Beyond Colonialism—Continuity, Change and the Modern Development Project Geof Wood1



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Beyond Colonialism—Continuity, Change and the Modern Development Project

Geof Wood1,2

Introduction
My own history and personal career is intimately bound up with the story of development studies. When I was born in 1945, vast areas of the world were pink on the map, indicating British colonial domination. By the time of Suez, the domination of the UK was clearly in retreat. India and Pakistan had become independent and the African colonies has started their independence, with the new Ghana in the forefront, and all would become so within a decade. I went to university in 1964, studying politics and sociology in the School of African and Asian Studies. I joined the newly created Institute of Development Studies in 1967 as a postgraduate. Initially I worked in Zambia and Tanzania on decolonisation and the creation of an indigenous civil service (1968-70). Thereafter, I really became a development anthropologist, starting fieldwork in North India from 1971, and continuing to specialise in the sub-continent ever since. So I grew up with the evolution of Development Studies in the immediate post-colonial era. I shall want to say, later on in this lecture, that I think we have finally entered the post, post-colonial era in many parts of the world. The challenge for Africa is whether its countries have joined this post, post-colonial club.
I grew up in the same institution as Dudley Seers, Paul Streeten, Richard Jolly, Hans Singer, Colin Leys, Bernard Schaffer, and so on. I knew them well and gave my first seminars to them. Many years ago, Hans Singer came to Bath, at my invitation, telling how he worked with Keynes and Prebisch and connecting today’s ideas of development with the formation of the Bretton Woods system as well as understanding the economic characteristics of independent-dependent societies, especially in South and Latin America. So I am an embodiment of this history of ideas. And, although formally retired now, I was keen to have this opportunity to share some aspects of this journey with you. There are several key lessons to this history of ideas. The key first lesson is interdisciplinarity. Development Studies has evolved, rather like social policy, as an interdisciplinary subject. Even the economics dimension of development studies has been internally interdisciplinary: neo-classical, Keynesian, political economy, economic history, economic anthropology, econometrics and so on. When I started at IDS, I was almost alone as a non-economist, allowed to sit in the corner and watch the economists. But they had too much practical experience not to realise the value of anthropology, sociology, political science, public administration, history and cultural studies as IDS expanded its staff and remit.

Colonial Roots
How had this all come about? We need to connect present discourses to their roots in the colonial experience and practices, from where much of the ‘them and us’ derives in terms of power and the framing of assumptions, premises, motivations which provide the context for interference in the societies of others by those purporting either to be developed or having the ideas and resources to achieve combined development between themselves and others. These words are chosen carefully. There is plenty of evidence, from many parts of Africa, especially its trading and coastal areas, and Asia (South, SE, East) that by some indicators, they were further developed than their mercantilist visitors and subsequently conquerors and colonialists. We often mistakenly assume that globalisation is a phenomenon of the last few decades, but via mercantilism, conquest and colonialism, its origins are from the 15/16th Centuries—Magellan onwards via Vasco De Gama, as it were. A globalisation in which the intellectual traffic was two way rather than one-way. And this is a second lesson: development studies has been framed by the interaction and interface between societies, rather than simply a function of asymmetrical relations between the powerful and powerless. At the same time, we cannot deny that the ‘West’ has, until recently, established an almost hegemonic interpretation of that interface. That interpretation, de facto, is what has become ‘development studies’.
My own view is that that hegemony is now being potentially challenged by a pluralism of cosmologies, a re-location to mirror the global re-locations of economic power. Are we, thus, in a period of paradigm shift? It is complicated, as some indicators are contested while others are not. Even within the MDGs—some are more controversial than others, reflecting ethnocentricism, as were the HDIs before them. But these are questions for another lecture.
The colonial development process has been a complicated experience with varying motivations and objectives over time, reflecting changes elsewhere in the metropolitan and global political economies. Perhaps a third lesson is that there was no grand coherent plan. There were stages, events, and political responses as well as moralities and values in play. And many differences of opinion as well as styles and cultures. A fourth lesson, especially for Africa, is that ‘preparation’ for independence was woefully absent, and even in the longer build up in the Indian sub-continent, the final rush to Partition undermined some aspects of the preparation since the Montague-Chelmsford Reforms of 1917.
Given what we are trying to cover in this lecture, no attempt is made here to dwell upon the colonial period per se. No detailed chronological history:


  • of establishing, or replacing, institutions of law and order,

  • of building infrastructure,

  • of extending taxation and structuring tax to leverage non-subsistence export crops,

  • of enclosures for settlers,

  • of applications of agronomic science to adapt crops and improve productivity,

  • of creating educational establishments and developing a domestic civil service,

  • of building domestic armies officered by colonial professional soldiers,

  • of establishing marketing boards to fix farm gate prices,

  • of the introduction of alien crops (e.g. opium in India, rubber in SE Asia), and so on.

Instead I want to dwell upon the formation of ideas about the colonial mission and its more recent legacy in ideas of modernisation.



Dichotomous Ideal Types: Traditional and Modern
To capture this it is helpful to introduce the notion of dichotomous ideal types such as magic and science, rural urban, agricultural and industrial, closed open, superstition and rationality, personal impersonal and so on. In other words there was a framework of colonial labelling, and construction of the ‘other’ as primitive or peasant in contrast to the modern us. These categories of labelling underpinned a moral purpose, a civilising agenda. They also became enshrined in ‘ideal type’ sociology by the likes of Weber and then Parsons through his ‘pattern variables’ of ascription/achievement; diffuse/specific, affective/affectively neutral (instrumental), of role differentiation. Thus the narrative of colonialism was not just exploitative imperialism which was retrospectively constructed, but of civilisation, the engineering of a transition from hunter gatherer, pastoral and agrarian societies to market societies associated with urban and industrial living in which strangers can freely exchange, albeit within frameworks of bureaucratically managed regulation to ensure contract compliance and the information base for taxation. But that civilising mission required information about those to be civilised. Conquerors always need to know about their subjects.

Colonial Ethnography
Such information gathering was the foundation of today’s development studies. As an illustration, in India each District Collector/Magistrate/Deputy Commissioner presided over the creation and regular updating of the District Gazeteer—large descriptive books describing local economic and social institutions, flora, fauna, production systems, festivities and other cultural practices. Thus began a tradition a tradition of colonial ethnography and the evolution of anthropology as a colonial project. It is ironic to think that anthropology preceded economics, given that economics and economists came to dominate the subject in the contemporary era. Of course, such information gathering was motivated by an agenda of socio-economic transformation. Some of that agenda was addressed at socio-cultural behaviour such as infanticide, sati, mutilation and feuding. But much of it was about transforming the motivations for production from subsistence to commercialism in order to support a process of primitive colonial accumulation: peasants into farmers in other words. Such foundations of progress and development were directly continued into the post-colonial era through reorganising the terms of exchange between agriculture and emerging industry, between rural and urban, influenced by the Russian debates. Before we get to those, let me mention Malcolm Darling and the Canal Colonies of the Punjab, let me also mention the Gezira scheme in Sudan and the development of cocoa production in Ghana—3 different but good examples of the process.

