What’s wrong with Development Studies?

It is hard to think “Development Studies” (“DS”) as a proper “science” at the moment.

In fact, the one thing that comes out clearly of a rapid analysis of the evolution of DS thinking, is that most if not all “Development Breakthroughs” look much like a “flavour of the decade” list rather than solid processes valid most of the time

Here’s a quick review:

  • 1950s “Development” substituted colonialism as a way for Western countries to keep control and a presence, also against the Communist threat
  • 1960s “Rising income with own growth”. Huge investments in infrastructure. Large loans from private sources, but growth did not take into account distribution
  • 1970s Focus on poverty and “basic needs” with redistribution. Further borrowing
  • 1980s Switch to aid as poverty of people and States became entrenched. World Bank and IMF pushed for Structural Adjustment Programs. Start of NGOs
  • 1990s “Development” started to include non-financial indicators (Freedom, Democracy, Environment Damage). Focus on participatory programs.
  • 2000s Idea of the State back in focus. “Development” as power dynamics, considering also Women and Universities

What shall then we make of today’s mantras of DS such as Beneficiary Participation, Gender Issues, etc etc?

Obviously I am not suggesting they are not worthwhile and appropriate.

But what’s out there to indicate they will not simply be substituted by new fads, in a few years?

And of course the big counterpoint is that the one and only thing that has changed, ever, is the “Own Interest” of the most powerful countries, ready to defend it no matter what (and no matter what their stated intentions on getting people out of poverty)

This is doubly disturbing, if we consider that at the end of the day enormous resources will keep being wasted in following the latest fashion, rather than in making people get out of a life of poverty and high risk

A thorough rethinking of the whole field of Development and Development Studies is in order