by post-developmentalism is also weak. Development theory and policy is reduced to a few simple axioms that may or may not have held in full in the 1950s and 1960s. His experiences in Latin America persuaded him that history and geography mattered. It also informs the agendas of structural adjustment and good governance. Dani Rodrik. It is widely accepted that markets will work efficiently only if they are placed in a robust institutional framework and if information flows are symmetric. Jeffrey Sachs admits in his recent work on The End of Poverty that when he left graduate school he ‘had not been truly trained to address’ (2005: 89) the issues that would confront him as an economic advisor in Bolivia or a host of other countries. Such presentism informed the declaration of the 1960s as the United Nations Development Decade. debt . Development studies is read as the controlling ideology of developmentalism. Myrdal.22 There is also some evidence to suggest that some structural adjustment policies have worked in some key respects in some countries in sub-Saharan Africa. But things are not always as they seem. Prebisch and Singer Á Lal’s targets in 1983. A de-romanticization of the state in the ‘Third World’ was long overdue. learns or moves on. Later on.24 (That said. and credible arguments can be made in favour of the sorts of liberalization policies pursued recently in China and India (not that either country has come close to embracing World Bank orthodoxy). Development is converted to mal-development and its legacies are reduced to famine.27 There is little or no sense that the development community adapts. that economic growth can be trusted to self-regulating market forces is no longer in vogue. as several commentaries have shown.

The average person in China and India was living more than twenty years longer in 2000 than in 1950. As David ¨ Lehmann rightly concludes. Partha Chatterjee was born in Bengal in 1947. Partha Chatterjee and the fifth impossibility theorem If I am right so far. the possibility of development studies is more secure than some critics would like to believe.190 Economy and Society and impoverishment. The suggestion that less economically accomplished countries should reject developmentalism is naıve. Platteau is not concerned with markets or development in the abstract. however. the charge that is brought against development studies is empirical rather than ontological. of whom Mick Moore is in the vanguard. although it is by no means confined to his writings. Before I review this matter further. as well as being a public intellectual in high standing. is.31 There is ample evidence. Cultural codes are more malleable than Platteau implies. finally. Chatterjee has worked for many years at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences in Calcutta. however. that the ‘cultural’ traits to which Platteau draws attention can be quickly changed if new incentive structures are put in place. He is a gifted musician and writer of non-fiction. for all that it keeps the raw nerve of outrage alive. He wants to document the speed with which market-support institutions and reputation mechanisms can be built up to foster the sorts of trust that are necessary for extended divisions of labour or trade. I will develop this challenge with particular reference to the work of Partha Chatterjee. What matters is the constitution of development studies and the considerations it makes of power and politics. He is right to challenge the extreme optimism of large parts of the development industry. His account of economic and political life in the developing world is informed by years of fieldwork in sub-Saharan Africa.) In this case. I want to consider a fifth challenge to the discipline.30 It also resonates with Robert Bates’ (2001) insightful account of Prosperity and Violence: The Political Economy of Development. (Bates notes that economic development cannot occur when the means of violence are decentralized. Post-developmentalists refuse to acknowledge that the Age of Development (1950 Á 2000) saw improvements in global life expectancy the likes of which had never been seen before (outside sub-Saharan Africa). have argued that Platteau is too pessimistic for his own good.28 Nor is there any acknowledgment of the rise of the newly industrializing countries.29 Platteau’s work is more serious. More recently he has combined this position with . Some of what he has to say on the operations of the state there is backed up by the work of eminent Africanists. they suggest. nor will fragile states promote a sense of citizenship where elites are able to access global flows of capital and arms in such a way that they avoid the structures of accountability and voice that taxation is prone to induce. an opportunity lost. the post-developmental turn. His critics.

One such theme is the impossibility of ‘fully western’ forms of modernity in the ex-colonial world. Mahmood Mamdani and Nicholas Dirks. through the mobilization of more homogenized versions of Hinduism or Islam) were themselves marked by colonial forms of governmentality. politics can be restored by an active will. For Chatterjee. and thus of the nature of democratic politics outside the source areas of Western political theory. Colonial forms of rule were at once embraced and resisted.Stuart Corbridge: The (im)possibility of development studies 191 another in anthropology at Columbia University in New York. Vaishya or Untouchable. three of his colleagues at Columbia. By implication. Muslim or Sikh. As we might expect. not because he is ploughing a lonely furrow Á there are many points of engagement with the intellectual community Á but because he poses in particularly acute form another reading of politics and the possibility of development studies. Further.32 The treatment of depoliticization in the fourth theorem is largely conducted in terms of private or institutional will. Chatterjee argues that anti-colonial nationalism in India was forced to adopt both forms of ‘universal’ politics that valorized the modern (the adoration of Western science and reason that was so marked in the discourses of Nehru and Ambedkar) and forms of politics that sought to valorize the difference and intrinsic worth of cultural traits that were distinctively Indian (so well to the fore in the body and politics of Gandhi). Chatterjee has been writing about politics and economics in Bengal and India since the time of the Emergency (the suspension of democratic rule in India in 1975 Á 7). They are a result of the particular ways in which civil and political societies have taken shape in ‘most of the world’. the content of development policy has been actively evacuated of politics by agents of the World Bank and other key lending agencies (or NGOs). for example. or by struggles within and around these institutions. The Census of India required Indians to describe themselves as straightforwardly Hindu. For Harriss and Ferguson. I focus on Chatterjee here. the delivery of India from the British was not accompanied by a flowering of citizenship. and as Brahmin. ‘The colonizer held out modernity as a promise but at the same time made it the limiting condition of coloniality: the promise that would never be kept’ (Dirks 2001: 10). but some common themes can be detected almost from the start. but the forms of resistance (as. the depoliticizing agendas of the development industry are more a function of the deployment of governmentality in the post-colonial world. his work has matured and even shifted direction over this period. His work overlaps with that of Sudipta Kaviraj. in contrast. As Nicholas Dirks puts it. which was at the heart of the modernist narrative (and which today is at the heart of development studies) was from the outset undermined by forms of colonial rule and nationalist resistance that could not help but valorize the more limited identities of particular groups. participation or civil society. in their different ways. The movement from subject to citizen. then. then. Chatterjee maintains that leaders like Gandhi and Nehru were keen to bring the ‘masses’ into the . In Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse (1986).

