Honours Thesis in International Development Studies submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Arts Honours
Postdevelopment and the Crisis of Development Theory: Towards a Gadamerian Alternative
under supervision of
Supervisor: Dr. Nissim Mannathukkaren Instructor: Dr. John Cameron at
Dalhousie University Halifax, Nova Scotia April, 2010 !
Stark - 1 The most thought-provoking thing in our thought-provoking time is that we are still not thinking. MARTIN HEIDEGGER In the context of academia, the field of ‘development’ occupies an interesting and unique space. Unlike most other disciplines, ‘development’ - by its very definition - signifies some sort of progressive movement forward, a type of betterment or advancement. With this active content comes great opportunity as well as great risk. On the one hand, opportunity lies in the potential to connect theory and praxis so as to employ clear and careful thought to service the struggles of the exploited and the oppressed. On the other hand, there is a sense in which the field of ‘development’ presents certain risks and dangers in a way the disciplines of biology or microphysics do not. Indeed over the past fifty years, we have seen the notion of ‘development’ be used as an instrument of control that privileged certain voices while marginalizing and excluding others. When we set out to answer the question What is Development? or propose some schema to guide future praxis, we cannot help but be informed by the tacit assumptions and unarticulated presuppositions that mediate our experience of the world. Thus behind our answers to these questions of Development there will always remain a hidden set of understandings that bear the stamp of our age and our geography. What guarantee is there that the Good we define will match up in a relevant way with the concerns of those we hope to emancipate? It is in this way that development studies stumbles easily into the dangers of ethnocentrism. These are concerns well known to undergraduate students of development. In every class we seem to be affronted by the evils of Western imperialism and the disastrous consequences of Development. When discussing other cultures we are
Stark - 2 continually reminded of their difference and warned of the dangers of imposing our Western (read: materialistic, rational, individualistic) perspectives onto the life-worlds of the South (read: poor, spiritual, collectivist). To speak of universals such as Progress, Truth or a linear trajectory of Development is strictly forbidden. To question these selfevident axioms is considered heresy against the unspoken but tacitly accepted scripture of postmodernism. It is in this way that the necessary modesty of development studies seems always to slide unquestioned into a space of cultural relativism. The result of all this is a discipline that is directionless and fragmented, populated by a group of students who are equally confused. This paper is an attempt to bring a much-needed clarity to these murky waters of our collective consciousness and render visible those spaces of our psyche where we prefer not to linger. The situation I have outlined above is the surface reflection of a much deeper transformation that has impacted the social sciences more broadly. In recent decades, “poststructuralist” approaches have emerged in numerous fields of social inquiry such as anthropology, history, geography, gender studies and political science. Together these approaches can be characterized as a radical skepticism toward such metanarratives as modernity, progress, truth, and Enlightenment-style rationality. By directing attention towards the contingency and arbitrariness of dominant modes of understanding, poststructuralist frameworks reveal the ruptures, shifts and instabilities that underlie our institutions, discourses and practices. In the context of development studies, these fashionable lines of thought manifest in the school of postdevelopment. For theorists of this school, “development” is understood not as fixed or essential, but rather as a historically produced discourse that functions to legitimize particular forms of knowledge
Stark - 3 while discrediting and excluding others. Postdevelopment theorists contend that these discursive mechanisms constitute a form of power which functions to reinforce and extend systems of Western hegemony. As a result, these critics affirm that we must jettison the very notion of development and look towards a politics that is local and context specific. The postdevelopment school marked a critical departure from early forms of critique. Whereas before one could argue about the strategies employed to achieve development, the larger organizing logic of “development” itself could not be questioned. In this way, postdevelopment theorists shed a necessary light on the ethnocentrism inherent in development discourses that understood development to mean “greater production” achieved through the “wider and more vigorous application of modern scientific and technical knowledge” (Harry Truman cited in Escobar, 1995: 3). Despite these strengths, the theories of postdevelopment are problematic on several levels: By conceptualizing “development” as a “monolithic hegemony” postdevelopment theorists move uncritically to posit an evil West against a noble non-West. Rather than challenging the ethnocentric dichotomies (i.e. North and South, traditional and modern, developed and underdeveloped, East and West, global and local) of previous development discourses, postdevelopment merely reproduces and inverts them. Situations of poverty and powerlessness are seen as arising solely from Western intervention, and thus the local and traditional are constructed as the pinnacle towards which we must strive. The result is an approach that fundamentally misunderstands the nature of global problems and a set of solutions that are as ridiculous as they are frightening.
Stark - 4 This paper seeks to uncover the deeper philosophic tensions from which these contradictions arise. I argue that the limitations of postdevelopment can be understood as originating in a Foucauldian conception of power. Following Foucault, postdevelopment theorists commit to a Nietzschean relativism that understands any claim to truth as an attempt to extend a system of control and domination. Thus any claim to ‘development’ is coded as Western domination. It is at this point that we are affronted by the fundamental challenge of development theory: How are we to avoid the ethnocentrism inherent in dominant universalist approaches, without surrendering to the debilitating relativism that accompanies postdevelopment? Here I claim that the work of Hans-Georg Gadamer proves exceedingly useful. By positioning his notion of the “fusion of
horizons” at the core of development theory and praxis, it is possible to resolve these tensions and restore coherence to a field that has become increasingly fractured and irrelevant. Keep in mind that this is a work of philosophy. This paper does not intend to set out a concrete plan of action or to answer to the question: What is to be done? The aim is not to provide answers but to ask different questions. It is to show that our approaches to the problem of development theory are actually apart of that problem. Thus it is an attempt to reorient the discourse in such a way so to make visible the deeper and more fundamental issues that we must grapple with. After outlining the central features of poststructuralism, Chapter 1 locates the thought of Michel Foucault in relation to the major proponents of the postdevelopment school. Here I focus on the ways in which Foucauldian modes of analysis are expressed through the work of postdevelopment theory. After establishing this conceptual
Stark - 5 foundation, Chapter 2 uses Frederic Jameson’s notion of postmodernism as a “schizophrenic condition” to describe the fragmented and incoherent state of development studies. In addition, the chapter aims to draw links between the limitations of Foucault’s conceptualization of ‘power’ and the problematic contradictions that emerge in the context of postdevelopment. Finally the last chapter attempts to resolve these contradictions by hypothesizing about what a Gadamerian approach to development might look like.
Stark - 6 I. POSTSTRUCTURALISM, POSTDEVELOPMENT AND MICHEL FOUCAULT A critique is not a matter of saying that things are not right as they are. It is a matter of pointing out on what kinds of assumptions, what kinds of familiar, unchallenged, unconsidered modes of thought the practices that we accept rest….We must free ourselves from the sacralization of the social as the only reality and stop regarding as superfluous something so essential in human life and relationships as thought. MICHEL FOUCAULT The human word is the power that orders our chaos. NORTHROP FRYE To develop an adequate understanding of postdevelopment and its major proponents, it will be necessary to situate these lines of thought in relation to the larger intellectual context from which they emerge. As previously stated, poststructuralism acts as the philosophic foundation from which postdevelopment theorists derive their strategies and modes of analysis. Therefore, in moving towards a comprehension of postdevelopment, it is instructive to consider both the development and defining characteristics of poststructuralism. Poststructuralism identifies a style of French thought that developed in the 1960s. It was a philosophic movement that arose out of and in relation to the intellectual currents of structuralism. Broadly, structuralism is an approach to the human sciences that seeks to understand social phenomena through an analysis of underlying structures that are eternal, fixed and universal. It originated in the field of linguistics through the work of Ferdinand de Saussure. The critical insight for Saussure was that language ought to be understood as a system of signs in which meaning is produced through the internal relationships of these signs. Importantly, meaning is not produced through representation,
Stark - 7 but rather emerges from the internal relationships of signs (Saussure, 1959). As different theorists recognized the wider applicability of these insights, Saussure’s approach spread to various disciplines in the form of “structuralism.”1 In the field of anthropology, Claude Lévi-Strauss articulated a structuralist approach to the study of culture. In this framework, the meaning of particular cultural practices is not the result of cultural agents but rather originates in the cultural structures that precede the agent (Lévi-Strauss, 1974). In the realm of literary criticism, scholars stopped looking for the meaning of a text intended by its author and instead directed attention towards deeper structures that produced meaning, such as its relationship to other texts.2 Similarly, in the domain of political theory, Louis Pierre Althusser developed theories of “structural Marxism” in which the meaning of political action derives from underlying structures (namely the structures of capital) rather than political agents. Together these strands of thought represent a structuralist attempt to arrive at stable knowledge through the reduction of the world to “a set of representable objects whose underlying relationships can be scientifically studied ” (Agrawal, 1996: 470). Poststructuralists fundamentally reject this premise and radicalize the structuralist project by affirming that linguistic structures – far from fixed and eternal – are dynamic, fluid and marked by contingency. If the aim of the structuralist was to describe the structures that underpin reality, the aim of the poststructuralist is to historicize them. To elucidate the contingency and genesis of dominant representations, poststructuralists examine the !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Although his work originated the philosophic movement of “structuralism”, Saussure himself never explicitly used the term “structure.” Instead he discusses elements and the ways in which elements relate together to produce meaning. 2 This is evident in the work of Roland Barthes. In his famous essay, “The Death of the Author,” Barthes criticizes methods of reading and literary critiques that rely on an author’s supposed intentions and biographical context (Barthes, 1978).
