By the end of the 80s development had begun to be viewed with a wary eye. Sachs decreed that development, “(I)s a concept of monumental emptiness, carrying a vaguely positive connotation,” (2010, p. x).

It came as no surprise to learn that a veil of disillusionment descended upon the field of development following the implementation, and subsequently disappointing results, of the Washington Consensus.  Scepticism was inevitable when it came to light that little had been achieved in half a century of development tactics. Inequality and poverty remained painfully apparent and now so too was the corruption of those who had their part to play in ensuring certain areas of the world continued to suffer the worse of it. There was also growing concern surrounding the environmental impact of development policies that advocated industrialisation. The detrimental impact on the environment as well as the increasing realisation that global industrialisation is non-sustainable all contributed to the emergence of the post development debate.

My surprise came when I realised that those advocating this ‘end of development’ appear to have done so relatively quietly compared with previous theorists. The voices of discontent were heard but they by no means blocked out the sound of expanding neo-liberalism. Post development ideas undermined traditionally western values of development. They turned the finger of blame for the failure of developmental policies on those creating policies not on the countries attempting to implement them. They undermined and discredited long standing views on modernization (ie Westernization) but most interestingly of all, here was a cry not for a new path for development but for a new attitude towards the meaning of development, if not an end to development altogether.  Here was, “A range of theoretical, cultural and political critiques that not only challenged the practice of development, but also the concept of development itself,” (Greig, Hulme and Turner, 2007, p. 211).

My reading of Sachs’ introduction to ‘The Development Dictionary’ highlighted the rise of globalisation, which had a dramatic impact on how we view development today. He puts development on a new playing field, no longer can a country be viewed as a separate entity, “The state was conventionally considered to be the main actor, and the national society the main target, of development planning,” (Sachs, 1992, p. vii). However, as globalisation emerged people’s attitudes, perspectives and ambitions altered. For instance Sachs argues that within this global arena emerging economies were seeking an increase in wealth but also ‘the desire for recognition and equity’. He made me stop and think about people’s perceptive within these emerging economies, was there a feeling that now it was their turn – the west had achieved it’s own version of success and now did they want a slice of the action? It brought to mind questions about why certain countries had been given a leg up on the development ladder. Given all this perhaps Sachs is right in stating that, “The ascendancy of China to the ranks of a world power is balm on the wounds inflicted during her two centuries of colonial humiliation,” (Sachs, 1992, p.viii).

He calls for ‘community and culture- based notions of well being’ to herald an era of post-development; but to achieve this would mean a radical change in how both richer and poorer countries view development. Sachs claims that it is the developing countries who are the strongest advocators for development as growth, a west is best ideal or as he puts it, “Countries in general do not aspire to become more ‘Indian’, more ‘Brazilian’ or for that matter more ‘Islamic’; instead, assertions to the contrary notwithstanding, they long to achieve industrial modernity,” (1992, p. ix). I find this stance that, “The mental space in which people dream and act is largely occupied today by Western imagery” (ibid. p. xviii), to be overly generalising to the point of being detrimental, nonetheless the failures and problems associated with the large-scale industrialisation need to be made more apparent to undermine the out-dated use of the west as a model for development. Until these issues are realised industrialisation can still be mistaken as the most desirable path towards wealth.

Many critiques emerged which sit within the post-development debate. I was particularly interested in reading the section titled, ‘The environment and neo-liberalism-’ in the chapter ‘Modernity, Development and their Discontents’. I suspect neo-liberalists are on shaky ground in their attempts to argue that economic growth does in fact support a sustainable future. For instance, “Competition with other firms, capitalist enterprises must constantly search for more productive and more efficient methods of production,” thus utilising less environmentally damaging production methods (Greig, Hulme and Turner, 2007, p. 188). Whilst I do not agree with this notion they did make me stop and think when I read about their sequence for development: “Economic growth first, then poverty alleviation, then environmental protection. In other words when the poor get wealthier, they can afford to take better care of the environment,” (ibid, p.189). That word ‘afford’ is what caught my eye. There is an edge of hypocrisy in insisting that development now has to be environmentally sustainable. I am not trying to suggest that protecting the environment is not a vital issue, merely that for those living at the lower end of the economic spectrum it is contradictory to expect them to uphold eco-friendly values when firstly they may be solely occupied with working to meet their most basic needs and secondly because nothing stood in the way of richer countries bulldozing their way into the industrial era. Perhaps they quite literally cannot ‘afford’ the time or resources it costs to be environmentally conscious. It is far easier to concern oneself with environmental issues from the comfort of a full stomach and a centrally heated office.