especially where there has been a long experience of European colonial rule. The Emergency was its Bonapartist moment. as I understand it. following Antonio Gramsci. between a rhetorical commitment to socialism and the persistence of enormous inequality. between the world-views of ‘elite’ and ‘vernacular’ Indians Á were the necessary corollaries of two absences in the public life of the new nation. the levers of power in the post-colonial state were seized by small groups of elite Indians who had learned English and the ways of the colonial power. is that the contradictions which opened up in post-colonial India Á between a language of universal citizenship and positive discrimination on the basis of caste and ethnicity. these men (and they were overwhelmingly men) proceeded to govern India almost entirely through structures of rule that reached back to the Government of India Act of 1935. It also had to share power with powerful bureaucrats who blocked the deregulation of India’s economy. In Chatterjee’s view. On the one hand. with all the contradictions that this e´tatist revolution implied. There the career of the modern state has been foreshortened. see also Mamdani 1996) The subjects of the colonial powers became formal citizens of the new state at Independence. It has been a consistent argument of Chatterjee’s more recent writings that the classic (which is to say Western) orderings of capitalism. Technologies of governmentality often pre-date the nation-state.192 Economy and Society anti-colonial struggle. however. Indeed. A limited bourgeoisie had to press for the capitalist transformation of the country in alliance with other social groups. between the five yearly vote and daily disenfranchisement. Chatterjee suggests. the republican ideals that were put before them as members of the nationalist struggle were cast aside to make way for ‘a developmental state which promised to end poverty and backwardness by adopting appropriate policies of economic growth and social . The masses were not to be trusted. colonial rule in India prevented the emergence of a dominant class of capitalists. at least not until they had been educated or made modern (certainly for Nehru).34 The second absence has to do with civil society and thus with the political. however. In countries of Asia and Africa. it was the state itself that was required to push through what Chatterjee and Kaviraj. (Chatterjee 2004: 36. called a slow and molecular ‘passive revolution’ in India.33 In any case. but they also wanted to keep a lid on their forms of involvement. Chatterjee’s second argument here. and this group blocked much needed land reforms. nation and civility were reversed or at least disrupted in the worlds of the colonized. if not long before. Notwithstanding the excellent and expansive Constitution of India that they helped to promulgate in 1950. The story of citizenship in the modern West moves from the institution of civic rights in civil society to political rights in the fully developed nation-state. the chronological sequence is quite different. It had to share power with richer farmers. Only then does one enter the relatively recent phase where ‘government from the social point of view’ seems to take over.

that the impossibility of development studies resides in its fetishization of concepts (civil society.: 18). ‘it’s who you know that matters. They offer their votes and muscle to local members of the ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) Á those who can get the job done on their behalf. Civil society is something that emerged in a meaningful way in Western societies before an age of bureaucratization. Chatterjee is arguing.: 37). the electricity lines tapped into. Nor does it make sense to seek the ‘consecration of every non-state organization as the precious flower of the associative endeavors of free members of civil society’ (ibid. the sanctity of the law) that have little meaning for ordinary people: those people who are required to get by in the dirty and complicated worlds of governmentality and political society. walled up within enclaves of civic freedom and rational law’ (ibid. the leadership of that movement substituted planning and a sense of governmental obligation to named political groups for the messier and ultimately threatening worlds of democratic struggle. and certainly after the death of Gandhi. electricity and perhaps even schooling. Worse. Their links to government are as members of named populations (of tribals. This is precisely the distinction that Chatterjee explores in India and for most of the world. everything!’ (DaMatta 1991 [1978]: 168).35 As Putnam might put it. the law. it demeans the efforts and achievements that these people might claim for themselves: the poll booths captured by the lower castes. or can be taken to argue. decent behaviour. A popular phrase in Brazil holds that: ‘To our enemies. Few people in the ex-colonial world approach figures in authority as individual citizens who are aware of their rights. Ordinary people instead inhabit the worlds of political society. Seen from this perspective it is a mistake Á it is ‘unscrupulously charitable’ in Chatterjee’s memorable phrase Á to dangle before ordinary Indians the blandishments of participatory development or good governance. generalized morality. the police officer bribed. the advantages of civil society are enjoyed only by a ‘closed association of modern elite groups. Here is the real and wider source of the depoliticization that Harriss and others have complained about. In Mumbai. Chatterjee sees the origins of developmentalism in India as growing out of the contradictory impulses of the nationalist movement in a country imprisoned by colonial forms of governmentality. the land . The new ‘citizen’ of India Á like citizens in ‘most of the world’ Á was constituted as a supplicant or beneficiary of a ruling elite which sought the endorsement of the citizenry every few years in ‘the great anonymous performance of citizenship [the vote]’ (ibid. not what you know’. drought-prone farmers) and through the mediating actions of a political boss Á what in India would be called a dada (powerful political broker/big brother). untutored participation. to our friends. Slum-dwellers in Calcutta who are camped illegally on government land still expect the authorities to provide them with water. slum-dwellers. In India and ‘most of the world’. similar functions are performed by street-level members of the ruling Shiv Sena. At Independence.: 4). sequestered from the wider popular life of the communities.Stuart Corbridge: The (im)possibility of development studies 193 reform’ (ibid.: 39).