Significance of the Russian Debates
The Russian debates (See Lipton 1977 for a good summary) centred around the principle of primitive socialist accumulation, leading to the development of communes and extractive practices dominated by the Communist Bolshevik Party, penetrating to the farm level. (Sholokov) An early post revolution suppression of the peasantry through draconian procurement generated a food crisis and prompted Lenin’s pragmatic NEP of allowing an element of market incentives to stimulate production levels beyond producer consumption needs. The rise of the Kulaks through this process again threatened the primitive socialist accumulation project with Stalin in the 30s refusing to allow the industrialisation project to be held to ransom through high Kulak prices working through to higher urban labour costs. Hence the crackdown.
This story is centrally relevant to any society where elites are seeking rapid transition from subsistence agrarian relations, as for example Nehru in India, or export led production in West and East Africa. An element of the debate was represented by Chayanov, introducing the peasant mode of production as a distinctive category alongside others. His argument essentially attributed the primary motivation for production to consumption and drudgery aversion—demonstrated through large statistics comparing different dependency ratios and their implication for work rates and per capita productivity where land was extendable under static technology levels. These arguments comprised the foundations of peasant studies and became a key ingredient in the analysis of risk aversion and unwillingness to innovate among peasant farmers. In societies heavily reliant upon primary commodities and their export as a basis for wider post-colonial development, this was the central analytical problem, generating large scale research into innovation, adoption and motivation as the building blocks of modernisation. The adoption of Green Revolution technologies as a route to food security (i.e. not just exports) through the generation of net marketable surpluses became included in these innovation studies.
Thus we have the rural development entry point to development studies. It seems extraordinary now to reflect on how the socio-cultural dimension of these issues has receded, while, of course, the issues of food security remain high on the agenda but analysed more through commodity chains and global markets. Another way of summarising this analytical period would be to think in terms of the Marxian contrast between the formal and real subsumption of labour under capital, via modes of production analysis.

Formal and Real Subsumption of Labour under Capital
Basically, outside the settler communities, the colonial economic presence interfered in the relations of exchange rather than the relations of production (Brenner NLR 1977). Thus pre-capitalist forms of labour recruitment and management (e.g. quasi-feudal) could persist alongside the extraction of primary products from such pre-capitalist producers through monopoly pricing to service markets worldwide. This is ‘formal’ subsumption of labour under capital.
The real transformation comes when the relations of production themselves are altered to the point where labour itself becomes a commodity, stripped of traditional and customary practices and loyalties. This is the real subsumption of labour under capital. Understanding this contrast is conceptually fundamental in determining where a society, or elements of it, are situated within the spread of global capitalist processes and institutions. Whether one looks at mining, factory work or agriculture, we always have to ask whether labour has been ‘freed’ from traditional ties and commoditised.
Although sometimes criticised as overly economistic and determinist as a way of explaining transitions, the transformation in the status of labour reveals key insight into social structural change more generally. In many contemporary poor societies, the transition from formal to real subsumption of labour has not been completed. The garments industry in Bangladesh is a case in point. The labour intensive factories may look like modern capitalist formations producing for export markets, but the recruitment and management of labour (mostly female) is locked up in gendered forms of non-transparent control, operated through informal relations.

Conditions for Capitalism (the real subsumption of labour)
Implicit in these forms of analysis was the dichotomous ideal type formulations from sociology, referred to above. Thus parallel to a Marxian discourse, and acknowledging its roots, a generation of late 19C and early 20C sociologists puzzled over how to represent change from pre-industrial, feudal-peasant type societies in western Europe towards the impersonality of industrial capitalism. Auguste Comte, Emile Durkheim and later, Max Weber inter alia. Talcott Parsons, a student of Weber’s, condensed much of this thinking in his pattern variables. We should also not forget Richard Tawney.
Distilling much theory, the key dichotomous contrast being made was that traditional society operated by ascriptive rules, performing roles in a diffuse and therefore undifferentiated manner, with high levels of affectivity. Such a structure of relationships was consistent with closed, small community, personalised societies—Gemeinschaft. Such an ideal type of traditional society was posited in contrast to modern society where the recruitment to position and status was a function of achievement, and individuals performed specific roles, governed by instrumentality, impersonally in a role differentiated manner. Such a structure enabled interaction between strangers, an essential requirement for dynamic, open societies embracing innovation and entrepreneurialism. Thus we could have modern capitalist markets extending across wider, impersonal space. We could also have purposive associations and interest groups—Gesellschaft (Tonnies).