What I found most encouraging about the feminist attitude, as portrayed in the textbook, was the emphasis on transparency and understanding. Here, most vividly did I see a call for the consideration owed to the diversity of humanity and how this should impact our view of development. “They reject the idea that the western experience is a prototype that postcolonial women can follow. They are also wary of broad concepts that cluster women or other subject groups. Therefore, concepts such as class, ethnicity and even gender itself need to be analysed from the perspective of the culture in which they are embedded,” (2007, p. 205).

But how would these ideas work in practice? One of the biggest critiques of post-development is that it offers, “Little in the way of practical guidance to reducing poverty and overcoming oppression,” (2007, p. 210). It is arguably however that instead of its weakness this could be viewed as its strength. By not offering a quick fix, a well-paved path or a one-size fits all approach to development they open the door to policies which are sustainable and suitable for a particular country, region or culture. Realistically poorer countries are never going to ‘catch up’ with richer countries because the richer nations are simply moving ahead at too fast a pace. Instead policies need to be implemented which support and understand how a country is based able to develop.

Reading Lehmann’s review of Escobar’s ‘Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World’ raised interesting questions about the difficulty in defining what can be referred to as post-modernist since so many approaches can sit under it’s umbrella. Whilst Lehmann is scathing in his review of Escobar’s work he highlights important flaws in theories to date which are addressed under the mantle of post-development. For example, “The conception of development as an integrated package of measures and outcomes, orchestrated by a state apparatus…has become historically and intellectually obsolete,” (1997, p. 570). The common ground shared by the ideals set forth amongst post-development thinkers is the need to focus on sustainable, human development policies, which are specific to the needs and nature of the area. In my own experience the international delegates I meet through my work within an aid charity tend be specialised in one area of development, for instance they have gained vast experience of the challenges facing small rural communities which fall within certain parameters, or they are experts in the field of how malaria is affecting a specific region. They do not cover broad development topics; retrospectively I can see how this reflects some of the issues raised in the post development debate. They are attempting to hone their skills so they are relative, not to the masses but to the individual, learning how best to serve a community’s specific needs rather than implementing generic policies.

It is daunting to stop and think for a moment if the world in which you have lived will one day be seen as ‘a parenthesis in world history’ (Sachs, 1992, p. x). It is a depressing analysis of the twentieth century but there is truth in that we have developed in a way that is wholly ‘incompatible with the planet’. We hold aloft achievements born from massive industrialisation, urbanisation and capitalism even though we are aware at the back of our minds that not only is the clock is ticking on this way of life but that for as long as we strive to sustain it we lessen the chances of future generations inheriting a habitable planet.

This unit has left me hopefully. There are key elements that keep surfacing – such as transparency, sustainability and diversity. Perhaps the ‘end of development’ debate is a way of finally pointing out that the failure of developmental policies lie in the roots of our perceptions of development. “Delinking the desire for equity from economic growth and relinking it to community and culture-based notions of well-being will be the cornerstone of the post-development age.” (Sachs, 1992) Whilst I appreciate the critique that it does not offer a practical way forward – this, for me, is what holds most of its’ appeal. It does not claim to offer ‘a solution to every problem’ because these are relative to each, individual situation and so whilst it does not have all the answers it is at least asking the right questions.

Sources Cited

Greig, A., Hulme, D. and Turner, M (2007), Challenging Global Inequality: Development Theory and Practice in the 21st Century. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

Lehmann, D. (1997), An Opportunity Lost: Escobar’s Deconstruction of Development, Journal of Development Studies, 33:4

Sachs, W. (1992), The Development Dictionary: A Guide to Knowledge and Power, Zed Books, London