Post-development: rejecting the notion of development

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-colonialismand 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? 

Neostructuralism: neoliberalism in disguise?

Post-World War II Latin America served as the stage of among the most prominent economic and political upheavals in the Western Hemisphere – a series of hyperinflations, military coups and dictatorships, civil unrest. So it comes as no surprise that Latin America would give rise to a new school of economic, political, and (probably) development thought.


Rising from the heels of structuralism and dependency is the school of thought called neostructuralism and is characteristically implemented in the economic policies of especially Chile, Brazil, Ecuador, and Argentina. Neostructuralism, though mainly a critique of neoliberalism, keeps the market-friendly characteristic of neoliberalism but has more concern for the environment (kind of a response to the limits to growth previously put forward). It calls for a minimalistic role for the state, more of a guidance role rather than an interventionist, and has a deep concern for poverty issues. Conversely, it is populist and mildly nationalist.


The buzz of neostructuralism started with Jorge Castañeda, Mexico’s foreign minister from 2000-2003, and Roberto Mangabeira Unger, Brazil’s Minister for Strategic Affairs (around the same time as Castañeda). They placed themselves in a brutal opposition towards the Washington Consensus, as both ministers favour an expanded social service sector with the aim to eradicate poverty in Latin America. The rest of the region followed suit. Castañeda even furthers this as a distinction between the Latin American left that is ‘modern, open-minded, reformist, and internationalist’ and the Latin American ‘other’ which is ‘nationalist, strident, and close-minded’.


Sounds good aye? But if you notice the rhetoric used by neostructuralism, isn’t it just neoliberalism in disguise, or worse, neoliberalism back with a vengeance? The continued reliance on the market and free trade, the call for globalisation — all are neoliberalistic elements with a twist: the added rhetoric of reform using buzzwords such as poverty, inequality, welfare, and sustainability. Filipino sociology professor Walden Bello actually described that neostructuralism is about ‘social management’ and not ‘social liberation’, as it actually failed to address issues of gross inequality, class relations, and class structures. 


And with the continued utilisation of neostructuralism in Latin America, the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, who is hugely anti-neoliberal, might be spinning in his grave right now. 

When the economic world reaches 21: environmentalism, climate change, and the limits to growth

I always remember when we were kids and we start to appreciate sports. In the Philippines, one of the most popular sports that kids turn to is basketball. Kids as young as 7 years old would always look up to their NBA idols (Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Dwight Howard). Of course, in the game of basketball, height is a factor. The taller you are, the better you can play since you’ve gotta account for skills such as rebounding, close-shooting, blocking, and dunking. However, we know from our science classes that we can only grow to a certain height and not more than that. For boys, we stop growing after the age of 21.


But is the basketball-height analogy applicable to the world of development? Have we reached the limits as far as economic growth is concerned? The capitalist sense would say that the market should be let run freely, and if it entails continued growth and development, so be it. But recently we have experienced a lot of crises – the oil crisis of the 70s and the 2008 global financial crisis. Add to that a fledgling environmentalist movement that calls for environmental protection (which has obvious economic implications) as well as the emergence of the concept of sustainable development.


The concept of the population time-bomb (a Malthusian concept) suggests that overpopulation causes underdevelopment, and there is a need to limit population growth. Or, limit economic growth. Or, to avert a total catastrophe, limit the two altogether. Let the Third World remain Third World. 


Sounds to good to be true, eh? But how can that actually happen? The First World’s economic dependence on industries that entail high energy consumption is taking a toll on the Third World. Many would have observed that the First World’s energy reserves are starting to be depleted and they are looking to the Third World’s energy reserves to fuel their own industries. Although there are several new First World energy reserves that have been recently discovered (e.g. shale gas in the United States), extracting these reserves are seen to be detrimental to the environment (e.g. fracking). And with the continued rise of the high-energy industries (e.g. manufacturing, oil&gas, etc.), consequences such as increased carbon emissions are being felt by everyone, but it’s the Third World who suffers the most. True, the third world remains in poverty, but the first world is continually trying to grow itself, notwithstanding the probability that they may have already reached their growth tipping point.


Is limiting population growth an actual solution? I’d call more for responsible population growth. Our environment is suffering a lot because of higher populations. But actually cutting population growth is not a good solution either. Make the governments and their people responsible human beings. Teach kids to be more environmentally concerned, probably. I know, easier said than done.


And yeah, probably the world has reached 21 (using the basketball-height analogy). 


When smaller is better

Mainstream development practice is all about size: the bigger the better. Sure, large scale development projects effect the macroeconomic environment of a developing country, but do these successes trickle down to the smallest of the citizenry? We always hear national governments boast of economic growth, increase in GDP, upgrades of credit ratings, among others, but are these ‘economic miracles’ felt by the citizens, especially those in the lowest levels of society?