Modernisation as Western liberal democratic pluralism
These modernisation assumptions of structural patterns necessary for a capitalist, open market society entailing dynamism and innovation became an overriding premise among rich country elites and global modernisers for the development of ‘traditional’ agrarian or pastoral based, pre-industrial developing countries. Thus modernisation became westernisation, with poor countries being ‘latecomers’ with an agenda of ‘catching up’. Such an agenda was not only about changes in economic principles and relations. The social conditions for such development also included political arrangements, forms of public administration and issues of governance. Central to these concerns were rights and freedoms, including rights to free expression, mobilisation and the formation of political parties to advance or protect legitimate interests. Such rights were intended to stretch to the formation of trades unions as well.
These precepts were the foundation for the ‘liberal-democratic, pluralist state’. In particular, these elements of transition fascinated political scientists from the USA, arising from their own experience since 1776 of deliberately erecting constitutions to ensure both the rights of all as well as the rights of individual. These forms of analysis were essentially structural-functionalist. What structures (institutions) are required to perform these essential rights protecting functions? In the USA, there was the DAG which pursued this agenda—e.g. with Almond and Coleman’s ‘Politics of Developing Areas’.

Us on Them: Cultural Labelling
This more formal, structural agenda had a more cultural and subtle counterpart, again with its roots in the colonial presence. One way of understanding at least the early phases of the development Aid agenda is to see it as an extension of ‘us’ and ‘them’, with ‘us’ as coming from rich, industrial and post-industrial, ex-metropolitan societies with ex-colonies. This was clearly a patronising relationship, with heavy racist overtones matching the dichotomy of modernity and traditionalism. There have been many ways in which this has been expressed and written about.
In India, this transformation in the colonial relationship really started after the first hundred years of being ‘White Mughals’, and indeed after the ‘Mutiny’, though interestingly enough some attribute the ‘Mutiny’ to an already over-intrusive, missionising zeal from an era of missionaries who resisted integration with the ‘native’. Later, then, in the 19th Century, the colonial agenda in India was a civilising one, and racist labelling took root alongside caste labelling in classifying status, worth and even intelligence in the society. Macaulay, as the Governor General of the Madras Presidency was a major leader of this civilising mission. The colonial labelling in India drew distinctions between the honourable warrior classes of the Punjab and NW generally and the devious Bengali—too clever by half, educated to be civil servants, but at the cost of providing more intellectual ammunition for eventual opposition!
This labelling theme (I have published on this) was pervasive and complex. Mannoni wrote about Prospero and Caliban, drawing on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, in the context of the French and Dutch presence in SE Asia. Franz Fanon wrote ‘The Wretched of the Earth’, as well as ‘Black Skins and White Masks’, derived from growing up under French colonialism in Algeria. Achebe wrote similarly in the context of Nigeria—‘Things Fall Apart’. And many more. And note the widespread acquisition of the colonial language whether Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch or English. The common theme was not just obvious forms of coercive oppression, but the more subtle exercise of power, inducing conformity and dependency, removing identities and with them, pride and dignity—the shame of being a colonial subject, obliged to ‘kowtow’ to the colonial master.
Given strong colonial masculinities derived from patriarchal social structures of western ruling classes, there was certainly a gender dimension to this socially constructed colonial dependency with women heavily labelled into femininity in relation to family, domesticity, public employment, ignoring for example their market prominence in West Africa. The ‘purdah complex’ was not greatly challenged by the so-called civilising mission. The depth of this aspect of colonial dependency has lasted well into the post colonial era, and perhaps only now are we entering a post, post-colonial era in which BRICs are emerging and the language of partnership has become stronger. But even now the Paris Declaration and the Accra Accords have failed to convince all donors that their aid should be unsupervised, non-specific budget support.

