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!
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