The Anthropology of Development
Marc Edelman and Angelique Haugerud
What is development?
‘‘Development’’ is an unstable term. Is it an ideal, an imagined future towards which institutions and individuals strive? Or is it a destructive myth, an insidious, failed chapter in the history of Western modernity (Escobar 1995)? Conventionally ‘‘development’’ may connote improvements in well-being, living standards, and opportunities. It may also refer to historical processes of commodification, industrialization, modernization, or globalization.
It can be a legitimizing strategy for states, and its ambiguity lends itself to discourses of citizen entitlement as well as state control (Cooper and Packard 1997). A vision of development as improved well-being, especially in former colonies, has gradually replaced the unidimensional economistic measures that neoclassical economists favor, such as GDP growth or economic rates of return to particular projects. Influenced by scholars such as Amartya Sen, the United Nations Development Program created a Human Development Index that combines indicators of health, life expectancy, literacy, formal education, political participation, and access to resources (UNDP 2001:14). During roughly the same period, a growing coterie of scholars and grassroots activists, some of them influenced by Michel Foucault’s understandings of power, has rejected outright the desirability of ‘‘development,’’ which they see as a destructive and self-serving discourse propagated by bureaucrats and aid professionals that permanently entraps the poor in a vicious circle of passivity and misery. Some scholars and activists in the latter category imagine a ‘‘post-development’’ era in which community and ‘‘indigenous’’ knowledge become a reservoir of creative alternatives to development (e.g., Esteva 1988; Escobar 1995; Rahnema 1997; Sachs 1992). The alternatives-to-development or ‘‘alternative development’’ position entails ‘‘the abandonment of the whole epistemological and political field of postwar development’’ (Escobar 1991:675), as discussed below. Others focus on development alternatives (alternatives in rather than to development) and favor reforms within the existing development apparatus (see Crewe and Harrison 1998; Little and Painter 1995; Nolan 2002). Some scholars in both camps celebrate the ‘‘local’’ and the ‘‘indigenous’’ – an inclination that figures in larger pendulum shifts during the past fifty to sixty years, notably in the differing views of community and ‘‘traditional’’ culture, with these alternately romanticized or demonized in development thought. Nearly all analysts agree that most development projects fail. Nonetheless, a faith in progress (an assumed capacity to improve the conditions of existence) continues amongst some supporters of all three positions – ‘‘development,’’ development alternatives, and post-development alike. What types of faith in progress motivate development theories and practices? The underlying historical teleologies include a presumed shift from kinship to contract, agriculture to industry, personalized to rational or bureaucratic rule, subsistence to capital accumulation and mass consumption, tradition to modernity, and poverty to wealth. As we explore writers such as Adam Smith, Max Weber, Immanuel Wallerstein, and others, we note explanatory shortcomings of views of human history in which the end or the process itself is made to fit a pre-existing design. Much debate about development in the 20th and 21st centuries, for example, explores whether all or most societies follow the same trajectory toward greater accumulation and well-being or, alternatively, whether wealth in some places or among certain social groups is causally related to poverty in other places or among other groups. Similarly, the notion of a single development trajectory implies that history, rather than reflecting the outcome of struggles between contending...
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