Development is identified with improvement and growth, thus a common goal for the whole of the human race. This blog will explore the problems of trying to define development by focusing on the way the moral obligation of humanitarian work tends to prevent people carrying out wrong doing from being held accountable and helps pursue political and financial gains.
The term development arose into the public sphere after President Truman’s 1949 Inaugural Address that largely separated developed states from the underdeveloped states of the world. The effect this had was monumental as it ‘turned the two antagonists – colonizers vs. colonized – into seemingly equal members of the same family’ (Rist, 2011, p.20). Thus created international appeal due to its focus on better lives for the underdeveloped and third world countries.
Nevertheless, there were a number of critics who questioned the term development, such as Teresa Hayter who stated ‘there was little attempt to define development. Instead, there was an unquestioned assumption that “development” whatever it was, could lead to improvement in the situation of people (Rist, 2011, cited in Hayter 2005:89). Thus any policy carried out in the name of development is seen as a moral obligation as well as one to protect national interest against terrorism, mass migration and environmental issues.
When development is defined as a moral imperative, Rist describes in Buzzwords how it can be used negatively and as a political tool. The work of Bourdieu explains this can be the origin of ‘symbolic violence’ because it avoids critique (Rist, 2011, cited in Bourdieu 1980) and allows a vacuum for governments to fulfill their agendas that quite often do not correlate with the needs of the world’s underdeveloped states. Aid is a great example of how donors have tied their needs into contracts to enforce national interests and agendas wrapped up as a package to help the world’s poor. Despite a positive influx in aid, there has been a growth in poverty levels in several regions across the world. For example between 1970 and 1998, “the poverty rate in Africa actually rose from 11 percent to a staggering 66 per cent” (Moyo, 2010) despite a massive influx of aid.
My personal meaning of development was created on my reflection of previous trips to India. As a child, seeing stark poverty not only used to sadden me, but confuse me. Why were children in India begging on the streets and children in my country were at school? Where the streets were used as playgrounds rather than space to generate money to live off. How and why was I born into a country where a police officer would ask a child caught out of education during school hours for a valid reason and millions of other children were born into slums where attending school wasn’t the law – but a major privilege?
Looking back, the most glaring example of inequality and unfairness was watching children on the beach of Goa walk along bamboo sticks they had set up for entertainment to passing tourists in order to hope of making a few rupees, whilst I was eating lunch in the comforts of a hotel.
Initially, my personal meaning of development focused on equality and opportunities for schooling. Nevertheless, as I learn more about poverty and related issues, my definition of what development should be has become more complex and intricate, as I have come to understand that poverty ‘a multifaceted phenomenon’ (Aneel Karnani). Whilst it has been my emotions that have drawn me towards wanting to study international development, emotional responses will not solve poverty.
Poverty I have come to understand is like an illness – it occurs when there is a lack of a fundamental agent – and aid simply acts as a plaster rather than solving the deep-rooted issues. Rather than talking in terms of plasters and medicine, the donors need to be discussing on a much more severe level such as organ transplants. Reassigning Vital-missing organs could contribute to flattening out tall hierarchies of concentrated power. Fundamentally, poverty traps will continue to spin until the current economic and political systems stop holding all the power and ultimately the freedoms of the poor.
Development for me is a re-think, a way to move away from a profit snatching mentality to a compassionate and fair way of living.
Bourdieu, P. (1980) Le Sens Pratique. Paris: Éditions de Minuit.
Moyo, D. (2010) Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is Another Way for Africa. London: Penguin Books.
Rist, G. (2011) in Cornwall, A. and Eade, D. (eds.) Deconstructing Development Discourse: Buzzwords and Fuzzwords. United Kingdom: Practical Action Publishing, .
Figure 1 – screenshot iarpoliticians (2013) David Cameron: On giving foreign aid to ‘bonga bonga’ (08Aug13). Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kXSNm54_vGI (Accessed: 19 August 2015).
Figure 2 – Instagram: all rights belong to the user: ivankoff