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Teddy Talks: Wisdom from the one and only E.A. Brett

March 23, 2010

We are all ‘in development’ but this has very different implications for theorists and ordinary people in the south than the north. The latter operate in contexts where broad agreement exists over the normative principles and knowledge systems that sustain existing institutions. Their actions may be motivated by a desire for social improvement, but they do this through incremental improvements in existing structures rather than radical change. However, development in the south involves radical institutional changes that challenge existing rights and practices. We only support it where we disapprove of existing conditions, believe that better ones could be introduced, and only survive if we have the support of other theorists and popular movements.

Thus development in this sense is not what most people do in DCs, but is a crucial element in both every-day life and wider social, economic and political struggles. Here most people are still dissatisfied with their lot, and most theorists concerned with radical institutional change rather than reformism. This was especially true in South Africa where I grew up. The society was run on racist lines, while I was taught the history and literature of England where justice depended on equal opportunities, and excluded groups like the working class had already achieved social democracy.

If I can't dance, it's not my revolution

In South Africa Afrikaners and my own English community used liberalism to govern their own affairs, but denied it to the non-white majority, producing continuous conflict over social arrangements and paradigms that generated violent confrontations. Non-whites used western theory to justify demands for democratic and socialist institutions; most Europeans used illiberal racist stereotypes to exclude them. However, they taught liberal principles in schools and universities while they systematically disregarded them in day to day life.

Thus the small group of white intellectuals like me who took our liberal history and social theory seriously became de facto development theorists because what we learnt forced us to reject the principles that governed our own society and work to promote radical institutional change. This did not just represent a personal preference, but a political and social choice that not only challenged the rights and privileges of our own social groups and thus our own positions in it. Many of us resolved this dilemma by emigrating to societies where liberal institutions did already exist, but then used their insights to work in other developing societies and played a major part in the evolution of development studies as a theoretical tradition.


Dr Teddy Brett is a huge character in DESTIN, providing a wealth of knowledge and experience that we have all been able to use. His career has led him to brush shoulders with characters ranging from Idi Amin to the powers of the Labour Party. In addition to his academic skills, Teddy is known for his contemporary dance technique and stamina, which have put many a student to shame. Teddy is also the only member of the DESTIN staff with a facebook fan page in his honour.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Guo permalink
    March 23, 2010 11:44 pm

    Actually there is also a Diana Weinhold fanpage….

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