Stark - 8 discursive mechanisms through which certain forms of understanding and being are made legitimate while others are excluded and even made impossible. As Michel Foucault observed in January of 1976: …what has emerged in the course of the last ten or fifteen years is a sense of the increasing vulnerability to criticism of things, institutions, practices, discourses. A certain fragility has been discovered in the very bedrock of existence- even, and perhaps above all, in those aspects of it that are most familiar, most solid and most intimately related to our bodies and to our everyday behaviour (Foucault, 1980: 80). Through their radical historicization of discourses, practices and institutions, poststructuralists destabilize linear narratives of “progress” and restore to our latent consciousness the rifts, flaws and instabilities that underlie dominant modes of understanding. In revealing these historical ruptures and discontinuities, poststructuralists bring into question such metanarratives as modernity, progress, truth and instrumental rationality (Agrawal, 1996: 470).3 The Intellectual Tools of Michel Foucault Among the various poststructuralist theorists, the work of Michel Foucault has been the most influential for scholars of development. Here it is useful to highlight two theoretical innovations of Foucault’s thought that have continually manifest in the work of postdevelopment thinkers: namely (a) Foucault’s genealogy and (b) his conception of power as productive and decentralized. This section briefly considers these two modes of analysis and the ways in which they are employed in the context of postdevelopment.
In moving towards a conceptualization of history defined by discontinuity, poststructuralists were influenced by transformations in the history of science, particularly the work of Thomas Kuhn. In his work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), Kuhn revealed that science undergoes abrupt transformations or “paradigm shifts” in which new approaches to understanding become legitimate and accepted as truth. These findings fundamentally undermine dominant narratives that understand scientific progress to be smooth, linear and continuous.
Stark - 9 For Foucault, genealogy refers to an historical investigation that attempts to elucidate the genesis of an idea, concept or theory, as well as its related practices and institutions. In his works, Beyond Good and Evil and On the Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche develops this method to illuminate the socio-political content that is somehow hidden in the notions of ‘good’ and ‘evil.’ Importantly Nietzsche’s aim is not to reveal the metaphysical essence of these concepts, but rather to demonstrate that there is a concrete history that informs and produces them. In other words, ideas, concepts and theories that we have come to regard as fixed and essential are actually the result of a particular history. By revealing this history, Nietzsche unmasks the ideological function of these concepts as well as the metaphysical fiction designed to obscure it. In his essay, “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” Foucault outlines the significance of the genealogical method to his historical studies. For Foucault, the purpose of a genealogy is to make visible the accidents, ruptures and contingencies that give rise to particular concepts, epochs, practices and institutions. As Foucault writes: Genealogy does not resemble the evolution of a species and does not map the destiny of a people. On the contrary, to follow the complex course of descent is to maintain passing events in their proper dispersion; it is to identify the accidents, the minute deviations – or conversely, the complete reversals – the errors, the false appraisals, and the faulty calculations that gave birth to those things which continue to exist and have value for us; it is to discover that truth or being lies not at the root of what we know and what we are but the exteriority of accidents. (Foucault, 2003: 355) Importantly Foucault rejects the Hegelian conception of history as a necessary unfolding of events and instead emphasizes its discontinuities. For Foucault, to conceive of history as a necessary process of unfolding would mean that the historian could somehow “step
Stark - 10 outside” of history and claim a privileged standpoint.4 These types of totalizing, metaphysical narratives obscure the historians place in history and presuppose some access to the perspective of God - a viewpoint existing outside space and time (Foucault, 2003: 352). As Foucault notes: …if the genealogist refuses to extend his faith in metaphysics, if he listens to history, he finds that there is “something altogether different” behind things: not a timeless and essential secret but the secret that they have no essence, or that their essence was fabricated in a piecemeal fashion from alien forms. […] What is found at the historical beginning of things is not the inviolable identity of their origin; it is the dissension of other things. It is disparity. (Foucault, 2003: 353) To sum up, Foucault rejects metaphysical narratives of necessity and continuity by demonstrating that the way things are could have been differently. In revealing this contingency, it becomes possible to radically criticize those discourses, institutions and practices that appear most familiar and natural. In the context of development, this genealogical framework and distrust of metanarratives is translated into an effort to historicize “development” discourse and thus make visible the power-relations that it functions to conceal and extend. In this sense, the intellectual tools adopted from Nietzsche and Foucault enable postdevelopment scholars to bracket the familiarity of “development” and stand detached from it, removing its appearance as fixed or essential and opening a space for radical critique. By approaching dominant representations as historically constructed, it becomes possible to examine the ways in which power functions through language, discourses and institutions. For Foucault conventional understandings of power failed to properly !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Here Foucault recognizes that the historian - along with her language, concepts and attitudes – are the product of history and fundamentally limited. This was the critical insight made by Immanuel Kant (1781) in his, Critique of Pure Reason: our position as finite beings experiencing the world prevents us from knowing the infinite, the unconditioned, God. To know this infinite reality would be to deny our limited experience and somehow “step outside” of time and space.
Stark - 11 recognize the ways in which power is productive and decentralized. Power is not merely something that is negative and repressive, weighing down on the subject from a political location above the social sphere. Rather power is a productive force which traverses the entire social body, reaching into the subject and influencing the very ways in which reality is constructed. As Foucault states, “If power were never anything but repressive, if it never did anything but to say ‘no,’ do you really think one would be brought to obey it? What makes power hold good, what makes it accepted, is simply the fact it traverses and produces things, it induces pleasures, forms knowledge, produces discourse” (Foucault, 1984: 61). These positive mechanisms of power are perhaps most evident in Foucault’s “genealogy” of the prison (Foucault, 1979). The prison was created as a “correctional” institution” to “imprint on the inmates the qualities of good citizenship: to make criminals into honest, hard working, law abiding individuals, who could return to a “normal” place in society” (Ferguson, 1994: 19). It is this notion of “rehabilitation” that led to the establishments of prisons throughout the world and remains today the foundational notion that justifies their maintenance and occasional reform. “But it is obvious upon inspection, according to Foucault, that prisons do not in fact ‘reform’ criminals; that, on the contrary, they make nearly impossible that return to ‘normality’ that they have always claimed to produce, and that, instead of eliminating criminality, they seem to rather produce and intensify it within a well-defined strata of “delinquents” (Ferguson, 1994: 19). It is through this positive mechanism that the prison succeeds in maintaining a particular system of social control. As Foucault states:
Stark - 12 If this is the case, the prison, apparently “failing”, does not miss its target, on the contrary it reaches it, in so far as it gives rise to one particular form of illegality in the midst of others, which it is able to isolate, to place in full light and to organize as a relatively enclosed, but penetrable milieu… For the observation that prison fails to eliminate crime, one should perhaps substitute the hypothesis that prison has succeeded extremely well in producing delinquency, a specific type, a politically or economically less dangerous –and on occasion, usable- form of illegality; in producing delinquents, in an apparently marginal, but in fact centrally supervised milieu; in producing the delinquent as a pathologized subject…So successful as the prison been that, after a century and a half of ‘failures’, the prison still exists, producing the same results, and there is the greatest reluctance to dispense with it. (Foucault, 1979: 276 – 7) It is precisely these “positive mechanisms” of power that postdevelopment theorists attempt to elucidate and examine. In this sense, postdevelopment writers are less concerned with the stated objectives that underwrite “development” ideology so much as their actual social effects. As James Ferguson notes: For the question is not “how closely do these ideas approximate the truth,” but “what effects do these ideas (which may or may not happen to be true) bring about? How are they connected with and implicated in larger social processes?” This is why I speak, following Foucault, of a conceptual “apparatus”- in order to suggest what we are concerned with is not an abstract set of philosophical or scientific propositions, but an elaborate contraption that does something. (Ferguson, 1994: xv) In adopting a Foucauldian conceptualization of power, Ferguson and other postdevelopment theorists move beyond conventional critiques and toward an examination of the ways in which power functions through the “development” apparatus to actually produce things (identities, discourses, practices, institutions, worldviews). Whereas conventional critiques would underscore the failures of a particular strategy of development and its inability to meet its stated objectives, postdevelopment reveals that “even in it ‘failures’ the project of development succeeds in bringing about particular effects with remarkable regularity, and those effects might constitute its actual objectives” (Agrawal, 1996: 471). Thus, in the context of development, the deployment
Stark - 13 of a more nuanced understanding of power reveals that hidden beneath official narratives of “development” there remains a second, more insidious set of ideological motives and functions. Here it is useful to think of Michel Foucault as a skilled intellectual artisan, fashioning tools of analysis to be wielded by scholars writing from and for the margins. This section has outlined two of these tools. Namely (a) the genealogical method inherited from Nietzsche and (b) a conceptualization of power as productive and decentralized. Together these styles of thought enable the postdevelopment theorist to ask new questions and reconfigure the boundaries within which criticisms are theorized. These patterns will be explored further through a discussion of the major works of postdevelopment. Postdevelopment and the Critique of Development Discourse As discussed above, postdevelopment thought represents a fundamental break from previous challenges to development. Earlier analyses focused on the kinds of development that needed to be pursued but accepted the desirability of development as the driving aim. Even those theorists that sought to undermine dominant capitalist strategies did so under the umbrella of alternative modes of development (participatory development, socialist development, another development). As Escobar observed: “[O]ne could criticize a given approach and propose modifications or improvements accordingly, but the fact of development itself, and the need for it, could not be doubted” (Escobar, 1995: 5). Like the concept of “civilization” in the nineteenth century or the concept of “God” in the twelfth century, “development” had become a fixture in the dominant social imaginary making it impossible to conceive of reality in other terms (Ferguson, 1994:
