We at Do No Harm thought it would be interesting for people to write about specific books (nonfiction/ fiction, whatever) or journals or ideas that have inspired them in development but that have either not or only partially been covered by their particular courses.
So to start, here’s my suggestion for important-but-overlooked book.
Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World (1995)
One thing I’ve noticed on the courses I’ve taken has been the relative side-stepping of post-development theory.
We’ve touched on it occasionally in DESTIN – whether it be De Waal’s criticism of the Institutional Humanitarian machine, or more general critiques of aid effectiveness such as Dambiso Moyo. But these criticisms are of how the system operates as opposed to critiques of the system itself. There has been little discussion over what development is, and why we are working towards it.
A notable exception is the work of Zoe Marriage, whose readings we’ve touched on in Complex Emergencies and who calls for the entire re-working of the humanitarian aid industry.
I can only speculate as to why our lecturers have not included post-development theory in the ‘mainstream’ DESTIN lectures, and as a result isolated the theory to anthropology classes. As students of development studies and management, is it assumed we are already within the system and therefore duly accept the general collective goals of what development should be? Maybe because it is seen as too leftfield or alternative? Does post-modernism not fit in with the LSE?
Nonetheless asking such questions does not mean you have to oppose the ‘neo-liberal western liberal hegemon’ that many (most?) are critical of, but instead to remember the question of development of what and by whom and into what. These are the fundamentally important questions post-development theory has added to the development discourse, and Encountering Development did much to raise them.
Indeed, Escobar’s book is in many ways the pinnacle of post-development theory, up there with The Anti-Politics Machine by James Ferguson (in my humble opinion). Escobar argues that development should be understood as a historically specific representation of social reality, and that it only permits particular modes of thinking and doing, whilst disqualifying others. He talks of how social change has to be redefined by communities themselves to go beyond ideas of what we current envisage as ‘development’.
Oh, and for an academic, he has a cool homepage too.
What book have inspired you? Please email your contributions to email@example.com.