Alternative development critiques this mainstream thinking of development by stressing the need for redistribution rather than growth. Though this school of development thinking has no coherent theory, it vehemently points out the failure of mainstream development practice. Aside from redistribution, alternative development stresses for local initiatives, meeting basic needs first, human-centred development, community participation and self-reliance, and sustainable development.


Alternative development believes that “small is beautiful”. No need for those large-scale projects that oftentimes benefit the upper realms of society rather than the most needy. And since this area of development thinking works its way through the grassroots, it has emphasised mostly on participation and assets- and rights-based development.


We often hear of the saying ‘great things start from small beginnings’. And this is probably what alternative development is aiming for. National progress via grassroots development. Economic progress by empowering the local. Building up these small things will lead to one large-scale development project that will not only benefit the upper realms but also the lower realms of society.


This school of thought is probably the hipster among the society called development thoughts.


Structuralism: Is Latin America a success?

In the developing world, Latin American countries are among the best economic performers. This performance may be attributed to structuralism, which Latin America adopted during the 1950s, through the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC) 

The structuralist view of economics takes it cue from the structuralist perspective, which employs the centre-periphery model and requires an appreciation of different historical structures. Structuralism implies that development is turned inwards, and, in a huge contrast to neoliberalism, the state has a role to play. 

As we observe, Latin America is performing well compared to its developing world colleagues. In fact, the United States has never belittled the economic potential of Latin America, and has always kept the region in tabs on its foreign policy. Large Latin American banks, such as the Banco Santander and the BBVA, operate inside the United States (the latter is even one of the biggest sponsors of the National Basketball Association). 

However, this outstanding economic performance is largely beset by escalating political instability (Latin America has been besieged by military coups since the beginning of the 20th Century), worsening peace and order situations (Mexico and Venezuela have the highest crime rates in the Western Hemisphere), and the widening gap between rich and poor. With these things in mind, I dare ask whether structuralism has actually worked in Latin America.

Economic structuralism takes its cue from an eponymous theory in anthropology, which states that “elements of human culture must be understood in terms of their relationship to a larger, overarching system or structure” (Blackburn, 2008). We can deduce from this definition that the structuralist approach emphasises the importance of taking into account structural features in doing economic analysis.

One thing that came to my mind in thinking why structuralism might have worked for Latin America is one thing – Latin American countries have mostly similar structures, politically and economically. This may have been brought about by a shared history and language.

However, did structuralism actually work?

During the last lecture, we talked about some problems that arose from structuralism. And all problems during one time or another were present in most Latin American countries. To make my point: despite richness in resources, most Latin American countries are still net importers of capital goods. Also, sometime during the 70s-80s industrial efficiency in Latin America are at low levels. Countries experienced high inflation; Bolivia even suffered from hyperinflation in the 70s-80s, while Ecuador had to abandon the Ecuadorian peso and is now trading using US dollars. Most Latin American companies are foreign-owned, and unemployment levels are still soaring.


On paper, structuralism is a good theory, but implementing it in real-life situations, especially the economy, is a daunting task. What might have caused Latin America’s failure in structural economics is the lack of political will to do so. Regime changes, intervention from foreign forces, and weak peace and order policing have made structuralism do more harm to Latin America than it supposed to do good.


Fracking in the United States and Indonesia: Framing of Similar Environmental Issues in Two Distinct Contexts


In this day and age, environmental issues have become a hot topic for debate not only among the scientific and academic communities, but also among policymakers, politicians, and most especially the general public. And with the advent of social media where everyone seemingly feels the need of putting their noses on just about everything, the way these environmental issues are framed or represented plays a key role both in the rise of public opinion and the creation of public policy.


One of the biggest environmental issues that has become a hot topic for debate is the environmental impacts brought about by hydraulic fracturing, colloquially known as fracking. Fracking is a technique used by oil & gas exploration and drilling industries, commonly in the extraction shale gas, tight gas, tight oil, and coal seam gas (Charlez, 1997).


Hydraulic fracturing has been a contentious issue worldwide because of its detrimental impacts to nature, most particularly in the United States and Canada, which is listed among the countries with the largest technically recoverable shale gas (EPA, 2013). The technique has been framed and represented in different, and oftentimes polarising, ways.


The main point of debate in the environmental effects of fracking is the contamination of groundwater. Proponents of fracking argue that fracking does not contaminate groundwater sources. King (2012), aware that both sides of the debate has ‘surprisingly valid arguments’, suggests that the debate on groundwater contamination is largely caused by a ‘mismatch of definitions’. On the other hand, opponents of fracking argue that the process contaminate water sources. Most advocacy groups opposing fracking lobby for legislation that would uniformly regulate gas drilling and put stricter environmental protections for water resources (Negro, 2012).