Stark - 14 xiii). Employing the analytic tools of poststructuralism, the work of Ferguson and Escobar mark an elemental break from this dominant worldview or Weltanschauung. In his book, The Anti-Politics Machine, Ferguson (1994) understands “development” as an “interpretive grid through which impoverished regions of the world are known to us” (Ferguson, 1994: xiii). Importantly, “development” does not reflect reality but rather shapes the ways in which reality is imagined and acted upon. As Ferguson states: Within this interpretive grid, a host of everyday observations are rendered intelligible and meaningful. Poor countries are by definition “less developed,” and the poverty and powerlessness of the people who live in such countries are only the external signs of this underlying condition. The images of the ragged poor of Asia thus become legible as markers of a stage of development, while the bloated bellies of African children are the signs of social as well as nutritional deficiency. Within this problematic, it appears self-evident that debtor Third World nation-state and starving peasants share a common “problem,” that both lack a single “thing”: “development.” (Ferguson, 1994: xiii) Through this theoretical lens, we see “development” not as innate or natural, but rather contingent and historically produced. With this understanding, it is then possible to “stand detached from it [Development discourse], bracketing its familiarity, in order to analyze the theoretical and practical context with which it has been associated” (Foucault, 1986: 3). For Ferguson, this means considering the social effects produced by development discourse in the context of rural Lesotho. In his investigation of the ThabaTseka Development Project, Ferguson highlights the ways in which development discourse functioned to reinforce and expand bureaucratic state power, destabilize rural social relations and depoliticize questions of poverty (Ferguson, 1994: 251-277). Importantly, Ferguson illustrates the productive capacity of development discourse: failed development projects fuel the need for new strategies, greater technical expertise
Stark - 15 and increased state presence. Paradoxically failed development produces more development. In his book, Encountering Development, Arturo Escobar (1995) seeks to expand on the arguments of Ferguson and demonstrate the ways in which “development” has come to organize the social reality of Asia, Africa and Latin America. For Escobar, development discourse constructs the Third World as a place of “powerlessness, passivity, poverty, and ignorance, usually dark and lacking in historical agency as if waiting for the (white) Western hand to help subjects along” (Escobar, 1995: 8). 5 In its construction of the Third World as an object of knowledge, Escobar understands “development” to be analogous to colonial discourse: The objective of colonial discourse is to construe the colonized as a population of degenerate types on the basis of racial origin, in order to justify conquest and to establish systems of administration and instruction…I am referring to a form of governmentality that in marking out a “subject nation,” appropriates, directs and dominates its various spheres of activity. (Cited in Escobar, 1995: 9) Similarly development discourse has created “an extremely efficient apparatus for producing knowledge about, and the exercise of power over, the Third World” (Escobar, 1995: 9). Once the Third World is constructed as a place of lack and deficiency, the alleviation of these conditions demands intervention by government and aid agencies and thus the “development industry” becomes necessary and natural. By revealing the interrelations of knowledge and control, Escobar affirms the inseparable link between “development” and systems of Western hegemony. The Development Dictionary, edited by Wolfgang Sachs (1992), similarly employs a poststructuralist framework to deconstruct central concepts of the development !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Stark - 16 discourse such as planning, population, environment, production, equality, participation, market, poverty and so on. The aim of the book is to demonstrate the contingency of these concepts by locating their origin in European civilization and revealing the particular historical events that led to their transformation. Through this critical genealogy, the authors underline the arbitrary nature of these concepts and their destructive capacity when deployed in the context of the Third World. Furthermore the authors highlight the ways in which non-Western knowledge systems have been excluded from development discourse and argue that these systems should be revisited. The Problems of Postdevelopment Through a discussion of the central themes and works of post-development, the undeniable strengths of the framework clearly emerge. By continually directing attention toward the contingency of dominant modes of thought, post-development makes visible the rifts and instabilities upon which “development” discourse has been constructed. Far from neutral and apolitical, Western claims of universalism are seen to justify and perpetuate Western dominance of the world system. In revealing the contingent nature of “development” and its potentially hegemonic implications, post-development opens a necessary space of critical awareness from which marginalization and exclusion become visible and thus contestable. While acknowledging these key strengths, many development theorists have sought to illuminate the ways in which the postdevelopment school is problematic (Agrawal, 1996; Kiely, 1999; Storey, 2000; Everett, 1997). Ultimately these theorists underline two inter-related limitations of the post-development school, namely its methodological inconsistencies and its political impotence. The following section provides a brief overview of these criticisms.
Stark - 17 For many critics, post-development theory suffers from methodological inconsistencies arising from its singular and homogenous understanding of
“development.” Throughout postdevelopment literature, development is portrayed “in terms of a monolithic hegemony” (Cited in Kiely, 1999: 18). As Kiely observes, “irrespective of time and place, development constitutes the exercise of Western power over non-Western people” (Kiely, 1999: 18). Two problematic implications arise from this unitary and undifferentiated framework: Firstly it obscures the ways in which development and its effects are diverse, heterogeneous and contested. Secondly, the framework leads into unproductive binary oppositions in which the South and the local are constructed as ‘noble’ while the North and the Global are portrayed as ‘evil.’ This criticism is perhaps best articulated in the work of Margaret Everett. In her article, “The Ghost in the Machine,” Everett illuminates the complex processes of negotiation, resistance and accommodation underlying programs of “sustainable development” and other development strategies in Bogota, Columbia. By underlining the ways in which “development” is manipulated and rewritten at the local level, Everett shows that development is neither so monolithic nor as hegemonic as post-development theorists may suggest. By obscuring these complexities, post-development imposes conceptual binaries and thus fundamentally misinterprets the complex mechanisms that underlie development discourse. After establishing these methodological concerns, it is necessary to understand how these criticisms function alongside claims that postdevelopment is politically impotent. As many scholars have acknowledged, by treating “development” as unitary and undifferentiated, there is a sense in which anything connected to “development”
Stark - 18 becomes tainted- functioning only to reconstitute systems of Western domination. Thus postdevelopment’s deconstructive approach offers little space for positive political engagement (Kiely, 1999; Pieterse, 1998; Storey, 2000; Little and Painter, 1995). These critics underscore the reflexive implications of many poststructuralist accounts. By descending into a state of relativism, there can be no stable ground from which to move beyond critique toward productive avenues of change. Thus postdevelopment scholars suggest that systems of knowledge/ power ought to be resisted yet provide no standpoint from which such resistance could be launched. This paper contributes to this body of literature by illuminating the deeper philosophic tensions from which these limitations arise. The following section argues that by adopting a Foucauldian notion of power and committing itself to a Nietzschean relativism, postdevelopment undermines the anchor from which radical development theory derives its purpose and meaning. The result is a field that is increasingly fragmented and impotent, unable to develop a coherent challenge to the dominant frameworks of neoliberalism.
Stark - 19 II. THE SCHIZOPHRENIA OF POSTDEVELOPMENT The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear. ANTONIO GRAMSCI, Prison Notebooks In his essay, Postmodernism and Consumer Society, Fredric Jameson invokes the Lacanian notion of the ‘schizophrenic’ to describe the postmodern cultural formations characteristic of Late Capitalism. For Lacan, schizophrenia is understood as a language disorder in which there is a “break in the chain of signification” and thus the subject is unable to enter into the realm of speech and language (Homer, 1998: 105). To understand this breakdown in signification, it is helpful to revisit concepts of structuralism. As previously stated, structuralism is the insight that language is a system of interrelated elements. Meaning is produced through the internal relationships of these various elements, namely a signifier (the sound of a word, the script of a text), a signified (the meaning of that sound or material text) and the referent (the “real” object to which the sign refers) (Jameson, 1983: 119).6 However the development of structuralism and emergence of poststructuralism has led to a deep skepticism of the referent. As Jameson observes, “There has been a tendency to feel that reference is a kind of myth, that one can no longer talk about the ‘real’ in that external or objective way. So we are left with the sign itself and its two components” (Jameson, 1983: 119). !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Importantly this view is distinct from a representational framework in which words are conceived as ‘naming’ things in a one-to-one correspondence between a signifier and a signified. When one considers the feeling of reading a sentence, we see that the representational view appears inadequate. As Jameson notes, “Taking a structural view, one comes quite rightly to feel that sentences don’t work that way: we don’t translate the individual signifiers or words that makeup a sentence into their signifieds on a one-toone basis. Rather, we read the whole sentence, and it is form the interrelationship of its words or signifers that a more global meaning – now called a “meaning effect”- is derived” (Jameson, 1989: 119).
