Alternatives to development

Post-development has vehemently rejected the idea of development (in the Western sense, though). And it is but logical that when you reject something, you propose an alternative. And post-development calls for alternatives to development. This is actually opposed to alternative forms of development which we talked about previously. There are three prominent alternatives: community economiesagency of practitioners, and focus on wealth.


In community economies, the discourse is shifted from a deficits-based to assets-based. The discourse puts focus on what communities have, rather than what they don’t have. In this way, post-development thinkers call for alternative economies centred on non-capitalist community development. Development is basically in the hands of the community itself, and not on external forces.


In talking about the agency of practitioners, post-development thinkers approach the fluidity of hegemony and create a space for agency. They view development work as a political process and those who practice development are agents for change. Conversely, this creates an opportunity to challenge those who wield power. Therefore participatory approaches (especially the revolutionary types) are very important in this discourse.


Finally, another alternative is to focus on wealth. This alternative basically questions the consumption patterns of the wealthy (and therefore has links to environmental critiques). In a way, this discourse accuses the wealthy of greed – having to consume most of the world’s resources without leaving a sustainable amount for the rest of the world. It is this greediness that kept the Third World in misery.


Sounds nice aye? But these alternatives seemingly uncritically celebrated rural societies, therefore depicting culture as a static. Is post-development and its so-called alternatives a new ideology or just a new set of jargon to describe the old ways of development?


I personally think that post-development works better in the field that it could on paper (refer to the post re: Buen Vivir in Ecuador). There are things that look good on theory but fail on practice, and vice versa. One thing I could note though: why not try it to see if it actually works?  And probably, post-development could work as a tool in advancing other notions of development?

Post-development in action: Buen Vivir in Ecuador

La transición de Ecuador de una economía basada en el mercado a una economía social y solidaria ha allanado el camino para el progreso continuo de la mayoría, si no todos, los ecuatorianos. Yo personalmente he visto cómo el presidente Correa fortaleció el país con la implementación de Buen Vivir.

A esto se añade el hecho de que Ecuador fue el primer país en reconocer los derechos de LGBT, así como los derechos de la naturaleza, no será una sorpresa si Ecuador repente se convierte en el líder mundial en el reconocimiento de los derechos humanos.

(“Ecuador’s gradual shift from a market-based economy to a social and solidarity economy has paved the way for continued progress for most, if not all, Ecuadorians. I have personally seen how President Correa strengthened the country with the implementation of Buen Vivir. Add to that the fact that Ecuador was the first country to recognize LGBT rights as well as the rights of nature, it will not be a surprise if Ecuador suddenly becomes the world leader in recognizing human rights.”)


That was the words that my good friend Martin Navarrette (who is half-Filipino/half-Ecuadorian and is currently taking his masters degree in Agricultural Economics from the Universidad Agraria de Ecuador in Guayaquil) told me when I asked about how Ecuador fares in well being among South American nations. Obviously he was very proud about how his paternal country (his father was born in Cuenca) has transitioned to a country whose residents were mostly living a good life.


“Aquí, en Guayaquil, aunque no todo el mundo es rico en términos económicos, nadie se queja (Here in Guayaquil, although not everyone is wealthy in economic terms, no one is complaining),” he added.  Of course, I don’t actually know whether he’s telling the truth or not, but I’d always give him the benefit of the doubt; for one he’s on the ground in Ecuador. But I think most of his statements are just testaments to how Buen Vivir became a successful policy in the country.


Buen Vivir, literally “good living”, is a Latin American based project that has its roots deeply entrenched in post-development theory. Some people would actually argue that Buen Vivir is post-development theory swinging into action. The ‘project’ (if you would like to call it that way) involves a wide range of stakeholders and actually embraces the rich cultural diversity of Latin America, not only its Spanish heritage but as well as its indigenous heritage such as the Quechua, Aztecs, Olmecs, Maya, Aymara, among others. Together with this acknowledgement of indigenous heritage is the recognition of past practices influencing the current living conditions of the people.


Ecuador was one of the first Latin American countries to embrace Buen Vivir. In 2007, social democrat Rafael Correa succeeded acting president Alfredo Palacio as president of the country that recently saw a wave of protests that eventually led to the ouster of retired Col. Lucio Gutierrez as president in 2006 (Palacio took over Gutierrez’s presidency as an interim). In 2008, Correa called for a Constituent Assembly whose main task is to address Ecuador’s poverty. The Assembly responded by drafting a Constitution that was overwhelmingly approved by the public majority.


The 2008 Constitution of Ecuador is a historic one, worldwide, in the sense that it was the first one to explicitly recognise rights of the environment, right to die with dignity, right to love and be loved, right to free time for contemplation, , right to food, drug liberalisation, same-sex relationships, and gender identity. These newly recognised rights are added to the list of universally accepted rights as set out in the Geneva Convention (e.g. right to education, right to healthcare etc.). And the original universal rights were further strengthened by the Constitution. Case in point: Ecuador was the first country in the world to constitutionally remove tuition and other user-fees. Starting in 2012, admission to all 29 public universities in Ecuador will be based on an aptitude test.


But has Buen Vivir did wonders for Ecuador economically? President Correa seemed not to be too keen on economic indicators. In an interview, he explicitly stated that he was after the well-being of his people, that his country’s youth get educated, that his people will receive adequate healthcare, and that his country has adequate food to eat.


This is the Latin American concept of Buen Vivir. This is post-development in action. We are so engrossed with the Western model of development that is based on economic growth and indicators that we forget that human development is very important to progress. For Latin America, and especially Ecuador, human rights and dignity come first before economic progress. And I should say, Ecuador has actually made a huge economic turnaround since 2008 when they started implementing Buen Vivir.


Again in the words of my friend Martin,

Lo que me pareció mejor en Ecuador que debería ser emulado en las Filipinas es el hecho de que los derechos humanos y la dignidad debe ser lo primero antes de progreso económico. Elevar primero los niveles de vida de las personas antes de que se jactan de un aumento del crecimiento del PIB, las tasas de inflación bajos, y las tasas de desempleo baja.

(“What I found best in Ecuador that should be emulated in the Philippines is the fact that human rights and dignity should come first before economic progress. Uplift first the living standards of the people before you boast about increased GDP growth, lowered inflation rates, and lowered unemployment rates.”)


Viva Ecuador.