development – what it is


The notion of development sounds ancient and historical. Sixty years have passed since the time Truman gave life to this concept which he successfully used to divide the world into poor and rich, legitimising the existence of the “Third World” and classifying it as a place inhabited by people who “lack” necessary resources and tools to overcome their status of “underdevelopment”. Development was considered the project which “eliminates poverty”. After the failure and disillusionment of various development theories a new era of critical development thinking – post-development – has commenced. In this essay I intend to examine the critique of development of those post-development authors who rejected development and those who claim to have found alternatives to development. In line with these authors I particularly aim to outline the reasons why development needs to be rejected and what needs to be refused in order for it to be functional in today’s world of constant struggle and dissatisfaction.

As Sachs (1992: 3 in Pieterse J.N. 2000, p. 175) claims “it is not the failure of development which has to be feared, but its success.” Sachs refers to the success of a particular development – the one utilised by the “developed” countries as a tool to homogenise humanity and eradicate its roots to facilitate the path to achieve total control over the world. What post-development writers reject is not development – the project of improving people’s lives but the “Post-World War II” (PWWII) development project, which consists of “ideas and practices premised upon the belief that some areas of the world are ‘developed’ and others are not and that those which are not can and should set about achieving the ‘development’ which has thus far eluded them” (Matthews S. 2004, p. 375). As a result, the success and failure of the PWWII development project lies in the eye of the beholder, namely it depends on where one is coming from. For the South all development has brought is nothing but destruction of resources, forests and culture. On the one hand, for instance, deforestation in Ghana has led to sharp increases of malnutrition and disease in the South (McMicahel 2008, 161-164). On the other hand, the increase of exports has benefited the North economically and supplied people with various food commodities. In northern countries economic growth and availability of diverse food is considered development. In the South, on the other hand, development is not necessarily the equivalent of economic growth. It rather entails a plurality of meanings depending on the context, that is the environment, history and peoples. In my opinion, the PWWII development project has not brought development in the entire world. Instead it has infected humanity. Various multinationals such as Nestles, Starbucks and Monsanto control our food supply and make sure farmers behave according to the rules of the system, that is they get sentenced if they try saving seeds in order to reuse them for the next season. The multinationals are obliging them to use genetically modified seeds instead in order to produce more and make more profit (Food Ink. Robert Kenner, Fortissimo Films, 2008. Film). This harms the environment and our health. Furthermore, millions of acres once used to feed poor countries are now used to grow kiwis, strawberries and asparagus for upper-middle-class consumers (McMichael 2008, 161-164). As a result, what the PWWII development project has brought about until now is nothing but destruction and underdevelopment both in the South and in the North. Most of the people living in “developed” countries are either unaware of what is going on or have no choice but buying what the supermarket offers because they cannot afford expensive food such as organic aliments. The frequent eruption of volcanoes, tsunamis and cyclones which according to the Shamans of the Amazon (2010, youtube) is the manifestation of the anger of nature which has not been looked after are other factors leading to total chaos in the world and which human beings are totally unaware of. I think that post-development writers such as Escobar or Esteva do not reject development. They reject the PWWII development project practised until now, known as development and are opened for alternatives to it.

To put into practice true development we need to dismantle what development discourse has created until now. It has “colonised reality and thus became reality” (Escobar 1992, p.419 in Pieterse 2000, p.180). Furthermore, all the prejudices and concepts about the Third World and poverty we have stalled in our minds until now need to be eradicated. In my opinion, this is only possible if we undergo a mental process of tabula rasa which will allow us to “open up the possibility to think reality differently” (Escobar 1992, 424 in Pieterse 2000, p. 180) and depict the world for what it is. “Human existence is nourished by true words with which men and women transform the world. To exist, humanly, is to name the world” (Freire 1996, p.69). Thus, “to speak a true word is to transform the world”(Freire 1996, p.68). I think, everything is relative and in the eye of the beholder. Therefore, if everything is relative, development is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. As a result, dichotomy gives rise to unauthentic words and consequently limits the process of transforming reality (Freire 1996, p.69). Therefore, development does not need to be planned since it is a natural and spontaneous process that manifests by itself. It ought to be accepted as it is and comes. As a result, there is no need for countries to worry about the development of other countries. Moreover, every country or peoples go through a development path which is diverse, distinct and valid only in the context it originated. I agree with Rahnema and Bawtree (1997, 385 in Matthews 2004, p.376) according to who “the people whose lives have been traumatised by development changes do not refuse to accept change. Rather, they want change that could leave them free to change the rules and the contents of change, according to their own culturally defined ethics and aspirations.” What has shaped our reality is discourse power representing other places (the power to name, to describe, to publish, to claim and construct knowledge) which translates the differences between the West and non-West into superiority of the former and justified political interventions that underpinned imperialism (McEwan 2009, p.65). The realisation of this fact is a crucial step forward which enables us to combat old mind constructs. I think that this realisation which is only achievable through a high spirit of awareness constitutes the alternative to development.