Stark - 20 It this disintegration of the referent that leads to the “break in the chain of signification” (Homer, 1998: 105). For Lacan our experience of time is an effect of language. As Jameson describes, “It is because language has a past and a future, because the sentence moves in time, that we can have what seems to us a concrete and lived experience of time” (Jameson, 1983: 119). Since temporality itself is embedded in language, a breakdown in signification leads to what Jameson terms a “schizophrenic experience,” an experience of isolated, disconnected, discontinuous material signifiers which fail to link up into a coherent sequence. The schizophrenic thus does not know personal identity in our sense, since our feeling of identity depends on our sense of the persistence of the “I” and the “me” over time….[Furthermore] the schizophrenic […] is not only “no one” in the sense of having no personal identity; he or she also does nothing, since to have a project means to be able to commit oneself to a certain continuity of time. (Jameson, 1983: 119-120) For Jameson, this “schizophrenic condition” exists as a profound state of fragmentation and rupture, which functions to undermine any efforts to understand or change the course of history (Johnson, 2009: 21).7 Jameson claims these postmodern transformations represent a “cultural logic of late capitalism” that is part of a shift towards a new set of socio-economic and political arrangements. Thus by rendering the subject fractured, isolated, incoherent and immobilized, postmodernism is seen as extending and reinforcing the dominant logic of consumer capitalism. In this chapter I argue that Jameson’s account of postmodernism as a “schizophrenic condition” provides a useful analogy for conceptualizing the current state of development studies. Just as postmodernism has led to the disintegration of the !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
It is this condition that produces what Adorno hauntingly termed the “subjectless subject,” a being “lacking the reflective coherence and continuity which makes possible genuine experience, and reacting in a purely passive and disconnected way to every new stimulus and social demand” (Cited in Dews, 1987: 227).
Stark - 21 referent and reproduction of consumer capitalism, postdevelopment frameworks have subverted and dissolved the anchor from which development derives its purpose and coherence. By fundamentally undermining narratives of salvation, Progress, Truth and Development, postdevelopment has pushed development theory towards a state of increasing fragmentation and rupture. It is these tensions that effectively disarm radical development theorists and contribute to the perpetuation of dominant neoliberal frameworks. As Johnson describes: Development has become increasingly fragmented in terms of the theories, concepts and methodologies it uses to understand and explain complex and contextually specific processes of economic development and social change. Outside of neo-classical economics (and related fields of rational choice), the notion that social sciences can or should aim to develop general and predictive theories about development has become mired in a philosophical and political orientation that questions the ability of scholars to make universal or comparative statements about the nature of history, cultural diversity and progress. The result is a field that has become extremely good at documenting the nuance and complexity of local development processes, but rather less good at connecting these ground realities to wider, historical trends and forces. [emphasis added] (Johnson, 2009: 15) Thus development scholars find themselves isolated, fragmented and disconnected, lacking the intellectual tools necessary to develop foundational theories from which larger networks of resistance and reform could be constructed against the reigning orthodoxy of neoliberalism. As Corbridge notes: “These are strange times in development studies. There are few takers now for a socialist alternative to capitalism, and the Right, suitably encouraged by the impasse in radical development thinking, has pushed ahead with its declaration of a Washington Consensus” (Corbridge, 1998: 138). It is in this inability to offer coherent alternatives to dominant frameworks that postdevelopment has led to a type of “schizophrenic condition” in which development is rendered
Stark - 22 foundationless and impotent, essentially becoming a “field without a theory” (Johnson, 2009: xi). To get to the root of this increasing fragmentation, this chapter discusses the theoretical limitations of postdevelopment frameworks and their relation to the deeper philosophic rifts that underpin modern European social thought. The Legacy of Michel Foucault: Power, Freedom and Truth In order to illuminate the deficiencies of postdevelopment, it will be necessary to interrogate the theoretical foundations from which they arise. Thus it is useful to return to the work of Michel Foucault and consider the ways in which the structure of his thought manifests in the arguments of postdevelopment theorists. More specifically, my aim will be to draw out some of the major limitations of Foucault’s conceptualization of ‘power’ in order to better understand the theoretical contradictions that underlie the postdevelopment school. As discussed earlier, Foucault’s historical analyses consist largely in charting the origins and evolution of modern concepts, discourses and institutions. By historicizing these fixtures of our modern consciousness, Foucault disrupts dominant narratives of linear progress and reveals the Enlightenment project – far from leading us toward truth and emancipation – has produced modern systems of power that are “more all-penetrating and more insidious than previous forms” (Taylor, 1984: 152). One would think that implicit in these historical analyses would be notions of ‘freedom’ and ‘truth.’ It would seem that by unmasking modern systems of control and domination Foucault moves us beyond deception and illusion towards liberation. What is odd and perhaps problematic is the fact that Foucault repudiates both these concepts – opting for a Nietzschean relativism
Stark - 23 that denies the notion of ‘truth’ has any meaning outside a given order of power. As Charles Taylor notes: Foucault’s analyses seem to bring evils to light; and yet he wants to distance himself from the suggestion that would seem inescapably to follow, that the negation or overcoming of these evils promotes a good…[For Foucault] the idea of a liberating truth is a profound illusion. There is no truth that can be espoused, defended, or rescued against systems of power. On the contrary, each such system defines its own variant of truth. And there is no escape from power into freedom, for such systems of power are coextensive with human society. We can only step from one to another. (Taylor, 1984: 153) In his essay, “Foucault on Freedom and Truth,” Taylor criticizes this position and provides a useful framework for understanding the major limitations of Foucault’s conceptualization of power. For Taylor, discussions of ‘power’ simply do not make sense without the foundational concepts of ‘freedom’ and ‘truth’ (Taylor, 1984: 172). Taylor’s argument for this claim proceeds as follows: The very nature of a notion like ‘power’ or ‘domination’ necessitates a victim (Taylor, 1984: 172). In Taylor’s words, “something must be imposed on someone if there is to be domination” (Taylor, 1984: 172). Something is only an imposition on someone against a background of desires, interests and purposes (Taylor, 1984: 172-173). In other words, it is only an imposition if the subject is prevented from fulfilling (or perhaps even formulating) a set of desires/ purposes/ aspirations/ interests (Taylor, 1984: 173). Because ‘power’ is linked to imposition in this way, it “cannot be separated from the notion of some relative lifting of this restraint, from an unimpeded fulfillment of these desires/ purposes” (Taylor, 1984: 173). It is this lifting of restraint that is captured in the notion of ‘freedom.’ Thus, power “does not make sense without at least the idea of liberation” (Taylor, 1984: 173). Furthermore ‘power’ not only requires a notion of ‘liberty’ but also a notion of ‘truth.’
Stark - 24 For Foucault, modern systems of control are effective because of their capacity to reach into our consciousness and make us complicit in our own subjugation – “it gets us to agree and concur in the name of ‘truth’ or ‘liberation’ or our own ‘nature’” (Taylor, 1984: 174). It is in this sense that modern systems function through illusions, disguises, masks and falsehood. Thus truth becomes an essential notion. As Taylor states, “Mask, falsehood makes no sense without a corresponding notion of truth. The truth here is subversive of power: It is on the side of the lifting of impositions, of what we have just called liberation” (Taylor, 1984: 174). By tracing these deeper contours of Foucault’s thought, Taylor properly demonstrate that Foucault’s concept of ‘power’ only make sense when paired with the foundational notions of ‘freedom’ and ‘truth.’8 Foucault’s refusal of these foundational concepts emerges from his commitment to a Nietzschean relativism. For Foucault, there is no order to human life or a human nature from which one could anchor judgments or evaluations between ways of life (Taylor, 1984: 175). In this view, truth does not exist outside a given order of power. In his essay, “Truth and Power,” Foucault outlines this view: Each society has its régime of truth, its ‘general politics’ of truth: that is, the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true; the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true and false statements, the means by which each is sanctioned; the techniques and procedures accorded value in the acquisition of truth; the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true. (Foucault, 1980: 131)
Various theorists echo Taylor’s concerns. For instance, Peter Dews notes that for power to have any meaning “there must be some principle, force or entity which power ‘crushes’ or ‘subdues’, and whose release from this repression is considered desirable. A purely positive account of power would no longer be an account of power at all, but simply the constitutive operation of social systems (Dews, 1987: 162). Similarly Jürgen Habermas argues that Foucault lacks a foundational normative basis from which the nature of power could be properly assessed (Habermas, 1987). Lacking this normative basis means that “we have no grounds for resisting oppression, or for determining which forms or movements are genuinely emancipatory and which are not” (Parfitt, 2002: 51-52).