he would urge the development community to leave alone. Unlike Escobar. nonetheless. Chatterjee lays emphasis on the false promise of postcolonial modernity: on the impossibility of the ex-colonized following the path to development of the ex-colonizer. It is clear. Through the 1980s and 1990s the Indian economy grew at an average annual rate of nearly 4 per cent. and partly constituted in. In most respects.37 More likely. He is well aware that development cannot be wished away. photocopying Neither development nor development studies has been a major target for Partha Chatterjee in his many writings. One such absence concerns ‘the economy’. the assumption of state power by ‘rough’ men and women like Laloo Prasad Yadav or Mayawati. Chatterjee is centrally concerned with how poorer people have to make their way in the world. Queuing. Chatterjee develops a perspective on ‘popular politics in most of the world’ that is sharply at odds with the sanitized worlds of civil society and good governance that are trumpeted in the development policy literature. he is not a prophet of post-developmentalism. What Chatterjee has not taken on board is the upturn in India’s economic fortunes since about 1980. He is enormously attentive to their dealings with states that have been governmentalized and which are approached through.36 In these respects. and to take the part of the poor by working with their protectors in political society. The revival by the postcolonial state of colonial forms of governmentality encouraged the twin processes of bureaucratization and technicalization. his is a deeply unromantic view of the possibility of economic and political ‘progress’ in the developing world. In his account of The Politics of the Governed . the mistrust of popular politics that was apparent at the time of many nationalist struggles has helped to slow down the formation of what might be called civil forms of democratic politics in the post-colonial era. complaining. in the agendas of good governance. At the same time. however. If he was minded to offer advice to the development community. that his work has profound implications for the field of development studies.194 Economy and Society illegally occupied. His focus has been on patterns of state formation. It is for poorer people to improve their lives through democratic struggle. . Chatterjee seems to be saying. there are lacunae in Chatterjee’s work. He has also written extensively about the passive revolution in India. Ordinary people are then required to make their way in precisely those political societies whose dissolution is called for. the development industry has been in the business of depoliticizing the ‘Third World’ in not just one but two respects. and thus by extension on the so-called Hindu rate of growth that took hold from c. Chatterjee’s work is grounded in that of Gramsci and Foucault. This in turn promoted planning as the handmaiden of the developmental state. 1965 to 1980. political society. it would perhaps be to guard against false optimism (much like Platteau). For all its considerable insights. nationalism and governmentality in the post-colonial world. perversely.

The topic of his fourth Leonard Hastings Schiff Memorial Lecture in 2001 was globalization and the (in)stability of international financial and capital markets. is that Chatterjee. Barbara Harriss-White and Jan Breman are just two of many engaged scholars who continue to paint a dark picture of the lives of India’s labouring poor. Suffice it to say that. Chatterjee’s argument presents serious problems for development theory and policy to the extent that his diagnosis of the thinness of civil society in most of the world runs true. What is silenced is the relationship over time of different groups of poor people to changing rates and processes of economic accumulation. this is not a matter of endorsing official rhetoric about ‘shining India’. while there is little support in the academic community for the Government of India’s claim that the rate of ‘absolute poverty’ fell from 36 per cent in 1993 Á 4 to 26 per cent in 1999 Á 2000. at least in respect of civil society and basic human rights. both in regard to macroeconomic policy and through the changing construction of labour markets. however. crucially. Again. He is hugely insightful on the matter of their disempowerment.38 This is not the place to review these debates in detail. has chosen not to intervene in these debates or to take them on board in his recent writings. to the best of my knowledge. on the poverty-reducing effects of a higher sustained rate of economic growth. It is sometimes poorly placed to understand how state formations that took shape after Independence are now being renegotiated (‘liberalized’). and with them the key question of the relationship between economic growth and poverty alleviation. with effects that need careful documentation and analysis. this time. A second criticism can be linked to this. To put it another way.40 When it comes to the reform period in India. on whether. however. The partiality and the sequencing of the reform process in India (which has been very far from a textbook case of neoliberalism in action) have been largely ignored. ‘outsourced India’ or any other Panglossian view of the Indian economy.Stuart Corbridge: The (im)possibility of development studies 195 adjusted for population growth.41 My point is that the very legitimate criticisms that Chatterjee and other subalternists can make of one part of development studies (the good governance agenda) are rarely complemented by serious attention to another range of issues that are also at the heart of that discipline. The post-colonial turn collapses around the cultural and in some respects ‘the local’. Chatterjee is focused on the daily lives of the governed. This has led to profound debates on the causes of the upturn. This distinction reaches back to another that . between governmentality and the economy. the upturn predated the reforms of 1991 (as it seems to have done) and.39 The point I wish to make here. and if so why. but between political society and civil society. And this is not because Chatterjee thinks that political economy issues can be safely left to economists. there is a hesitation to write of neoliberalism except in terms of its ‘unscrupulous gestures’ in respect of civil society. At the heart of Chatterjee’s version of the impossibility theorem there is another stark distinction: not. it is clear that headcount rates of poverty have fallen since 1980 by as much as 15 or 20 percentage points.