Modernisation: a problem of teleology and ethnocentricism
It is worth pausing a moment to reflect upon these change narratives: structural and cultural. The ‘us’ on ‘them’ modernising agenda was established as the hegemonic framework within which all understanding about development was to be constructed. In early development studies, societies were being dissected and analysed not so much for what they were (though there are some noteworthy exceptions to this from a few anthropologists) but more in terms of what they ought to be or become. One of our colleagues at Bath (Graham Brown) refers to this as subtractionist analysis: understanding a situation in terms of its shortfalls (or subtraction) from an expected, or hoped for, end state. Since the late 60s, we have understood the problem as one of teleology—assuming and desiring an end state of modernisation, and using this premise to construct problematics for analysis in terms of failure or deviations in reaching the ideal society.
While teleology may be less of a problem when operated within a society with ideals derived internally and some consensus over striving for them, it is much more of an epistemological problem when ideals derived externally from someone else’s historical experience are then applied as the conceptual tools to the subject of study. Yet so much of development studies suffered and continues to suffer from this, some might say ‘inherent’, methodological weakness or fallacy. For most academic students of development, there remains this central problem of implicit values driving their forms of analysis. Students of development tend to be driven by ethics, by a desire to create useful knowledge which will improve people’s livelihoods in terms of rights, security and poverty reduction. Thus it is very difficult to be purely descriptive and objective, and to avoid being subjectively judgemental. We are hard wired into ideas of progress and improvement, and these terms are imbued with values and ideals of how things should be. So many of our entry points and concepts bear this problem: gender, rights, imperfect markets, wellbeing, growth, equity, mobility, freedoms, merit based opportunities, the use of science. Indeed our very notion of ‘rationality’ (or Weber’s) is not neutral, but derived from culturally specific, ethnocentric experience. Teleology and ethnocentricity go together.
The ‘Aid’ project was and is founded on such teleological assumptions. To be an aid official is to believe in and act upon a modernising agenda—in all kinds of different arenas from macro-economic policy, state level governance down to empowerment of the poor. It is interesting that Sen’s capability agenda, derived from his earlier work on entitlements and freedoms, does not escape the problem of teleology, despite his reluctance to spell out his ‘functionings’ unlike the more honest Martha Nussbaum. Yet much development work in practice is the living embodiment of capability, with Sen’s thinking following rather than driving the agenda—despite many claims to the contrary! Actually the relationship for all of us in development studies between theory and practice is an iterative one, so that following and driving gets mixed up.

Development Studies: becoming a policy science
This is why development academics have a love hate, ambivalent relationship to the actual processes of deliberate development through policy formulation, programmes and projects. They are always in danger of ‘capture’ by modernising assumptions, concerned that their integrity can be compromised by getting too close to practice which has explicit or implicit conditionality attached to it. Some development academics resent the influence of Aid over their subject and subject matter, but aid is the subject matter precisely because it represents a continuation of a deliberate ‘us on them’ agenda. However it is also true that ‘development studies’ is not restricted to a focus upon aid, since it is about the engineering of change towards more inclusive improvement in everyone’s lives—whether conceived in zero-sum game, redistributional, revolutionary terms, or in Pareto optimum terms in which everyone is gaining something even if not equally or with more equalising outcomes. Development studies is therefore also a policy science: not just passively observing change, by trying to understanding the forces in societies which account for policies of deliberate change, and then trying to assess whether the claims made for various policy stances can in fact be upheld and validated.
And if the study of development is about policy choices, then it also has to be about the options and opportunities facing different societies at their various points of development. Thus, one key feature of the teleological, subtractionist critique of modernisation as the imitation of western paths of development is that conditions and opportunities for poor countries emerging into independence were and are not the same as for their former colonial masters. There is a historical difference and we should not generalise a path of development which is actually derived from a highly specific and unique set of circumstances.

Limitations of the Special Case
The key summation of that position in English was Dudley Seers’ paper in 1967 ‘The Limitations of the Special Case’. In other words the development of the West was itself a special case rather than the general one, and could not be expected to be simply reproduced around the world. Western development has been a function of its imperialist past and colonial domination of primary commodities to which it added value as the basis of its industrial path. This argument had parallels both in Hilferding’s earlier analysis of monopoly finance capitalism which was the basis of Lenin’s critique of imperialism, and then with the Latin America dependency critics writing in Spanish and Portuguese.
Dudley Seers used his argument to offer a broader, multi-disciplinary concept of development rather than one narrowly focussed upon GDP per capita indicators. He was thus particularly interested in the human capital dimension, and the role of educated labour in combating a simple comparative advantage stance, favoured by so many economists of his generation. In that sense he was as influential as anyone in encouraging non-economic disciplines into development studies via the studies of relationships, structures and cultures, and I was the beneficiary of that.