Stark - 25 Through this lens, truth is understood to be subordinate to power and any claim to truth is merely an attempt to establish another order of power. As Taylor notes: “[The] regimerelativity of truth means that we cannot raise the banner of truth against our own regime. There can be no such thing as a truth independent of it, unless it is that of another regime. So that liberation in the name of ‘truth’ could only be the substitution of another system of power for this one” (Taylor, 1984: 175). Here it is necessary to emphasize that there can be no gain in ‘truth’ or ‘freedom’ from one regime to another, since each will be redefined in the new order.9 Thus forms of life become completely discontinuous and incomparable. Foucault’s commitment to this Nietzschean framework has two fundamental implications, namely (a) a retreat into a politics of local resistances and (b) a vilification of modernity. Foucault rejects any foundational basis from which a larger, global resistance could be constructed. Therefore he is profoundly skeptical of totalizing theories that make claims to ‘truth’ and prescribe paths toward liberation. This leads him to conceive of resistance in a way that is strictly local and context specific (Taylor, 1984: 176). The second major implication is related to what Foucault’s historical analyses leave out, namely the possibility that a change in form of life may result in a move toward greater freedom and truth. Since Foucault understands changes in forms of life to be completely discontinuous and incomparable, this type of evaluative judgment becomes impossible. Consider, for instance, Foucault’s conceptualization of the rise of modernity and the disciplinary systems that develop in armies, schools, factories and hospitals in the eighteenth century (Taylor, 1984: 157). Here he wishes to adopt a position of neutrality !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
This idea is best understood against the Hegelian view, which understands history as the teleological unfolding of events toward the ultimate realization of Freedom.
Stark - 26 where the classical and the modern are treated as two incommensurable orders of power. Thus the rise of modernity and new disciplinary systems are understood exclusively as the reflection of a new order of control and domination (Taylor, 1984: 156). While this stance allows Foucault to reveal previously neglected aspects of modernity, its more positive elements are denied altogether. As Taylor notes: Foucault has missed the ambivalence of these new disciplines. The point is that they have not served only to feed a system of control. They also have taken the form of genuine self-discipline that have made possible new kinds of collective action characterized by more egalitarian forms of participation… The point is that collective disciplines can function in both ways – as structures of domination and as bases for equal collective action. [emphasis added] (Taylor, 1984: 164) Foucault’s major success lies in his ability to disrupt linear narratives of progress and reveal the ways in which the modern project has extended systems of control and domination. While one must recognize these losses, one must also acknowledge modernity’s fundamental gains. Foucault’s commitment to a Nietzschean relativism blocks his capacity to identify these more positive elements and thus contributes to an analysis that is overtly one-sided. In adopting Foucauldian notions of ‘truth’ and ‘power’, postdevelopment theorists reproduce these theoretical tensions as well as the relativist foundations from which they emerge. Postdevelopment and the Dangers of Thinking Local My aim thus far has been to illuminate the theoretical tensions that arise from Foucault’s commitment to Nietzschean relativism and underline the limitations of his notion of ‘power.’ The problems that plague postdevelopment can be understood as mirroring these deeper tensions. Just as Foucault rejects any claim to ‘truth’ as an attempt to establish a new order of power, postdevelopment theorists understand any claim to ‘development’ as
Stark - 27 an effort to extend and reinforce systems of Western hegemony. This profound skepticism of universalizing narratives manifests in a rejection of both Marxist and liberal models, and a retreat into a local relativism. In discussing the declining ideological appeal of Marxism, Henry Bernstein laments: Many formerly Marxist academics, whose formation was in the 1960s and 1970s, have abandoned Marxism; there is much less Marxism available to today’s university students as part of their general education in the social sciences. The connections between Marxist intellectual work and the programmes and practices of progressive political formations, both parties and regimes, have eroded with the demise or decline of the latter…To the extent that one or another variant of Marxism exemplified a (fashionably) radical stance in the social sciences only a few decades back, this has largely been displaced by the various currents of post-structuralism, postmodernism and the like (loosely defined), the ‘radical’ ambitions of which rest on their subversions of the claims of existing forms of knowledge to objectivity and of any political aspirations to a project of universal emancipation. (Bernstein, 2005: 126-127) In line with these trends, many postdevelopment theorists have argued against the universalism of human rights. In an essay entitled, “From Global Thinking to Local Thinking,” Esteva and Prakash affirm that claims to ‘universal’ human rights are actually claims to power that function to reproduce systems of Western dominance (Esteva and Prakash, 1997: 282). To replace these universalizing schemes, they recommend a politics of local resistance (employing the slogan “think local, act local”), “an active struggle to oppose all abuse of power, both pre-modern and modern, in all forms” (Esteva and Prakash, 1997: 284). Thus the Nietzschean relativism evident in Foucault is reproduced in the work of postdevelopment theorists, leading to a rejection of universal projects of emancipation and a withdrawal into a series of disconnected local resistances. Terry Eagleton accurately sums up the current situation when he states: “In pulling the rug out from under the certainties of its political opponents, this postmodern culture has often
Stark - 28 enough pulled it out from under itself too, leaving itself with no more reason why we should resist fascism than the feebly pragmatic idea that fascism is not the way we do things in Sussex or Sacramento” (Eagleton, 1997: 24). The postdevelopment shift towards a politics of the local is problematic on many levels. The core of these tensions lies in its tendency to reproduce the conceptual binaries that it seeks to contest, such as North and South, developed and underdeveloped, traditional and modern, global and local, core and periphery. It is this pattern of thought, which is characteristic of our modern discourse, that Jacques Derrida has termed logocentrism. In her essay, “Modernist Discourse and the Crisis of Development Theory,” Kate Manzo offers a useful explication of this concept: [Logocentrism] describes a disposition to impose hierarchy when encountering familiar and uncritically accepted dichotomies between West and East, North and South, modern and traditional, core and periphery, rational and emotional, male and female, and so on. The first term in such oppositions is conceived as a higher reality, belonging to the realm of logos, or pure and invariable presence in need of no explanation. The other term is then defined solely in relation to the first, the sovereign subject, as an inferior or derivative form. It simply “stands to reason,” we might say, that the East should become more like the West, the South like the North, the traditional like the modern. What distinguishes logocentrism for Derrida is a nostalgia for origins; for a foundational source of truth and meaning that is pure, innocent, natural and normal; and for a standpoint and standard supposedly independent of interpretation and political practice. (Manzo, 1991: 8) Here it is necessary to emphasize, as Derrida has shown, that even the most radically anti-ethnocentric discourse “easily slips into the form, the logic, the implicit postulations of what it seeks to contest” (Manzo, 1991: 8). To illustrate this point, Derrida considers the work of anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss. Though Levi-Strauss rightfully denounces the supposed distinctions between historical societies and societies without history (known as the nature/culture dichotomy), he nevertheless constructs “Native
Stark - 29 peoples” as a “model of original and natural goodness, of pure innocence interrupted only by the forced entry of the West” (Manzo, 1991: 8). Thus Levi-Strauss’ ethnography exemplifies an “ethic of nostalgia for origins” in which he seeks a standpoint that is pure, innocent, natural and normal. Here logocentrism was not avoided; the culture/nature dichotomy was merely inverted (Manzo, 1991: 8). Theories of postdevelopment fall into a similar conceptual trap. Despite its efforts to challenge the simplistic binaries of modernization theory, postdevelopment moves uncritically to posit a noble Non-West against an evil West. As Corbridge notes: “Postdevelopment makes its case for change with reference to unhelpful and essential accounts of the West and the Rest…The West is coded as inauthentic, urban, consumerist, monstrous, utilitarian and more, and its men and women are pitied as lonely, anxious, greedy and shallow. In contrast the social majority of the Non-West are depicted as authentic, rural, productive, content, in tune with Nature and so on” (Corbridge, 1998: 144). Through this lens, development is understood “in terms of a monolithic hegemony” whereby an evil North poisons a pure South (Peet, 1997: 77). Mirroring the structure of Levi-Strauss’ ethnography, postdevelopment fails to challenge the underlying logic of modernization theory and merely inverts the dichotomies of North and South, traditional and modern, global and local. It is these conceptual dualisms that shape the discourses in which problems are formulated and solutions are imagined. Since the South is constructed as a space of purity and innocence, problems of the South are understood as arising exclusively from Western intervention. This is evident in the work of Vandana Shiva. As Kiely notes:
Stark - 30 Shiva and others are notoriously silent on questions of female foeticide and infanticide, domestic violence and gender wage differentials. Given Shiva’s focus on South Asia, her silence on the question of why women’s lives are on average shorter than men’s, in contrast to the rest of the world, is particularly disturbing. She does recognize that women are oppressed, but blames this on development strategies such as the Green Revolution. (Kiely, 1999: 39) Since the ills of the South are explained entirely as foreign impositions, postdevelopment theorists are led to reject any solution that appears tainted by the evils of Western Civilization and promote answers that are perceived (falsely) as emanating from a pure, local essence. “Having stepped outside the diseased circles of Modernity, Science, Reason, Technology, Westernization, Consumption, the Nation-State, Globalisation and Development, the peoples of the social majority can then make and rule their own lives at the grassroots. The key to a good life would seem to reside in simplicity, frugality, meeting the basic needs from local soils, and shitting together in the commons” (Corbridge, 1998: 142). This approach functions to both obfuscate repressive structures operative at the local level and close off possibilities for meaningful inter-cultural dialogue. These problems emerge from an inadequate understanding of culture. In the literature of postdevelopment, we are confronted with a world of unbridgeable “otherness” in which cultures are static, primordial and isolated. Contrary to this image, cultures do not exist in neat compartments interacting like billiard balls on the global stage. Cultural identities are dynamic and fluid with blurred edges, continually being shaped and reshaped by a multiplicity of forces.10 As Rigg correctly argues:
Salman Rushdie speaks to this point when he provocatively asks: “Do cultures actually exist as separate, pure defensible entities? Is not mélange, adulteration, impurity, pick ‘n’ mix at the heart of the idea of the modern, and hasn’t it been that way for almost all this shook-up century? Doesn’t the idea of pure cultures,
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The construction of the past to fit an image of our own imagination is not restricted to colonial historians and latter-day developmentalists. It is as much a feature of the post-developmentalists and their agenda. So, when scholars ask for interpretations of development, history and culture to be rooted in, and based on local/ indigenous visions and experiences, it is fair to ask ‘which local’? (Rigg, 1997: 34 -36) By adopting an approach that seeks to preserve an imagined local essence, postdevelopment narrows the lens through which solutions can be envisaged. For example, Apffel Marglin has argued that the British introduction of a smallpox vaccination to India was an act of cultural imperialism because it led to the abolition of the cult of Sittala Devi, the goddess whom one prayed in order to avert smallpox (Marglin, 1991). Increases in life expectancy were deemed unimportant because these concerns were grounded in the (allegedly) Western binary of life and death (Marglin, 1991: 8; Kiely, 1999: 42). Here we see how a position anchored in a supposed respect for cultural difference slides problematically into an indifference to suffering at the local level fostered by an uncritical rejection of any solution perceived as “Western.”11 This is similarly reflected in the unwillingness of postdevelopment scholars to recognize the !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
in urgent need of being kept free from alien contamination, lead us inexorably towards apartheid, towards ethnic cleansing, towards the gas chamber?” (Rushdie, 1999: 21) 11 These positions are doubly problematic as they function to reproduce the Eurocentric tendency to view science and reason as purely Western constructions. In her essay, “Is Modern Science a Western, Patriarchal Myth,” Nanda brings light to these issues and reveals that it was not until the eighteenth century that many European writers clearly proclaimed the West as rational the Rest as irrational, “eras[ing] from the history of ancient Greece, the supposed cradle of “western” philosophy, all traces of the “eastern” cultures that were pivotal for the formation of Greek thought” (Nanda, 1991: 37). Thus when Shiva claims “the domination of South by North, of women by men, of nature by westernized man… are rooted in the domination inherent to the world view created by western man over the last three centuries”, she further perpetuates this Eurocentric mythology [emphasis added] (Shiva, 1989: 30). In the context of democracy, Amartya Sen reveals a similar flaw in many supposedly anti-Eurocentric discourses. In his essay entitled, Democracy and its Global Roots: Why Democratization is Not the Same as Westernization, Sen reminds us that: “[t]he self-doubt with regard to ‘pushing’ Western ideas on non-Western societies is combined with the absence of doubt in viewing democracy as a quintessentially Western idea, an immaculate Western conception” (Sen, 2006: 217). For further discussion of these issues see Appiah, K. A. (2006). Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. London and New York: W.W. Norton & Company as well as, Appiah, K. A. (1992). The Postcolonial and the Postmodern. In My Father's House (pp. 137-157). New York: Oxford University Press.
Stark - 32 instances in which development has acted as an empowering force. Though it must be conceded that most of the time development has brought disastrous consequences, there have been undeniable successes.12 The postdevelopment framework leaves no room for these exceptions. As Agrawal concludes: “In posing the dualisms of local and global, indigenous and Western, traditional and scientific, society and state- and locating the possibility of change only in one of these opposed pairs – one is forced to draw lines that are potentially ridiculous and ultimately indefensible. Development, like progress, or modernity, may be impossible to give up. Harboring the seeds of its own transformation, it may be far more suited to co-optation than disavowal” (Agrawal, 1996: 476). Beyond Ethnocentrism and Relativism The primary aim of this section has been to elucidate the philosophic foundations from which the major problems of postdevelopment originate. Since Foucauldian notions of ‘truth’ and ‘power’ lie at the core of postdevelopment thought, these concepts were interrogated with reference to the work of Charles Taylor. It was shown that Foucauldian notions of power only make sense when paired with the foundational notions of ‘truth’ and ‘freedom.’ In rejecting these notions, Foucault commits himself to a Nietzschean relativism in which truth is understood to be subordinate to power and any claim to truth is merely an attempt to establish a new system of domination. From here Foucault is forced to retreat into a politics of local resistance and adopt a view of modernity that is absurdly one-sided. In anchoring analysis in Foucauldian notions of power, postdevelopment reproduces these deeper philosophic tensions and descends into an unproductive !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
For examples of these exceptional successes, see Krishna, A. (1996). Reasons for Hope: Instructive Experiences in Rural Development. West Hartford: Kumarian Press.
Stark - 33 relativism. Through its rejection of all projects of universal emancipation, the postdevelopment school is forced to withdrawal into a series of disconnected local resistances. Here we are confronted by a fragmented world composed of isolated cultural islands, lacking any foundation from which larger networks of understanding could be constructed. In this world of unbridgeable “otherness,” problems are explained with reference to the “monolithic hegemony” of Modernity, Science, Reason, Technology, Westernization and Development. In contrast, the local is celebrated as a primordial fountain of truth from which answers to our development dilemma will magically flow. Thus we are left with a situation in which “a positive local politics of empowerment slides fitfully into an amoral politics of indifference, or towards a local politics which craves no point of contact with forms of political practice which are connected to global issues and ostensibly ‘universal’ themes” (Corbridge, 1990: 97). Ultimately these lines of thought lead development studies toward an increasing state of fragmentation and rupture. By undermining foundational notions such as Progress, Truth, liberation and Development, postdevelopment dissolves the anchor from which development theory derives its purpose and meaning, rendering it impotent and fractured. The result of all this is an inability for radical development theorists to develop a coherent challenge to the reigning orthodoxy of neoliberalism. In the words of Jan Nederveen Pieterse: Postdevelopment is caught in a rhetorical gridlock. Using discourse analysis as an ideological platform invites political impasse and quietism. In the end postdevelopment offers no politics besides self-organising capacity of the poor, which actually lets the development responsibility of states and international institutions off the hook. Postdevelopment arrives at development agnosticism by a different route, but shares the abdication of development with neoliberalism. (Nederveen Pieterse, 2000: 87)
Stark - 34 Thus the final outcome of the postdevelopment critique is not a revolutionary return to a local utopia but a “schizophrenic condition” in which the hegemonic relations of Global Capitalism are reproduced and extended. These limitations of postdevelopment cannot be cast aside as insignificant or peripheral. However it would be equally problematic to dismiss these theories outright and arrive at the crass conclusion that postdevelopment has nothing to offer. As Corbridge notes: “In a quite fundamental way, the voices of post-modernism/ postcolonialism force us to ask what should be the first question(s) of development studies: what is development? Who says this is what it is? Who aims to direct it, and for whom?” (Corbridge, 1994: 95) In posing these questions, postdevelopment theorists awaken us to the familiar and unchallenged modes of thought upon which the practices and institutions of development rest. Here postdevelopment theorists have convincingly demonstrated that many claims to universalism are often no more than white mythologies functioning to extend and reinforce asymmetrical relations of power. Thus the success of postdevelopment lies in its ability to move us beyond the ethnocentrism inherent in technocratic frameworks that see development as an apolitical transfer of knowledge and resources from the North to the South. The question becomes: How are we to preserve this critical disposition of postdevelopment and thus avoid the ethnocentrism inherent in dominant universalist approaches, without surrendering to its debilitating relativism that disables any possibility for meaningful social change? The following section moves toward a resolution of these tensions.
Stark - 35 III. THE FUSION OF HORIZONS: A GADAMERIAN APPROACH TO DEVELOPMENT The great challenge of this century, both for politics and for social science, is that of understanding the other. CHARLES TAYLOR In the sky there is no east nor west. We make these distinctions in the mind, then believe them to be true. THE BUDDHA, Lankavatara Sutra In the introduction to his book, Provincializing Europe, Dipesh Chakrabarty identifies a “fault line central to modern European social thought” (Chakrabarty, 2000: 18). As Chakrabarty states: “[O]ne may explain this division thus. Analytic social science fundamentally attempts to ‘demystify’ ideology in order to produce a critique that looks toward a more just social order…Hermeneutic tradition, on the other hand, produces a loving grasp of detail in search of understanding the diversity of human life-worlds” (Chakrabarty, 2000: 18). Whereas the analytic tradition tends to assimilate local difference into some abstract universal, the “hermeneutic turn” leads many theorists into an incapacitating relativism. Chakrabarty’s aim is to bring these two patterns of thought into conversation in an effort to understand the nature of political modernity in the context of South Asia. In the realm of development theory, we are faced with a similar conceptual challenge: How are we to accommodate the critical insights of postdevelopment (i.e. avoid the ethnocentrism inherent in universalist discourses) while nevertheless escaping the slide into relativism that seems unavoidably to follow? This chapter attempts to resolve these tensions through an application of Gadamer’s notion of the “fusion of horizons.”