Reality takes a complete different shape if we annul all the discourses that have been created by development agents and theorists until now. In this way development is everywhere and underdevelopment is nowhere. An alternative to development, therefore, consists of making present the non-existent produced by the monocultures of knowledge, universal and global, linear time, classification and capitalist productivity, created by the Enlightenment thinking (Gibson – Graham 2005, p.5). In Jarga, for example, development exists. It is place-specific and determined by a mesh of traditional practices and relationships of gifting, borrowing, volunteering, sharing and reciprocated individual and collective work all of which are existent economic practices that have been rendered non-existent (Gibsom – Graham 2005, p. 15-16). An example of sharing is the tihap practice through which rice farmers receive money or fertilizers before or during the land preparation and repay the donor in rice, with interest added in, after the harvest season (Gibson-Graham 2005, p.15). I think it is necessary to change one’s thought pattern in order to see through and thus be able to speak a true word (Freire 1996, p.69) to finally change one’s attitude and behaviour. This transformation represents the essence of development which according to me has not been annulled by post-development theorists. I see a net affinity between those who reject development such as Escobar and those who are searching for alternatives to development such as Gibsom–Graham. Both are actually rejecting imperialistic and universalistic development that has shaped today’s society until now, the so called PWWII development project, and searching for alternatives to it. I think that an alternative to development is the acceptance of the diversity of the world which gives rise to different realities all of which deserve to exist in the way the people create them, that is with their culture, belief, personality, language, religion and way of expressing. I agree with Etounga-Manguelle according to who “a project premised upon a set of values cannot succeed in absence of those values” (Matthews 2007, p.380).

If we change our thought pattern we transmogrify our reality that is dualism into pluralism, homogeneity into heterogeneity, poverty into wealth. As a result, poverty can be a resource rather than a deficit (Max Neef 1982, 1991; Chambers, 1983 in Pieterse 2000, p.177). Changing our thought pattern means fighting the concept of orientalism, namely western representations of southern cultures (McEwan 2009, p.60). This makes reality more human and less inhuman. “Culturally perceived poverty need not be real material poverty: subsistence economies which serve basic needs through self-provisioning are not poor in the sense of being deprived” (Shiva V, 1998b, 10 in Pieterse 2000, p.177). If poverty is only a construct of the mind created by planners and development actomaniacs who “give the uniformed public the distorted impression of how the world’s impoverished are living their deprivations by presenting them as incapable of doing anything intelligent by themselves” (Rahnema 1992, 169 in Pieterse 2000, p.177) then the realisation of this fact automatically changes development and thus reality. We then eliminate the concept of poverty in our mind and start looking at people for who they believe they are, namely rich and wise rather than poor and ignorant. The annulment of development is the abandonment of previous mind construct. We shall therefore stop referring to it as development and accept reality for what is rather than for what should be or what it is not. Discourse power has created a farce condemning indigenous populations to near extinction, firstly making them think of themselves as inferior, underdeveloped and ignorant and secondly presenting them to the world as the ‘illiterate’, ‘malnourished’, ‘small farmers’, all of which are abnormalities created by development discourse aimed later to be treated and reformed (Escobar 1997, p.92). As a result, it seems to me as if development has been created intentionally in order to “underdevelop” people, namely taking away their dignity as human beings.

