For a long time, the term ‘development’ was supposed to conjure images of a neutral, unbiased scientific process that improved society. However many thinkers, including Goulet have helped development theorists and practitioners understand that no action is value neutral. This post will study the ethics of international development through a few situations where a conflict of values arises.
Is development unbiased and scientific? The answer to this lies in understanding the circumstances that give people the authority to change society. For example, let us take the construction of a large hydroelectric dam in a country with a shortage of electricity. This development project could be beneficial for the nation by improving its economic and social conditions. However, what if the dam destroyed a vital biodiversity hotspot and displaced local indigenous people against their will? Whatever the decision, whether in favour of generating electricity or of respecting the rights of indigenous people and the ecology, it will not be unbiased or scientific. It would be based on the values, power politics and needs of the situation at that point in time. Alternatively, what if the local people wanted the dam to be constructed and were willing to sacrifice their ecology and their lifestyle? With both the state and local parties on board with the project, do international organisations or ‘outsiders’ have the right to stop the construction of the dam and conserve the biodiversity of the area? This is also true of changes in culture. One could see the ban of headscarves as an improvement in the status of women as they are free to walk without a scarf. However, if we were to turn the issue around, we could say that they are forced to walk with their heads uncovered. It is all a matter of perspective. A more extreme case would be that of the Stolen Generation in Australia. These were aboriginal children who were separated from their families by the state and cut off from their communities, cultures, history and languages, till the late 1960s. This was supposed to be a method of developing the country and the people and is very clearly not a value neutral decision as it declared an entire community incompetent and abused their basic human rights of dignity and freedom of choice, amongst many others. This brings us to the question of legitimacy. If the development discourse and practise are not inherently unbiased or scientific, where do they get the right to change societies and impose decisions on situations and people? Between international organisations, the state and local people, the first two have the most power and say in projects and under the best of circumstances have been known to give a voice and legitimacy to the opinion of local people. However, must local people be given a voice or do they intrinsically have the right to decide the course of their own development?
Aid is also one contentious issue. At one level it could be seen as beneficial and as a method of redistributing resources so that underprivileged states have access to funds for education, health and post-war reconstruction. However, one must also recognise that continuous and infinite access to aid could create perverse incentives wherein poor countries choose to remain poor so that they continue to get funding. Gibson articulates the aid dilemma very effectively when he asks:
What’s wrong with development aid? Almost every part...has been criticized, the geopolitical agenda of donors to the distributive politics of recipient countries; from the ties that bind aid to procurement from private firms in the donors country to the constraints of on aid bureaucrats’ decision-making power; from the type of aid given to the type of accountability demanded.”
It becomes apparent that every stage of development aid can be fraught with ethical issues and power politics.
If most development projects are potentially harmful and ethically contentious, does this mean that development projects should cease to be? The aim of acknowledging and studying development ethics is to problematise a project. This means that we analyse the project, dissect it, understand its possible outcomes and consequences and then decide whether or not to apply it. This will not make the projects perfect, but it will help reduce the instances of mistakes that arise out of apathy towards the effects of development projects. Making sure that basic human rights of local communities are respected and enabling genuine and equitable local participation is a good place to start the process.
Acknowledging that development decisions and processes are much more than benign and intrinsically good decisions with beneficial outcomes and that development has the potential to damage as well as to benefit, compels the development theorist and planner to pre-empt the abuse of the development discourse for activities that harm rather than benefit a situation.
Some further reading:
In denial: the stolen generations and the right [Journal] / auth. Manne Robert. - [s.l.] : quarterly essay, 2001. - 1.
The samaritan's dilemma: the political economy of development aid [Book] / auth. Gibson Clark C..
Towards Development Ethics [Journal] / auth. Crocker David. - [s.l.] : World Development, 1991. - 5 : Vol. 19.
Through this blog, we seek to understand what the term ‘international development’ means and constitutes. In the first post, we will tackle an ethical and political aspect to development: development for whom and by whom.
“...we must embark on a bold new program for making the benefits of our scientific advances and industrial progress available for the improvement and growth of underdeveloped areas.”
“Above all else, our people desire, and are determined to work for, peace on earth—a just and lasting peace—based on genuine agreement freely arrived at by equals”
“Greater production is the key to prosperity and peace”
Henry Truman, 20th January 1949
Many consider this inaugural speech, given by Truman in 1949, the beginning of the development era. At this moment, development denoted a process of change that would bring about social and political progress through largely economic measures. In this form of development, destitution and deprivationcould be changed by science and industry. While there was talk of an earth of equals, the world was simultaneously being divided into one that was populated by the ‘developed’ and the ‘underdeveloped’.
This division is extremely pertinent to understanding who needed to be developed and by whom. It was made in the mid 20th century when the hierarchy of power in the world had shifted. After the first great depression, two world wars, the fall of large empires and the independence of old colonies, the economic and political powerhouse moved from Europe to the United States. Clear demarcations were made across the world to create a hierarchy in this changed world. New terms were coined to fit these roles and the first, second and third world became part of political jargon. These were industrialised countries (like the US), socialist countries (like the former USSR) and newly independent colonies (like India) respectively. After the fall of the socialist countries, the term ‘second world’ became redundant and fell through the cracks of political discourse. The other two phrases however, have continued to play an important role in defining development.
Development was, at that point in time, a process that had to be implemented on the third world by the first world. Development would be achieved mainly through industry where economic development would induce social and political development. Over time this format of development has shifted. In the 1970s the emphasis was on ‘basic human needs’, thus shifting the focus of development away from purely economic growth to the distribution of economic growth. This was still an extremely top-down approach with the third world as a receptacle of development policy. By the 1980s, however, grassroots movements challenged this top down method with international and national institutions making decisions on behalf of large populations, to more decentralised and participatory methods of creating development policy. These were increasingly more cognisant of gender and ecological issues. By the 1990s most economies had liberalised and allowed less state control in economic matters. This reduction in the role of the state and greater engagement between local participants and international organisations also gave rise to the idea that development had to be more decentralised. Thus, as we stand now, development is still seen as a process that has to be applied on third world countries, but the ‘by whom’ has shifted. Development is supposed to be conceptualised and enforced by people who would be affected by the development projects. This is a large shift from the original process envisioned in the 1950s, and is much more inclusive and equitable. However there has been much contestation on whether development is actually inclusive or participatory and whether it is something that must be applied only to the third world and these are issues that we will look at in newer posts.
Till then, Happy New Year!
Escobar, A. (1995). Encountering development: the making and unmaking of the Third World . Princeton: Princeton University Press.Hardikar, J. (2005, January). The destruction of 'development'. Retrieved 2011, from http://infochangeindia.org/200501036161/Other/Development-Dictionary/The-destruction-of-development.html Joshi, S. (2005, January). Dictionary of development. Retrieved 2011, from http://infochangeindia.org/200501076157/Other/Development-Dictionary/Dictionary-of-development.html Joshi, S. (2005, January). The development project. Retrieved 2011, from In: http://infochangeindia.org/200501056159/Other/Development-Dictionary/The-development-project.html Sachs, W. (1992). The Development dictionary: a guide to knowledge as power. London: Zed Books Ltd. Truman, H. S. (1949, January 20).Inaugural Address. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.bartleby.com/124/pres53.html