Divergent Paths: East Asian Tigers
As an evolving set of ideas about change, development studies has to deal with a global complexity and divergent paths as we entered the 1970s. Some countries in E and SE Asia had grown their economies very fast in the post 2WW period: starting with Japan, then Taiwan, S.Korea and Thailand, followed by the smaller tigers of Hong Kong and Singapore. These countries were seen as bulwarks against Chinese and Soviet sponsored communist insurgency (especially in the aftermath of the French defeat in ‘IndoChine’), and thus had also ‘developed’ under very special circumstances of post war US led reconstruction and strong, authoritative regimes in which education and skills acquisition had been strongly pursued alongside state management of export led economies.
These economies, to which now can be added Malaysia, Vietnam and China, thus appeared to be successfully reproducing the modernisation/westernisation model. I have, however, just listened to a keynote lecture at the recent DSA conference in York which points out that the S.Korea ‘model’ could not possibly be used as a model of development for today’s still low income societies—partly because it is still in a dangerous stand-off with N.Korea. It is, of course, ironic that the formal defeat of the western occupation of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos has nevertheless brought a form of successful capitalism to these societies, though still without full democratic rights in many of them.
It is further ironic that the arch neo-liberals (Thatcher and Reagan) heralded this success as a vindication of free market capitalism precisely at a time when Gordon White, and later Robert Wade, were pointing out that these markets were ‘governed’. So, one might say that E and SE Asia had a series of contingent opportunities and options which brought about rapid change (into middle income countries and beyond) through state directed rather than liberal capitalism, and where the development indicators remain narrowly measured in terms of per capita income rather than a fuller range of wellbeing indicators, including political freedoms. The East Asian cases seemed to validate the latecomer formula, but only under very special conditions and without all the bells and whistles!

Divergent Paths: South American Dependency
Meanwhile, a very different story was emerging in South and Latin America, where, very ironically, the latecomer strategies of import substitution industrialisation, instead, revealed a process of dependent independence. In essence the puzzle was that societies in South America had become independent since the second half of the 19C, but 100 years later they still seemed to be revealing the classic problems of underdevelopment and economic dependency, unable to realise the value added opportunities and multiplier effects that ought to accompany domestic forms of industrialisation. They remained trapped in the low technology end of production innovation (i.e. assembly rather than design in car manufacturing) and were adding little value to exported primary commodities by engaging only in elementary processing. Thus these societies were not ‘less developed’ or ‘undeveloped’, they were, instead, underdeveloping. With such an analysis of economy dependency after a 100 years of political liberation, it was argued: what hope for Africa?

Dependency: Political Alibis and Radical Discourse
These dependista arguments became very popular in the late 60s and throughout the 70s for South American politicians seeking alibis for their inability or unwillingness to tackle major social and economic domestic problems (especially connected to rates of urbanisation exceeding the capacity of economic growth to absorb the supply of under-educated labour) and resorting to authoritarian forms of political management. (NB Bill Warren’s criticism).
But these arguments, corresponding to the ‘limits of the special case’ position, were also strongly adopted by radical academics and CSOs, globally but also in the West, as the way to escape the teleology and ethnocentricism of ‘development as westernisation’. How could these countries possibly imitate the path of western, industrial development since they were, and continue to be, the victims of ongoing colonialist exploitation rather than the imperialist beneficiary, upon which much western development had been premised?
This dependista stance (e.g. the Haslemere Group in the late 60s) provided the intellectual basis for critiquing aid as an adjunct to western capitalist interests, for critiquing assumptions that modernisation was inherent and inevitable if only traditional practices and attitudes in poor countries could be overcome through reform, and for re-locating the ownership of the means of production as the way to enhance bargaining positions of primary producing countries in international trade agreements. Thus not only bilateral aid but also the Bretton Woods system came under fire.