There is more evidence that outlines how complex the nature of development discourse has been. Anisur Rahman’s critique to post-development outlines how trapped people such as him are in the development discourse. He tries to save development by stating that “development is a very powerful means of expressing the conception of societal progress as the flowering of people’s creativity” and asking a fundamental question: “Must we abandon valuable words because they are abused? What to do then with words like democracy, cooperation, socialism, all of which are abused” (1993, 213-214 in Pieterse 2000, 183). These words might be valuable in theory, but in practice they are nonexistent. Democracy which is supposed to give the people an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives represents a farce, since in reality people’s lives are ruled by “private tyrannies” as Noam Chomsky calls them (Pilger 2002, 72), like the WTO (World Trade Organisation) for instance, an undemocratic multinational corporation, firstly because it is not elected by the citizens, secondly because it excludes other countries to participate in the decision making of trade (Black Gold. Marc Francis and Nick Francis, California Newsreel , 2006.Film) and third because it controls the global trade by establishing what supermarkets have to supply (Food Ink. Robert Kenner, Fortissimo Films, 2008. Film). Thus, “to glorify democracy and to silence the people is a farce; to discourse on humanism and to negate people is a lie” (Freire 1996, p.72). On the other hand, cooperation which implies togetherness and team work among countries is inexistent in reality. Instead people’s relationships are determined by separatism. If countries cooperated, then they would exchange resources equally and trade fairly. Instead “Iraqi children die because there is no chemotherapy and no pain control – the UN Sanction Committee had banned nitrous oxide as ‘weapon dual use’“(Pilger 2002, 50), while Africa has become more dependent than ever before. If Africa’s share of world trade increased by just 1 percentage point, it would generate a further 70 billion dollars a year or five times the amount Africa currently receives in aid (Black Gold. Marc Francis and Nick Francis, California Newsreel , 2006.Film). These examples prove Escobar’s statement to be right according to which the ‘discourse of development’ has been a ‘mechanism for the production and management of the Third World (1992b, 413-414 in Pieterse 2000, p.189) and “caricatures of the Islamic world presented in such a way as to make that world vulnerable to military aggression” (McEwan 2009, p.63). Moreover, they prove that development discourse has been sustained by utopian and quixotic concepts such as democracy, cooperation, freedom and independence all of which, in reality, are nothing else but the equivalent of imperialism. The use of these concepts have facilitated the elites to achieve what they intended, namely being the managers of the world. I agree with Escobar (p.91) according to who the most important exclusion, however, was and continues to be, what development is all about: people”.

In this essay, I have shown how post-development writers do not actually reject true development. They reject the PWWII development project. Thus, the rejection of development and the search for alternatives to it have the same objective and represent therefore the same concept. What the PWWII development project has contributed to is the eradication of people from their culture and the homogenisation of humanity which is anti-people and therefore anti-development. I conclude affirming that development exists. It cannot be seen if people remain unaware and incapable of thinking with their own minds. Awareness would not allow discourse power to colonise their minds. Development, therefore is visible only by those who accept the world for what is, namely with all its diversity and vibrations. Furthermore, “those who are able to recognise themselves as the oppressed are among the developers of this pedagogy” (Freire 1996, 35-36). An alternative to development is both the acceptance of the plurality and diversity shaping the world and the realisation that development occurs spontaneously and is determined by the people and the environment it originates. Once humanity accepts these two facts, there will be no reason of naming development anymore since development will just be.

Poetic Lyric


Black Gold. Marc Francis and Nick Francis, California Newsreel , 2006.Film.

Escobar, A. (1997). ‘The Making and Unmaking of the Third World through Development’.
In M. Rahnema and V. Bawtree (eds) The Post-Development Reader. Zed, London, pp. 85-93.

Food Ink. Robert Kenner, Fortissimo Films, 2008. Film

Freire, P. (1996). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. London: Penguin Group. Chapter 1,

Gibson-Graham J. K. (2005). ‘Surplus Possibilities: Post-development and Community Economies.’ Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, 26(1), 4-26.

Matthews S. (2007). ‘Post-development theory and the question of alternatives: a view from Africa.’ Third World Quaterly, 25(2), 373-384.

McEwan, Ch. (2009). ‘The Origins of Post-colonialism’. Postcolonialism and Development. Routledge, New York, Chapter 2 Excerpts, pp. 60-75.

McMichael, P. (2008). ‘Instituting the Globalisation Project’. Development and Social Change:
A Global Perspective. Pine Forge Press, Thousand Oaks, Chapter 6, pp. 149-189.

Pieterse, J. N. (2000). ‘After Post Development’, Third World Quaterly, 21(2): 175-191.

Pilger, J. (2002). The new rulers of the world, London: Verso.

Pushedforfreedom (2010, May 22), Shamans of the Amazon speak of our destructive
nature. This is a case of rebellion against technology and modernisation seen as the cause of destructive nature (Youtube clip). Retrieved from

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