Stark - 36 In his essay, “Understanding the Other: A Gadamerian View of Conceptual Schemes,” Charles Taylor situates the thought of Hans-Georg Gadamer in relation to the dominant rifts that underlie contemporary human sciences. In explicating these rifts, Taylor identifies the central problem we find ourselves grappling with in the context of development studies. He states: The days are long gone when Europeans and other Westerners could consider their experience and culture as the norm toward which the whole of humanity was headed, so that the other could be understood as an earlier stage on the same road that they had trodden. But the recovery of the necessary modesty here seems always to threaten to veer into relativism, or a questioning of the very ideal of truth in human affairs. The very ideas of objectivity that underpinned Western social science seemed hard to combine with that of fundamental conceptual differences between cultures; so the real cultural openness appeared to threaten the very norms of validity on which social science rested. (Taylor, 2002: 280). For Taylor these inadequacies emerge in the contemporary human sciences due to a fundamental flaw in the model upon which these disciplines have been predicated. To alleviate these conceptual tensions, Taylor proposes a Gadamerian approach that will carry us beyond “the dilemma of ethnocentrism and relativism” (Taylor, 2002: 280). This alternative framework will be outlined below before moving to a discussion of its applicability to development studies. Understanding the Other and the Fusion of Horizons In Truth and Method, Gadamer convincingly demonstrates that to properly understand a text or event our approach must be formulated “not on the model of the ‘scientific’ grasp of an object but rather on that of speech partners who comes to an understanding” (Taylor, 2002: 280). Whereas the scientific model is premised on an attempt to gain intellectual control over an object, the “conversation” model necessitates an approach to
Stark - 37 the text or other as a dialogue partner who has the capacity to change us as we expand our horizons to understand it or her. For Taylor this approach is relevant for all human sciences and must act as the basis from which we understand our knowledge of the other. To further elucidate this alternative model, Taylor contrasts the two forms of inquiry: knowing an object and coming to an understanding with a partner in dialogue. Whereas the first approach is unilateral, the second is bilateral. For example, when I set out to know a rock or the solar system, I don’t have to deal with its view of me. As Taylor notes: “The unilateral nature of knowing emerges in the fact that my goal is to attain a full intellectual control over the object, such that it can no longer “talk back” and surprise me” (Taylor, 2002: 280). This is clearly the case in a discipline like microphysics where the aim is to finally chart all the particles and forces in an explanatory language that requires no further revision (Taylor, 2002: 280). In contrast, coming to an understanding can never produce this finality. Firstly the languages of understanding developed with one interlocutor will not necessarily prove useful when dealing with another. Secondly the life-situation of our present interlocutor may change and thus undermine the understanding at which we had previously arrived. Thus understandings are party-dependent in that we come to an understanding with a particular interlocutor at a particular moment in time. A final distinction that can be drawn between these two modes of thought is related to the ways in which they conceive of their final ends. While both approaches may require revision and adjustments, the final aim of the first model will always be to attain full intellectual control. By contrast, in coming to an understanding “the end of the operation is not control, or else I am engaging in a sham designed to manipulate my
Stark - 38 partner while pretending to negotiate. The end is being able in some way to function together with the partner, and this means listening as well as talking, hence may require that I redefine what I am aiming at” (Taylor, 2002: 281). To sum up, there are three components of understandings that are distinct from knowing an object. Namely understandings are bilateral, party-dependent and involve the revising of goals. Many scholars have argued against Gadamer’s conception of knowledge as understanding because it is thought to veer into a postmodernism relativism defined by complete incommensurability. To understand why these views misunderstand the argument, it is instructive to consider another way in which Gadamer breaks with the ordinary conception of “science.” The dominant view of science is that it employs a language that is clear, neutral and explicit. As Taylor notes, this is a false view that has effectively been dispelled by thinkers such as Kuhn and Bachelard. “We now understand that the practices of natural science have become universal in our world as the result of certain languages, with their associated practices and norms, have spread and being adopted by all societies in our time” (Taylor, 2002: 283-284). Taylor argues that these languages became universally diffusible because “they were insulated from the language of human understanding” (Taylor, 2002: 283). Thus the great accomplishment of the seventeenth-century scientific revolution was to “develop a language for nature that was purged of human meanings” (Taylor, 2002: 283). This marked a clear break from earlier scientific languages, which were infused with meaning and purpose. In stark contrast, the theories and approaches of the social science remain far more heterogeneous and contested. Thus there appears to be a fundamental incapacity for
Stark - 39 the social sciences to achieve the same universality as the natural sciences. For Taylor, the difference is related to the fact that …the languages of human science always draw for their intelligibility on our ordinary understanding of what it is to be a human agent, live in society, have moral convictions, aspire to happiness, and so forth. No matter how much our ordinary everyday views on these issues may be questioned by a theory, we cannot but draw on certain basic features of our understanding of human life, those that seem so obvious and fundamental as not to need formulation. But it is precisely these that may make it difficult to understand people of another time or place. (Taylor, 2002: 284) Here Taylor recognizes the central difficulty inherent in attempting to “know” or understand peoples and events existing outside our particular historico-cultural context. We slip easily into tendencies of ethnocentrism when we “innocently speak of people in other ages holding opinions or subscribing to values without noticing that in our society there is a generalized understanding that everyone has, or ought to have, a personal opinion on a certain subject – say, politics or religion; or without being aware of how much the term ‘value’ carries with it the sense of something chosen” (Taylor, 2002: 284). Whereas the natural sciences allow one to bracket out “human meanings and still think effectively,” these meanings are inextricably linked to the ways in which we understand and interpret human affairs. This background of hidden understandings, beliefs and meanings is so deep and fundamental to our perception of the world that there is no way of simply suspending it or operating outside it (Taylor, 2002: 284). It would seem that a consequence of these limitations would be that we are perpetually imprisoned by this tacit background of understandings and thus unable to make contact with or know the other. In Gadamer’s view, this is not the case. To use Taylor’s words, “The road to understanding others passes through the patient
Stark - 40 identification of those facets of our implicit understanding that distort the reality of the other” (Taylor, 2002: 285). By allowing our firmly held identities and understandings to be challenged and put at risk, we become “interpellated” by what is different in their lives (Taylor, 2002: 285). This causes two interconnected changes: “we will see our
peculiarity for the first time, as a formulated fact about us and not simply a taken-forgranted feature of the human condition as such and at the same time, we will perceive the corresponding feature of their life-form undistorted” (Taylor, 2002: 285-286). Through this process of “openness” we generate a language of understanding that bridges both knower and known. It is this transformation that Gadamer speaks of as a “fusion of horizons.” Here one’s “horizon” – the way one comes to understand the human condition and the world – is temporally put at risk and “fused” with the horizon of the other. Thus we become aware of a different way of understanding and believing in things and thus our horizon is extended to take in this possibility. Through this process we move gradually toward an improved understanding of the other as well as ourselves. Development as Dialogue The field of development studies is dominated by a conceptual approach that understands situations of poverty and powerlessness as objects to be scientifically studied and categorized. Even in its more radical circles, the aim is to develop some type of “intellectual control” over the concept of development in the hopes of generating a formulaic model from which all practice could be grounded. In his essay, “The Irrelevance of Development Studies,” Michael Edwards expresses these concerns. He argues that
Stark - 41 Although some progress has been made in exploring alternative approaches, inspired particularly by the work of Paulo Freire, development studies are still based largely on traditional ‘banking’ concepts of education. These traditional concepts embody a series of attitudes that contribute to the irrelevance of much of their output to the problems of the world in which we live. Most importantly, people are treated as objects to be studied rather than subjects of their own development; there is therefore a separation between the researcher and the object of research, and between understanding and action. Research and education come to be dominated by content rather than form or method; they become processes which focus on the transmission of information, usually of a technical kind, from one person to another. (Edwards, 1989: 117-118) Through this analysis Edwards affirms that “Development research is full of a spurious objectivity: this is a natural consequence of divorcing subject from object in the process of education. Any hint of ‘subjectivity’ is seized upon immediately as ‘unscientific’ and therefore not worthy of inclusion in ‘serious’ studies of development” (Edwards, 1989: 121). Postdevelopment theorists react against these currents and argue that we must abandon the universalizing project of development outright and return to a set of concerns that are distinctly local and context specific. As we have seen, this position generates a series of problems that disable any possibility for meaningful social change. In confronting this paradox of development theory, Gadamer’s insights prove exceedingly useful. By positioning Gadamer’s notion of the “fusion of horizons” at the center of development theory and praxis, it is possible to reconcile the underlying tensions of postdevelopment and profoundly reorder the lens through which we come to know what “development” means. In this new paradigm, “development” becomes the active process whereby agents relinquish control of a fixed identity and enter into a dialogue with the aim of patiently identifying and undoing “those facets of our implicit understanding that distort the reality of the other” (Taylor, 2002: 285). In this view,
