Towards the end of the twentieth century we saw a series of upheavals that have reshaped history forever – the breakup of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, the reunification of Germany, and the ascent of China. The fall of communism gave strength to neoliberalism and modernisation across the globe, but with the strengthening of these market-based nuances outlook for development started to drop. A new school of thought then emerged, questioning the very notion of development.
This school of thought is called post-development, which rose from the heels of three “postist” theories: post-modernism, post-colonialism, and, most significantly, post-structuralism (the theory actually anchors itself too much on the concepts put forward by French philosopher Michel Foucault). Post-development thinkers have used Foucauldian concepts to ultimately reject the notion of development; they view development as a discourse and a globalised bureaucratic force.
For post-development theorists, development can be viewed in four aspects – as discourse, violence, neo-colonialism, and failure. Essentially, post-development theorists claim that because of these four aspects, development has been seen as marginalising or dichotomising certain sectors (e.g. Western realities become universal, aspects of cultural, environmental, and human violence, etc). Post-development sees development as a discourse embedded with power relations, and that it has caused more pain and violence than emancipation. Ergo, development is merely an extension of capitalism. Post-development is seen as revolutionary, visionary, and reformist.
But is post-development a valid critique of mainstream development? Or is it just a reactionary critique? Critics of post-development would argue that post-development is merely another rundown critique of mainstream development and is just a language game. Some would even argue that post-development proponents have overused, misused, and abused Foucault’s concepts to further their own ideas.
But then again, post-development may just be as strong as mainstream development is when it comes to uplifting the statuses of the poorest of the poor. The succeeding posts will look at how post-development argued for alternatives to development, as well as how post-development played out in the field.
But for now, I’d like to leave us with a question: How “post” is post-development?