Much of the fracking debate is concentrated in the United States, where the practice has been in place commercially from around 1946 to 1949 (FracFocus, 2014).  As a consequence, much of the media exposure that fracking has garnered has been in the United States. However, in recent years, debate on fracking has reached other parts of the world, most especially in Southeast Asia, where there is an estimated 12.9 billion barrels of natural gas reserves (Yew, 2013).  


The way environmental issues are framed can reveal similarities on how two distinctly different groups of people view these environmental issues, it can also reveal the need for environmental justice. In this essay, we examine how fracking is represented in both the United States and in Indonesia – two distinctly different countries, politically and culturally – by looking at a peer-reviewed article by Carre (2012) and a news article in Time Magazine by Campbell (2013), respectively.


United States: Environmental issues a function of a participatory democratic process

In her article on the Journal of Social Change, Carre (2012) presented fracking by looking at the case of North Fork Valley in Delta County, Colorado, wherein 2011 the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) presented to the community a sales proposal involving more than 30,000 acres of land for potential oil & gas exploration. The sales proposal map showed that the wells are adjacent to or nearby municipal water supplies.


In presenting the case of North Fork Valley residents, Carre did not focus much on the environmental debate that surrounds fracking, but rather on what impacts to the community might be generated by the potential fracking operations in North Fork Valley should the land sale push through. Aside from the concerns surrounding water contamination, the community of North Fork Valley has also taken into consideration other possible scenarios that the potential fracking operations might bring about, such as increase in heavy trucking and equipment traffic which could cause additional stress to existing infrastructure, a reduction in land values, and air and noise pollution. The concerns of North Fork Valley is also evident in other communities across the United States with a nearby fracking site; Negro (2012) has listed several examples of such communities in her report.


Considering the highly democratic context of politics in the United States, it is not surprising to note that the author seemingly presented environmental issues, in particular fracking, as a function of a participatory democratic process. The author has placed emphasis on the collective efforts of the North Fork Valley residents, acting as a single community, as key to a successfully fierce resistance against the BLM’s proposed land sale.


Furthermore, there was an attempt to shift the fracking debate from solely environmental to a more socio-political discourse. Carre criticised the policy tools used in crafting public policy regarding land sales to oil & gas companies, particularly the process of leaving the final decision of the sale to the BLM despite the public announcement of the sale and the subsequent invitation to public commentary. Citing Schneider and Ingram (1990), Carre further highlighted that errant policy tools might cause serious political implications.

Though not making generalisations, Carre has somehow shown that in the United States, communities view environmental issues as not detached from the socioeconomic and political aspects of their lives. As mentioned above, Carre highlighted that North Fork Valley residents did not solely focus on water contamination as the main point of their argument in opposing the land sale.


Indonesia: Environmental Issues Amplified by Socioeconomic Climate

While much debate has been going on in the United States, fracking is starting to gain ground in oil & gas exploration industries in Southeast Asia. In his article for Time Magazine, Campbell (2013) looked at the possible impacts of fracking in Indonesia, the first ASEAN country to employ fracking methods.


Indonesia, a country composed of more than 13,000 islands interspersed along the equator, is holds South East Asia’s largest economy with a burgeoning middle class (Campbell, 2013). Indonesia is also the world’s fourth most populous nation; the country’s national statistical agency Badan Pusat Statistik reports that the population is pegged at 237,641,326 as per the 2010 national census.


Indonesia contains one of world’s largest natural gas reserves were largely untapped until May of 2013, when, as stated by Campbell in his article, state-owned Pertamina signed the first contract to explore 16 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves in Northern Sumatra, one of Indonesia’s main islands. After Petramina signed the agreement, other oil & gas companies such as Chevron Indonesia and NuEnergy Gas Australia decided to follow suit in Duri in Sumatra (Indonesia’s largest oil field) and West Java, respectively.


Campbell’s article mentioned that fracking has already generated a considerable debate in the country, despite the method still being introduced in the country. The Indonesian government is implicitly represented by the article as a proponent of fracking, this being suggested by the statement, “dwindling supplies from conventional drilling is proving to be a major headache for Indonesia’s government.” The article also mentioned the fact that the government was supposed to set aside a fuel subsidy for its citizens amounting to USD31 billion but did not push through because oil companies put forward a price increase, a move that was met by fierce protests across the country.


The article has mentioned significantly more arguments presented by opponents rather than the proponents, giving an impression that the author, though a journalist, is against fracking. It has to be pointed out that most of the key people that were mentioned in the article are against fracking, albeit the arguments are coming from diverse backgrounds ranging from environmental to political.