Centre-Periphery: International Geography and Class Analysis
Without taking these empirical arguments any further here, it is useful to reflect briefly on the forms of analysis being deployed. Everyone became an economic historian. Many became neo-Marxist in attributing domestic class structures to international rather than domestic forces, and thus looking for international rather than domestic contradictions to drive change. There was also spatial, economic geography in play, using classic centre-periphery arguments (e.g. from Myrdal’s ‘Economic Theory and Undeveloped Regions’ applied in 1957 to Europe) of economic agglomeration but deployed internationally within a Marxian political economy framework of international class exploitation. These were exciting times: ‘us on them’ appeared to be replaced by the prospect of neo-Marxist inspired revolutionary movements arising from the globally oppressed (i.e. rather than the advanced organised proletariat of classical Marxian theory) through this paradigm shift. This opened up the prospect of a more autonomous path for development.

From Modes of Production to Actor-Oriented Sociology
But this apparent paradigm shift was not to last. Not because the arguments were wrong, but because they were too all embracing and reductionist. (See Booth 1985 ‘Impasse in Development Sociology’) And probably because they were over-confined to South America and parts of Africa. And while having some relevance to the Indian sub-continent, more particularly in a Myrdal sense of understanding internal regional disparities in economic development (see his 3 volume ‘Asian Drama’ 1968), the closed economy strategy up to the early 90s in India especially stimulated a more internal debate about the causes of widespread poverty and restricted access to opportunities. This was captured in the ‘modes of production’ debates in Economic and Political Weekly, especially situated in trying to understand rural transformations where landlords and peasants continued to keep rural economic relations in a pre-commoditised state. The contemporary version of this discussion is applied to the rise of the small, unorganised business sector in India, and across much of Africa. This agenda was picked up and applied back in South America by rural sociologists like Norman Long with his new lenses focussed upon ‘actor-oriented epistemology’, seeking initially to understand the interfaces between different actors and levels, involving both state and social institutions, and how ongoing economic relations evolved through these interfaces rather than being deterministically and externally imposed as in the dependista arguments. (An example of structuration)
Conclusion: Chaos Theory in an Uncertain World
While some of these analytical approaches were heralded as post-modern in the sense of neither assuming the modernisation project, nor in representing change deterministically, I think that all that has happened is a retreat from large global actor categories to more manageable sets of questions about livelihoods, poverty, rights and wellbeing situated within some problematised framework of increasingly globalised capitalism.
In other words, the current emphasis is less upon structured international inequality, and more upon volatility and insecurity, affecting us all as global financial and commodity markets become more integrated. If we need to look somewhere for an overarching intellectual perspective on international development (i.e. a move beyond ‘us on them’ to ‘them and us’), then it is probably towards aspects of chaos theory. That certainly appears to be the case in two highly inter-sensitive arenas: finance and climate. If not post-modern, as such, then I believe our current era is post, post-colonial, witnessed by some plurality of cosmologies evolving as a way of coping with increasing problems of unsustainable growth, and continued exclusion of most of the world’s population from the alleged opportunities of globalisation.
As evidence of this, a new problem, from a poverty perspective on development, is that with the world’s dynamically changing economies (in some refutation of dependista predictions) the bulk of the world’s poor is now residing in middle income countries (India and China especially, but also elsewhere in the BRICs) and not confined to Africa, as in the popular imagination.
This raises the question of where responsibility now lies for addressing global poverty, if resources patently exist within a country’s GDP? Does the rich world sit back and wait for domestic elites to embark upon more redistributive, inclusive policy agendas; or does it use a range of mechanisms through international agreements and conventions to advocate a filling out of the interdisciplinary development agenda embracing rights, freedoms, capabilities, governance, wellbeing and the security of agency beyond an exclusive focus upon the immediacy of material livelihoods?
But in posing the question in this way, it is evident that implicit modernisation assumptions remain and that the ‘end of history’ hegemonic project remains. And I would finally add that rich countries need to put their own houses in order with respect to many of these issues—hence the call for an international development discourse to replace the ‘us on them’ origins of development studies.


1 Emeritus Professor of International Development, University of Bath, UK; President of the Development Studies Association of UK and Ireland; Chair of the Board, International NGO Training and Research Centre, Oxford.

2 Lecture to the University of Ghana, Accra 12th June, 2012



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