The Crisis of Development Discourse
The rise of development theory has been an interesting phenomenon. In the latter half of the 20th century, many theorists have tried to explain the origins of "under-development." The debate over the idea of development has been intense, and has led to the emergence of two contending paradigms: Modernization theory and dependency theory. Upon close investigation, one realizes that both theories are problematic. This paper is based on readings of Escobar, Martinussen, Cruise O'Brien, and Pieterse. The purpose of this paper is to chronicle the origins and growth of development discourse, and to show how both paradigms share three flaws: an economist approach to social change, and an ethnocentric and teleological worldview of development, and the perceived universal application of the West's development experience throughout the developing world.
As Escobar points out in The Problematization of Poverty, one of the many changes in the post-WW2 era was the "discovery" of mass poverty throughout the world. This "discovery" had massive implications for development discourse. Prior to WW2, development discourse was limited to the colonial experience. But with the end of colonial rule lurking on the horizon, western academics began to formulate theories of economic growth and "modernization." As a result, an entire genre of academic research emerged: the development discourse. The aim of development discourse was to chart out patterns of growth (which were based on the historical successes of the West) that newly independent countries could use, primarily to escape vicious cycles of poverty, famine, etc.
The birth of development discourse was inherently one-sided. The impetus for development research began primarily in the developed world. Even those academics based in lesser-developed countries were either educated in western institutions or used the developed world's pro-western framework of analysis. As a result, development discourse existed primarily as an extension of western values. The validity of western ideals, such as liberalism, democracy, and technology suddenly became universally applicable concepts. Escobar writes:
That the essential trait of the Third World was its poverty and that the solution was economic growth and development became self-evident, necessary, and universal truths.1
As the world's leading market economy, the West defined the world's poor in relation to what they "lacked" of luxury. Suddenly, the developing world was seen to be missing something. In the end, thanks to liberalist institutions such as the World Bank, "almost by fiat, two third's of the world's peoples were transformed into poor subjects" almost overnight.2 Two things are important to note here: First, that development discourse began by presupposing the validity of western standards of living (e.g. basic health, per capita income, etc); and second,...