It is also interesting to observe that the article presented the opponents in such a way that they view environmental issues not separate from other pressing social issues such as poverty, lack of education, and social injustice; this presentation amplifies the opponents’ concerns. For example, the article mentioning that only 10% of Indonesia’s rural population has access to clean water somewhat amplified the concern that fracking can contaminate the water supply.


The article also mentioned several challenges that fracking will have to face in Indonesia’s socio-economic and political landscape, which further strengthens the opposition’s case. Campbell enumerated these challenges as 1) poor local governance; 2) lack of financial incentives; and 3) inadequate infrastructure. He also mentioned that the issue of water pollution that can be brought about by fracking ‘has been magnified due to cost-cutting measures, lack of technical expertise, and historical exacerbation of industrial dangers by venal local authorities’.



Both articles showed that both the United States and Indonesia, two countries with distinctly different people, culture, and socioeconomic and political status, people can view environmental issues in a similar manner. In this case, both the United States and Indonesia view environmental issues as not detached from social concepts, though one took as its social issue and the other its socioeconomic and political climate. The people of North Fork Valley fiercely resisted the sale of nearby lands to potential fracking operations by having the community participate in participatory democratic actions such as consultation rounds, town meetings, and rallies; Indonesians expressed concern over the environmental impacts of the newly introduced fracking operations in the country by citing that these operations can worsen pre-existing social conditions. Both articles therefore exhibited the need for environmental justice, since, according to Warner and DeCosse (2009), it ‘never considers environmental issues separate from social justice efforts’.






Main Articles:

Campbell, C. 2013. Indonesia Embraces Shale Fracking — but at What Cost? [Online] [17 March 2014]

 Carre, N. 2012. Environmental justice and hydraulic fracturing: the ascendancy of grassroots populism in policy determination. 4(1): 1-13



Other sources:

Brown, E., Hartman, K., Borick, C., Rabe, B.G. & Ivacko, T. 2013. The National Surveys on Energy and Environment Public Opinion on Fracking: Perspectives from Michigan and Pennsylvania. Ann Arbor, USA: Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

Charlez, Philippe A. 1997. Rock Mechanics: Petroleum Applications. Paris, France: Editions Technip.

Dutzik, T., Davis, B., and Van Heeke, T. 2013. Who Pays the Cost of Fracking? Weak Bonding Rules for Oil and Gas Drilling Leave the Public at Risk. Colorado, USA: Environment Colorado Research & Policy Center.

FracFocus. 2014. A Historic Perspective. [Online] from  [26 March 2014]

Keating, M., Baum, E., & Hennen, A. 2001. Cradle to Grave: The Environmental Impacts from Coal. [Online] [26 March 2014]

National Petroleum Council. 2011. Prudent Development: Realizing the Potential of North America’s Abundant Natural Gas and Oil Resources. [Online] [27 March 2014]  

Negro, S.E. 2012. Fracking wars: federal, state, and local conflicts over the regulation of natural gas activities. Zoning and Planning Law Report. 35(2): 1-14.

Oil Patch Asia. 2013. 9 countries or regions that ban fracking. [Online] from  [26 March 2014]

Warner, K.D. & DeCosse, D. 2009. Lesson Five: Environmental Justice. [Online] [27 March 2014]

Yew, C.C. 2013. IEA Lists Challenges Facing Southeast Asian Oil, Gas Sector to 2035. [Online] [27 March 2014]

Migraine is When Economics Starts to Fuck the Logic of Mathematics

Last Tuesday the DEVE511 class was treated to a whole bevy of economics by Dr. Geoff Bertram. During the course of the lecture, Dr. Bertram was telling about the terms that should have already been familiar to me having taken 18 credit units in economics back in undergraduate (18 credit units = 6 papers). 

But lo and behold, even the simplest terms like supply and demand gave me a hard time during the lecture. And when the causal models of aid and development were thrown in to the picture, I actually told myself: why is economics fucking mathematics right now? Add to the picture a not-so-logical presentation of the concepts of convergence and divergence, and you get a whopping headache. Good thing towards the end of the lecture, Dr. Bertram pointed out the real mathematics behind these concepts. I completely forgot the economic concept of “in ceteris paribus” or other things held constant. Then the lecture started to make sense.

And then, Dr. Bertram started to kick in once again Rostow’s five (5) stages of economic growth, which he likes to call “A Non-Communist Manifesto” (oh puhleeze). There Dr. Bertram’s economic concepts really started making sense. But then I ask why Rostow insist that all countries will attain a steady state of progressive economics? How will this five stages of growth postulated by Rostow account for the several depressions and financial crises that hounded the world? 

Here I go back to the principle of neoliberalism being a cover-up to the bankruptcy of capitalism. I stand my ground that the State should intervene in the economy otherwise when we let the market run its course, we’re all fucked up. And the masses will have no choice but to stage an uprising, a social revolution. 

The State will always have a large responsibility in the realm of development.