Certainly. Rather more important. In some states. the rational/formal state in India relied for its ground-level force on a vast staff of street-level bureaucrats who were poorly paid and who thought mainly in terms of limited group moralities. in India. She will expect to be spoken to roughly by a state official. civil society is deepening.196 Economy and Society has run consistently through Chatterjee’s work and that of Sudipta Kaviraj: the distinction between the lifeworlds of India’s English-speaking elites and the vernacular lifeworlds of the masses. I have already suggested that we get a sense of ourselves in relation to others from something as mundane as a queue. she or another younger woman might have gained some experience of participating in village open meetings within the framework of decentralized local governance (Panchayati Raj).42 When push came to shove. many men will have gained these experiences. and she will sometimes express herself to a government official in terms of a language of rights or of civil society. too. ordinary people in India can find themselves alienated from the official languages of state: the languages that are written into the Constitution and those which reached a dizzying level of technocratic Otherness in the country’s five year plans. as Chatterjee and Kaviraj have both correctly noted. of attending government hospitals or clinics and so on. But the oil and water metaphor is stretched too far by Chatterjee. however. These do not extend to protection against male violence in the household and may not extend to the right to work on a government labour creation scheme (for example. For help in these areas she must work with relatives or with brokers in political society. this has to do with the agencies of secularization that Andre Beteille has drawn attention to. But she will also have legitimate expectations of the state. The question is whether Chatterjee and Kaviraj have pushed too hard at the ‘state of neighbourly incomprehension’ that Kaviraj notes of ‘middle-class and subaltern discourse’ (1991: 53). the Employment Assurance Scheme). as for example in Kerala and parts of West Bengal. as Chatterjee appears to. Consider a widow who goes to the post office or Block Development Office in Jharkhand (eastern India) to collect her pension. but equally under-researched in development . She might even expect to make a small payment to one or more official to get what should be hers by right. As many anthropologists have reported. But on the pension she has a sense of her rights as a citizen. and which seem to be neglected by Chatterjee: the effects of schooling and the media. The distinction is inattentive to the ways in which civil society in India is slowly being broadened in the incubators of both political society and the ‘state idea’ (what Hansen calls the idea of the sublime state). there is growing evidence that. Even if we equate civil society with a society of rights as opposed to a realm of free association.44 It is through these institutions that all but the poorest people begin to understand the state as something other than an abstraction. I suspect.46 Consider two developments that generally are not picked up in these discussions.43 In part. She will expect to be kept waiting in a queuing system that privileges rank over rights.45 It is not my intention to suggest that civil society yet rivals political society as a site for the empowerment or protection of the poor in a country like India.

a state-sector water utility in Chennai with a publicly stated commitment to professionalism in service delivery. and much of it with the help of key actors in political society. Parents complain of officials taking the side of parents. Many teachers in West Bengal are key local members of the CPM and hope to escape accountability for this reason. Water is another area that has galvanized cultures of complaint. in contrast. you have to give us service’’. But here people say ‘‘you are the government. In some cases they have joined school oversight committees to express their views. Voice and Loyalty. But these machineries are regularly disrupted at the field level by assistant and junior engineers. Intricate machineries of complaint collection and registration have been set up by Metrowater.47 Children and their parents complain about missing teachers. particularly in urban areas. For the middle classes. it will also create a series of sites where ordinary people might come to see the state in ways they have not done before. of course. Again. Much more needs to be done. the shift towards making customers pay for water use has been associated with the development of a culture of complaint. Many teachers complain about the lack of education of the parents approaching them. But what do we know about complaining in more ethnographic terms? Who gets to complain to whom and when? For what reasons? What motivates the complaint? How are complaints dealt with? Recent work in rural eastern India suggests that the quality of the public education system is a key area for complaint. They see ‘a crowd of lowly people’ and brush them off as best they can. what happens at the local level is intimately bound up with the design of technologies of rule at the national and state levels. Many of these committees function badly. perhaps with help from foreign aid budgets. But in some cases the complaints are loud and consistent. The classic discussion in general terms remains Hirschman’s (1970) account of Exit. Complaining becomes routinized among sections of the paying public. For those who cannot pay Á and Coelho is certainly not proposing a direct-pay-for-water model Á complaints more often have to be presented collectively through the structures of political society. . One field engineer told Coelho that ‘[t]he goal should be: only if you pay your taxes and charges. ‘People from the slums were universally portrayed [by the engineers] as ‘‘rough’’ or even ‘‘rogue’’’ (Coelho 2004: 7). as Karen Coelho has so eloquently shown. They were described as illiterate members of ‘the public’ and largely resented as such. Some of these committees have been formed spontaneously by parents. But it is through such activities and experiences that a sense of being a citizen is built up. The same also holds true around (land) phone lines. bad teachers. most are at the invitation of government (the Village Education Committees of Bihar and Jharkhand). Some teachers do get fired (or beaten). To the extent that the Government of India can be persuaded to put significant resources (and parental voice) into the public education (or health) system. you give a complaint.Stuart Corbridge: The (im)possibility of development studies 197 studies is the matter of complaining.: 9). And the organization gives in to this’ (ibid. the lack of books and toilets (especially for girls) and so on. Some schools are beginning to get repaired.