Stark - 42 development is not an object over which we can hope to gain some form of intellectual dominion. Following Gadamer, it is a “fusion of horizons” that bridges and dissolves the gap between the knower and known, the developed and the underdeveloped, the modern and the traditional, the North and the South, the same and the other. In reorienting development theory and praxis in this way, we move towards what Paulo Freire described as cultural synthesis. As Freire states: “Instead of following predetermined plans, leaders and people mutually identified, together create the guidelines of their action. In this synthesis, leaders and people are somehow reborn in new knowledge and new action… Cultural synthesis does not deny the differences between the two views; indeed, it is based on these differences. It does deny the invasion of one by the other, but affirms the undeniable support each gives the other” (Freire, 2007: 181). It is in this sense that the Gadamerian view recognizes the fundamental ways in which opposing cultural viewpoints act to reinforce and enrich one another, leading to solutions that are more nuanced, comprehensive and compassionate. As discussed previously, the fundamental problems of postdevelopment emerge from its underlying commitment to a Nietzschean relativism. The Gadamerian approach overcomes this central tension and affirms a clear place for the concepts of truth and correctness. To demonstrate how this is so, it is useful to consider an example provided by Taylor in which he outlines a Gadamerian approach to Roman historiography. As Taylor notes: “Our account of the decline of the Roman Empire will not and cannot be the same as that put forward in eighteenth-century England, or those that will be offered in twenty-fifth-century China, or twenty-second-century Brazil” (Taylor, 2002: 283). In each case, historians will have to overcome different challenges of understanding: “they
Stark - 43 will find the people of that time puzzling in ways which we do not; they will need to make them comprehensible through a different set of terms” (Taylor, 2002: 287). It is this element of Gadamer’s thought that many understand as “relativist,” however this charge would be false. In each of these historical enterprises, there will be such a thing as better or worse historiography. As Taylor notes: Some accounts will be more ethnocentric and distortive than others, still others will be more superficial. Accounts can be ranked for accuracy, comprehensiveness, nondistortion, and so forth. Some will be more right than others, will approach closer to truth…But beyond this, we can also see a possible ranking between accounts from different starting points. Let us say that twenty-fifth century Chinese historians take account of the work of Gibbon, Symes, Jones, Peter Brown, and so forth. They will be trying not just to fuse horizons with the Romans but also with us as we try to do the same thing. The fusion will not only be bipolar but triangular, or if we see Gibbon as a distinct standpoint, quadrangular. (Taylor, 2002: 288-289) Through these statements, Taylor recognizes that there is another sense in which accounts can be ranked as better or worse. Here comprehensiveness is measured not merely by the amount of detail included about the object being studied, but rather on their ability to make comprehensible a wider variation of perspectives. “The more comprehensive account in this sense fuses more horizons” (Taylor, 2002: 289). In a similar way, a Gadamerian framework would allow development theorists to rank a set of development initiatives as better or worse. In contrast to the postdevelopment framework - which identifies all development as repressive - the effectiveness of a particular approach will be determined by the degree to which it authentically engages with a multiplicity of perspectives. The fundamental challenge of development thus becomes one of communication – of how to incorporate and synthesize opposing viewpoints to solve common problems. In this framework, criticisms are based
Stark - 44 on the extent to which certain voices are excluded and delegitimized while others are privileged and made legitimate. For example, we could critique the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) imposed on Nigeria for its incapacity to understand and “fuse” with the policies of the Nigerian elected bodies in Abuja. Similarly we could criticize an approach to the treatment of smallpox that relied exclusively on prayer to the cult of Sittala Devi for its inability to engage with the perspectives of Western medicine. The point here is that the best solutions will be those that allow the most voices to speak. By affirming this standard of truth and correctness, the Gadamerian approach effectively avoids the debilitating relativism of postdevelopment. Contrary to dominant approaches to development, the idea here is not for the North to come to know the peoples of the South so that it can help them – but rather so we can develop better solutions to our common problems. Thus in this process of exchange it will be of equal importance that actors in the South engage with the voices of the North. As Johann Graaff notes: In its new global form, the principal carriers of development discourse are the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and World Trade Organization (WTO), the most recent ultimate monsters, the ‘unholy trinity’ in Richard Peet’s words. The heretical question for Third World intellectuals, then, is ‘to allow ourselves to be interrogated’ by these Others, to ask what it is in their practices which corresponds with ours, under what circumstances might we be tempted, seduced, into acting in similar ways. When ‘they’ speak of ‘the axis of evil’, by what mechanisms are we also drawn into speaking of ‘the unholy trinity’? It is this awareness that ‘we’ have our own seductive versions of what ‘they’ do, across a whole range of practices, that will bring new insights and transformations in our understandings, not only in who ‘they’ are, but, more importantly, in who ‘we’ are. (Graaff, 2007: 85-6) Importantly this view rejects the notion that the perceived enemy is the source of oppression and instead demands the recognition of the humanity of the other. By
Stark - 45 undertaking these forms of dialogue, the agent acts to radically transform the relationships, attitudes and discourses that give rise to material and cultural exclusion. Rather than attempting to oppose the other, the agent seeks instead the transformation of power relations through an affirmation of a common humanity and interdependence.13 The wider implications of this view are still unclear. While I cannot claim to have worked out the various ways in which a Gadamerian framework will manifest in practice, the aim here has been to show the fruitfulness in reorienting development discourse towards such a discussion. My contention is that current conditions of poverty, powerlessness and oppression will not be solved with new or better economic models, a return to the local, support for “new” social movements or in a negation of Development altogether. Rather our collective future hinges on our capacity to understand and be transformed by the other. We must allow ourselves to reach the radical conclusion that our interests are not opposed and awaken to the fundamental commonality of our struggle. In the words of Thomas McCarthy: “We have things to learn from traditional cultures as well as they from us, not only what we have forgotten and repressed, but something about how we might put our fragmented world back together again” (Cited in Mannathukkaren, 2006: 86).
Stark - 46 V. CONCLUSIONS Let me say, with the risk of appearing ridiculous, that the true revolutionary is guided by strong feelings of love. It is impossible to think of an authentic revolutionary without this quality. ERNESTO ‘CHE’ GUEVARA As we move into this new decade, development theory lies in ruins. It is a discourse saturated by an unsophisticated and misguided application poststructuralism. At their best (Ferguson), poststructuralist frameworks offer insight into the ways in which discursive mechanisms operate to privilege particular viewpoints and exclude others. It is this in this capacity to critique forms of ethnocentrism that postdevelopment is most useful. At its worst (Esteva and Prakash, Shiva), postdevelopment reproduces the ethnocentric binaries of modernization theory and generates solutions that are both absurd and destructive. Far from leading us towards a local utopia, postdevelopment acts to paralyze radical development thinking and undermine any basis from which to challenge the reigning orthodoxy of neoliberalism. To overcome these challenges, we must undertake to revolutionize the field of development theory. To render this statement meaningful, it is necessary to inquire into what the word revolution stands to signify. Here it is instructive to consider the work of Raymond Williams. In his essay, “Tragedy and Revolution,” Williams reminds us: “We need not identify revolution with violence or with a sudden capture of power. Even where such events occur, the essential transformation is indeed a long revolution. But the absolute test, by which revolution can be distinguished, is the change in the form of activity of a society, in its deepest structure of relationships and feelings” [emphasis added] (Williams, 2001: 102). The inadequacy of postdevelopment lies precisely in its
Stark - 47 inability to bring about such a change. In uncritically adopting the form and logic of modernist discourse, postdevelopment fails to challenge the deeper structure of relationships and feelings upon which ethnocentrism is enabled to function. This paper has sought to make visible this deeper layer of relationships so as to render them contestable. In formulating a more radical challenge, I have argued that Gadamer’s notion of the “fusion of horizons” offers a lens through which we can come to better understand the meaning and practice of development. By positively affirming a common humanity and recognizing our mutual interdependence, we fundamentally alter the form in which we relate to and understand the other. It is precisely this ethic that underlies Gandhian ahisma. Gandhi counsels the satyagrahi: I want you to feel like loving your opponents, and the way to do it is to give them the same credit for honesty of purpose which you would claim for yourself…I confess that it was a difficult task for me yesterday whilst I was talking to those friends who insisted on their right to exclude the ‘unapproachables’ from the temple roads. I confess there was selfishness behind their talk. How then was I to credit them with honesty of purpose?...I am considering their condition of mind from their point of view and not my own…And immediately we begin to think of things as our opponents think of them, we shall be able to do them full justice. I know that this requires a detached state of mind, and it is a state very difficult to reach…three-fourths of the miseries and misunderstandings in the world will disappear, if we step into the shoes of our adversaries and understand their standpoint. [emphasis added] (Cited in Jefferess, 2008: 135) Through these acts of love and compassion, we move towards a “fusion of horizons” in which the dichotomies of modernist discourse - such as North and South, developed and underdeveloped, global and local, traditional and modern – are fundamentally transformed and dissolved through an active dialogue with the other. As Paulo Freire affirms: “No matter where the oppressed are found, the act of love is commitment to their
Stark - 48 cause- the cause of liberation…If I do not love the world- if I do not love life- if I do not love people- I cannot enter into dialogue” (Freire, 2007: 89-90).
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