a non-governmental organization in Rajasthan. to concretely perceive the links between their personal lives and the political processes of democratic functioning. as well as by hunger strikes. the planning process.50 In all of these ways. and which have come to focus on the fourth estate (the press and media) and the Supreme Court of India and various high courts. is the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan (MKSS). The retrieval of information about government spending decisions does not depend on impromptu conversations or the memories of one or two individuals who have coaxed information from government officials. and the implementation machinery’ (Roy and Dey 2001: 5. The MKSS also dramatized its quest for accountability by means of rural juries armed with little more than microphones and perhaps a video recorder. By this means especially the grassroots campaigns of the MKSS were made to rub shoulders with demands for open government that were being raised in metropolitan areas. that is helping many poor Indians re-think their sightings of the state. Finally. As Lloyd and Susanne Hoeber Rudolph have recently shown. It has blossomed. and by working actively alongside committed politicians and journalists. in close relationship with the political societies that Chatterjee and some others would prefer to see as wholly distinct arenas. moreover. road-building and the introduction of radios and radio stations.198 Economy and Society Finally. Rudolf Mrazek (2002) has written a remarkable book on technology and nationalism in the Netherlands East Indies. by technologies of a seemingly more mundane sort. played a critical role in approximating a framework of lawfulness and predictability that has had some success in protecting citizens’ rights. but also. . just as it has been elsewhere in India and in other parts of ‘most of the world’. the ‘supreme court’s judicial activism .49 The MKSS facilitated these sightings in part by procuring photocopiers. the MKSS has encouraged ‘the people . the MKSS took steps to scale up its campaigns by joining forces with the National Campaign for the People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) in New Delhi. In the words of two of its leading figures. limiting malfeasance and safeguarding environmental and other public goods’ (2001: 132). He looks at how identities get formed and re-shaped in relation to such things as shoes. however. . both of which led up to ‘victory day’ when the Panchayat Raj rules were finally amended. The relationships that poorer people strike with agencies of the state Á how they see the state Á are mediated not only by technologies of rule (by being defined as a BPL.48 More directly relevant to my concerns here.51 . . consider the case of the photocopier. in some ˘ cases. civil society in Rajasthan has been deepened. India. dharnas (sit-ins) and such innovations as the Ghotala (scam) Rath Yatra (a play performed in a dharna tent) and the declaration of pakhand divas (hypocrisy day) and kala divas (black day). emphases added). Photocopying allows for a sighting of the state that is continuous and more or less permanent. for example: a member of the Below Poverty Line population). . including Kuldip Nayyar and Nikhil Chakravarty. They saw the links between the check dam and the debate over State allocations.

Both are hostile to what they see as mainstream development theory and policy because these doctrines and practices must necessarily produce social and economic worlds that are wildly imperfect. Refusing to make overt judgements is often very difficult and can be commendable. These judgements are bound to be negative. In all too many cases these doctrines Á insofar as they have been put into play Á have led to appalling social consequences. is meaningful only to the extent that these better (indeed. As I said before. What is it about development policy (or studies) that so irks a number of contemporary critics? ˆ The answer to this question goes back to the presumed raison d’etre of development studies: its simultaneous attachments to difference and normalization. But therein lies a problem. Consider how each of the impossibility theorems deals with this issue. however. and generalized versus limited moralities. best-case) worlds are achievable. of development studies. Marxism or post-developmentalism is blunted by the impossibility of the dreams of perfection on which they are based. The great strength of this form of critique is that it demands that we imagine a better world. The charge of reformism to which it gives rise. so-called.Stuart Corbridge: The (im)possibility of development studies The morality of critique 199 Thus far I have discussed five versions of the impossibility theorem in terms of their specific accounts of the failings or contradictions. We have looked at such matters as duo-economics versus mono-economics. I want to conclude the main part of this essay with a brief exploration of the forms of critique that have been deployed in these battles. but it is also common among anthropologists. It can plausibly be argued that Platteau has placed himself in a tradition of critique which refuses to make judgements (at any rate. exploitative and at odds with truly human desires. The counter-revolution and post-developmentalism present a remarkably common front. his arguments must be engaged empirically. development and post-development. Imagine a liberal anthropologist from the UK trying to make sense of organizations active on behalf of creationism or intelligent . or of placing these ‘failing and contradictions’ against the spotlight of a more perfect state of affairs. quick and easy judgements). The tradition of refusing judgement tends to be associated with positive economics. the critical edge of perfectibility doctrines like free-market economics. The three remaining versions of an impossibility theorem are less committed to perfection and the forms of critique to which this idea gives rise. They are either dirigiste and inefficient or they are resource-depleting. But there is something else which glues together various critiques of development and development studies. a world of harmony in which real needs are met in a spirit of cooperation and experimentation Á and judges existing reality in relation to it. As many critics have pointed out. The form of critique that is practised here imagines a world without contradiction Á a world of free and fair markets. and with a defence of the status quo. and that is a commitment to a particular way of thinking critically.

It asks development agencies to respect these forms of knowledge and not to waste time and effort seeking their ‘amelioration’. there is no escape from governmentality or a world of policies. to suggest ways forward in the sense of concrete policy alternatives. Critique thus becomes an act of permanent revolution. Another complaint that would apply to individuals like Esteva and Prakash (1997). It is vital that students of development are alert to the power effects of the different forms of governmentality that are put forward as development policy. no matter that he has moved some way from his Marxist roots) with more deconstructive forms of critique. Their aim is not necessarily. moreover. or of . Getting relative prices wrong worked to the advantage of many of them.200 Economy and Society design in the USA. It is rather to add to the foment of debate and to put into play new ways of thinking which might provide resources for some individuals or groups in the constant jockeying for power and position that promotes the (re)structuring of everyday life. Straightforward descriptions of these groups (insofar as descriptions are ever straightforward) can be an effective way of representing difference and of allowing moral judgements to be made by the respondents themselves. First. is something like scorn for development policy interventions that fail to prioritize ‘politics’. it helps to produce them. is that they refuse to specify the costs of their proposals. What also unites these forms of critique.53 Having said that. John Harriss is right about the inadequacies of social capital theory. it is important that two further points are taken on board. There is an important ethical issue here. or perhaps even a playful decentring of ideas and practices that are taken for granted. Some criticisms of the very idea (or discourse) of development fall into this category. and perhaps also to Escobar. This is because they mix a Leftist version of the anti-reformist critique (this is true of Ferguson and Harriss for sure. It does so.52 Ha-Joon Chang is also right to note that few rich countries developed on the basis of the ‘good governance’ agendas that are so widely trumpeted today. or even. Followers of Foucault tend to have an expansive conception of power and its effects. say. ‘the political’ or ‘democratic struggles in political society’. if category it is. Here is the source of a common charge against the World Bank and other agencies Á and it is an important charge. Development studies does not just look in on the worlds it seeks to describe. How legitimate is it to commend strategies of de-linking or spatial closure. however. Proponents of the fourth and fifth impossibility theorems are at first glance harder to link to any one form of critique. in the plural. A generous reading of Platteau might suggest this is what he is trying to do. His work validates the local knowledge systems that are wrapped up in limited group moralities. and probably also Chatterjee. One complaint that development practitioners might legitimately direct to members of the postdevelopmental or neoliberal communities is that they falsely homogenize a range of development initiatives under the heading of ‘the development discourse’.

and thus to critiquing the conventional ‘techniques. it is not obvious: (a) that this take us very far in generating specific policy initiatives that would address the problem of corruption.). then it is not clear that reformist modes of engagement (or critique) are uncalled for. . and if we further assume that an actor wants to take the part of the poor in some way (wishes to judge). but it would also extend to commending specific forms of government or self-government that would seek the empowerment of individuals and groups against ‘specific states of domination’ (ibid. and which calls for a less dramatic conception of politics than some academics feel comfortable with. It partly depends on how we think about political strategy and tactics. citing Weber 1972: 147). it can fairly be argued that the utopias of the Left or the Right Á communism or free-market capitalism Á carry less moral weight to the extent that their proponents refuse to consider the likely costs of these regimes.: 37). As Mitchell Dean explains. perhaps. by the Government of India or leading agencies from within the NGO and international development communities. if the opportunity costs of these actions are not made clear to those who are expected to heed the call? By the same token. It also confirms that development studies.Stuart Corbridge: The (im)possibility of development studies 201 returning to a ‘culture of the soil’. practices and rationalities of government and self-government’ (ibid. in West Bengal or Bihar. or (b) that the formulation of policies that would address these issues would look radically different to some parts of the good governance agenda that have been put into play. is not exterior to the world it describes. and periodically reviewed and developed. There is a parallel here with what Max Weber had in mind when he spoke about the duties of a person who stands in the service of moral forces. It is this specificity. and of the social upheavals that would be required to get there (assuming the horizon is not ever receding). (b) that what is called ‘development’ comes in many versions and (c) that pro-poor political coalitions are not easily built. If we assume: (a) that the world is not perfect or perfectible. in this case. Weber wanted to prosecute ‘an analytics of government [that encourages] us to accept a sense of responsibility for the consequences and effects of thinking and acting in certain ways’ (1999: 36). but is constitutive of that world. or of forcing governments to share information with poor people in such a way that their citizenship rights are genuinely deepened. say.. while we can agree with HarrissWhite that ‘[d]evelopment policy needs rethinking as that set of political and institutional forces required to prevail against the obstacles to a democratically determined accountability’ (2003: 247). good practical (indeed political) arguments can be made in favour of particular development policies that might seem reformist or hopelessly pragmatic by the light of the depoliticization thesis. More positively. that public policy-making ultimately teaches. That sense of responsibility would extend to raising ‘inconvenient facts’ (ibid.54 Second.

development studies is a special case. as pure disciplines. Most of these critics would accept that academic disciplines or field of knowledge are always artificial in key respects. in addition. particularly when people from one part of the world are asking for changes in policy elsewhere. It might fairly be argued. Work on the moral geographies of relationships between distant strangers is still in its infancy. anthropology and economics can be reconstituted. In other respects.55 Nor is development studies alone in formulating policies for economic growth and poverty alleviation: applied economics serves much the same purpose in what Escobar calls the ‘more economically accomplished countries’. and are the products of particular historical circumstances and knowledge-power combinations. and which render it impotent. There have been important and insightful investigations into the colonial origins of academic geography and anthropology. The presumption is that geography. calls for the dis-invention of geography or anthropology or economics are voiced less openly or regularly than are calls for the disinvention of development studies. I have sought to argue three further points. and because of its alleged attachments to an ideology of developmentalism (Escobar). development studies has to respond to events and changes in intellectual fashion. It is absurd to suppose that most people in this . Nevertheless. To reduce development studies to a singular ideology of development is at once mistaken and misleading. if necessary. apolitical or supportive of a series of interventions that disempower and even infantilize ‘the poor’. Precisely because of its founding commitments to difference and sameness. that the moral responsibilities of critique or policy-making are especially acute in development studies. It stands accused of being too political (Lal) and of being an anti-politics machine (Ferguson). it also stands accused of being committed to a presentism in development policy-making (Platteau) that is radically at odds with the Otherness of the post-colonial condition (Chatterjee). Like all subjects. First. development studies cannot reasonably be described as a unitary or unchanging set of theories or policy-making practices. I have argued throughout this paper that it is of the utmost importance that development studies faces up to these criticisms. or as academic subjects that mix positive analysis with a critical normative stance.202 Economy and Society Conclusion Development studies is not the only field of knowledge to have been placed under the microscope recently. it attracts the attention of critics concerned about a widening number of alleged deficiencies.56 At the same time. Development studies in contrast cannot escape the dirty worlds of practical policy-making which lend it a reason for being. however. Compared to some other subjects there seems to be a reluctance for people within the discipline of development studies to examine the history and present condition of the forms of knowledge to which they might be committed (knowingly or otherwise).

for example. Satish Kumar.Stuart Corbridge: The (im)possibility of development studies 203 field are committed to the sort of developmentalism that once characterized the work of Walt Rostow or Arthur Lewis. Vicky Lawson. It is a sign of the growing maturity of development studies that this point is widely accepted. the world of policy-making cannot be escaped. Harriss and Chatterjee) while also directing attention to the politics of policy-making and governmentality. and it can be all of these things. whether economic development depletes stocks of natural capital Á fall quite naturally into the field of development studies. to suppose that critical development studies is innocent in policy terms: to the extent that it is fiercely critical of . it is clear that some of the key intellectual issues of our time Á why. Craig Jeffrey. why some states ‘fail’ and others do not. vacuous and ‘apolitical’. Giles Mohan.58 To the man or woman with no land. I am also grateful to Maxine Molyneux for her support. has been described as sickly. and no expectation of land reform. Barbara Harriss-White. including those associated with East Asia. Not all political battles can be fought in the open or on the high ground. for example. It is not inconsistent to argue strongly for the re-politicization of development studies (in the senses intended by Ferguson. but in some cases it can count for a great deal. the growth trajectories of East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa have diverged so markedly since the 1950s. Although it has been adapted for publication. nor should we discount the slow-burning or recruitment effects of ideas and policies that expand the public sphere or civil society. whether geography matters more than institutions in explaining this divergence. weaker and more contemporary versions might propose models of late-industrialization or growth-enhancing governance. parts of the article betray their origins as spoken text. however. it is better than nothing. how and why globalization might be linked to changing patterns of poverty and inequality at different spatial scales. or that enterprise which uncouples the critical and applied parts of the subject. The transcendental claims of market economics and extreme communitarianism are refused in mainstream development studies. Uma Kothari. however. Lastly. I am grateful to the DSA for the invitation. 3 Given this definition. for the legacies of geography and history). especially if it increases voice or accountability or the better delivery of an entitlement.57 These issues need to be studied comparatively but also with proper respect for the differences that place makes (that is. Second. David Smith and Manoj Srivastava for their comments and questions. The good governance agenda. Richard Palmer-Jones. Being able to complain effectively is not as glamorous as taking part in a revolution. and to John Harriss. many of the arguments in this paper will not apply to ‘critical development studies’. 2 A hard version of the similarity principle would involve something like the processes of Americanization or Westernization set out by modernization theorists in the 1950s. It would be a mistake. Notes 1 This paper was first presented as an invited lecture to the September 2005 annual conference of the UK’s Development Studies Association.

For an overview. geopolitics and physical geography and human ecology. see Simon (1999). see also Edwards (1989). see too the essays in Cooper and Packard (1997). Krueger (1974) and Johnson (1972). see Esteva and Prakash (1997). Bauer (1991) and Krueger (1974). 23 The best review remains that by White (1996). see Watts (2003). on de-linking. The distinction refers to immanent process versus intended practice. Schuurman (1993). 1991). 4 See the next section. We are given to . Sen (2000) and Stiglitz (2003). 14 For the impasse debate. including back cover blurb by Ashis Nandy). see Meier (2004). (1993) and Putnam (1995). Parpart (1993). (2005). 8 See Rose (1999) and Dean (1999). see also Woolcock (1998). 5 Haberler (1987). 19 Uvin (1998) and de Waal (1997. For Nigeria. 18 Chambers (1983. and which need some form of state-sponsored amelioration. economic and political changes that induce a sense of dislocation or unease. Power (2002). although this argument is often made in the UK to justify its status (mainly) as a postgraduate degree programme Á one suitable to people who have already been trained in economics. cultural barriers to economic development. see Harriss and Corbridge (2003). 25 Sachs now visits the countries that he advises armed with a ‘checklist’ of questions on such things as the extent of extreme poverty. Hall (1992). 15 Said (1978: 28). Mohanty (1988). 84 of Sachs’ book.204 Economy and Society ‘development’ or capitalism or globalization it is bound to suggest forms of counterpolitics and policy-making that should be subject to close scrutiny (see also the sixth section. 10 Cowen and Shenton (1996: 61). 13 Bauer (1954. Even if there was no ‘development industry’ there would be development in the sense of social. and compare Chandresekhar and Ghosh (2002). Rodrik (2006). For a discussion of technologies of rule in the context of the state’s ‘war on poverty’ in eastern India. see Booth (1985). 22 See Bhagwati (1993) and Krueger (2002). 16 Escobar published significant papers between 1984 and 1995. ‘Impossibility theorems’. 9 I do not discuss the claim that development studies is not an academic discipline. 2005 [1989]). ‘The morality of critique’). Rist (1997). 1997) and Uphoff (1996). economic policy. On the post-Cold War era. 12 Friedman (1957) and Bauer (1974). Clearly. he had in mind ideas of justice and human rights in the struggles of the Palestinians and other dominated groups (Said 1992 [1979]). Baran (1973 [1957]) and Frank (1967). quoting Raymond Williams (1958: 376). By ‘universals’. the fiscal framework. 17 For a discussion of high modernist versions of development. political science. 20 Putnam et al . see Corbridge et al . An example of a checklist is given on p. sociology or some other subject with a core body of ‘theory’. in the middle of his discussion of ‘clinical economics’. see also Kumar and Corbridge (2002). For a more considered review of the history of development economics. patterns of governance. See also Gray (2000) and of course Polanyi (2001 [1944]). of course: see especially Escobar (1988. 6 See Escobar (1995. 24 North (1990). see Scott (1998). Schumacher (1970). but see also Nils Gilman’s (2003) wonderful account of modernization theory in Cold War America. Slater (1992). 11 Gandhi (1997 [1908]). Esteva (1992). 7 The outstanding essay on this is still that by Pletsch (1981). there are other impossibility theorems than the ones discussed here: the critique of development from the perspective of deep ecology is one obvious example. 21 See Mosse (2001). 1976).

29 Lehmann (1997). 31 Moore (1994). 42 For discussion. See also the essays in Fuller and Bene¨ (2001). see Jenkins and Goetz (1999). See also Bhattacharya (1999) and Deverajan and Shah (2004). significantly. The corresponding figures for India are 44 and 63 over the same period of thirty-nine years. 34 This was also the thesis. 48 There are echoes here of Fanon’s (1965) discussion of the Voice of Algeria. 32 Chatterjee has also long been a member of the subaltern studies collective of historians and social scientists. refers to ‘the existence [in Brazil of a] . 46 For further discussion. (2005). 44 Beteille (1999). see Deaton and Dreze (2002). see Chatterjee (1997a. 27 Notably. with labour market tightening following the spread of Green Revolution technologies from coastal areas and the north west. Gandhi also had particular ideas on what it was to be Indian: see Alter (2000). 39 A large part of the decline in the all-India headcount ratios from 1993 Á 4 to 1999 Á 2000 seems to have been caused by changes in the way that official estimates were made between the 50th and 55th rounds of the National Sample Survey. the median age of ` death in sub-Saharan Africa in the early-1990s was just under 5 years (see Sen in Farmer 2003). They were given in New York in November 2001. that life expectancy at birth in China in 1960 was about 47. 33 On Nehru. this figure rose to 70 by 1999. Poverty declines in the 1980s were substantial and had to do with ` government anti-poverty programmes and. see Dollar and Kray (2002) and Gupta (1998). 40 These lectures comprise the main part of the text of The Politics of the Governed . see also Bardhan (1984) and Corbridge and Harriss (2000). of course. 26 Corbridge (1998). in large part.Stuart Corbridge: The (im)possibility of development studies 205 suppose that most governments or visiting economists fail to make checklists of this sort. (1999). 49 For further discussion. For discussion. see Mohan and Stokke (2000). Lewis (1955) and Rostow (1960). DaMatta. and why. Kiely (1999) and Pieterse (2000). . more importantly. 47 Corbridge et al . Cooper (2002) and Mamdani (1996). On this. Kaviraj (1991) and Inden (1995). however. see Dreze and Sen (2002): 114 Á 15). 1997b). We know. See also Farrington et al . 41 Harriss-White (2003) and Breman (2004). 37 This raises important questions. More generally. . 35 Hansen (2002). and in cautionary terms. why not? How civil should political society be? 38 For key contributions. of Barrington Moore Jr (1966). 36 Chief Ministers at various points since 1990 in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh respectively. Appallingly. about which groups one might work with. Compare Nandy (2003) and Sylvester (1999). see Zachariah (2004). ´ ´ı 43 Hansen (2001: 35) distinguishes between an imagination of the state split into ‘sublime’ and ‘profane’ dimensions. Is the proposal that the CPI-M and Shiv Sena be dealt with on an equal basis? If not. 45 See Chaudhuri and Heller (2002) and Corbridge (2004). . see Chandhoke (2003) and Jayal (1999). 30 Compare with Bayart et al . (2003). 28 The figure for China in 1950 is not robust. Chabol and Daloz (1999). double code with respect to the relative importance of equality and hierarchy’ (1991 [1978]: 168).

also draws on and partly develops arguments made there in chapter 9. While Glyn. state and civil society’. (2005). (1976) Dissent on Development . 53 Chang (2002). Tehri). 55 Livingstone (1992). PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. Mushtaq Khan draws a useful distinction between market-enhancing and growth-enhancing good governance agendas. J. they bear no responsibility for the broader arguments of this paper. (1954) West African Trade: A Study of Competition. P. (2001). Many scholars think that Putnam has causality back to front. ** ** ** . Driver (2000) and Kuper (1996). B. f and g. That argument would need to show that the alternative is not also associated with a. forever?’. Rodrik (2006). Manoj and Rene are implicated in ´ these specific arguments. Sachs et al . but it is unclear why it should be made the independent variable in the World Bank’s model. and with environmental and human rights activists in particular (as in the cases of opposition to ‘environmental degradation and big dams (Narmada.426 cases in the Allahabad High Court alone in 1995: Rudolph and Rudolph 2001: 137). [and] child and bonded labor’ and demands for ‘Dalit (ex-untouchable) empowerment. Rodrik et al . Cambridge. New York: Norton. Stern et al . among others. Oligopoly and Monopoly in a Changing Economy. 58 Jenkins (2002) and Leftwich (1993). Hemel Hempstead: Harvester-Wheatsheaf. A. Encounter 42: 15 Á 28. (2004). or at the very least that ‘social capital’ is one part of a broader loop of interactive processes. Oxford: Clarendon Press. and historical and cultural preservation’: ibid. Bardhan. Oxford: James Currey. ‘The morality of critique’. 56 Corbridge (1993) and Smith (2000). R. (1984) The Political Economy of Development in India . Bauer. But see also Tendler (1997). London: London University Press. (1993) India in Transition: Freeing the Economy. Diet and the Politics of Nationalism . and Hibou.206 Economy and Society 50 It should be noted that Rudolph and Rudolph are fully aware of the enormous backlog of cases facing the court system in India at the highest levels (765. (1974) ‘Foreign aid. Oxford: Clarendon Press..: 137). MA: Harvard University Press. (2001) Prosperity and Violence: The Political Economy of Development . Bayart. (1999) ‘Citizenship. b or c and/or is not damaged by negative outcomes d. References Alter. Philadelphia. J-F. J. Baran. 57 Important recent contributions have come from Dasgupta (2001). Firebaugh (2003). Kohli (2004). P. e. 52 Not only is social capital difficult to measure. S. and of the fact that judicial activism has often been in response to pressures that first emerged in civil society. Bates. Harmondsworth: Penguin. pollution and inequality) is in itself an argument for socialism or something that is ‘not capitalism’. b and c (say unemployment. The next section. (1991) The Development Frontier. Economic and Political Weekly 36: 2588 Á 91. (2000) Gandhi’s Body: Sex. (1973 [1957]) The Political Economy of Growth . Bhagwati. (1999) The Criminalization of the State in Africa . Wade (2004) and Wolf 2005 [2004]. Ellis. 51 This paragraph and the preceding one draw from Corbridge et al . See Tarrow (1996). P. Beteille. (2005: ch. See also Wade (1990) and Khan (2005). 7). 54 It is a logical error to suppose that a form of critique that shows that ‘capitalism’ is associated with negative outcomes a.

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