Posts tagged "week 4"
…To borrow the military turn of phrase adopted by the international [development] agencies [working towards the Millenium Development Goals], we must ‘attack the problem of poverty’. So, poverty is the problem. In the old days there was a ‘native problem’ or a ‘coolie problem’, and more recently there has been the ‘woman problem’ (or the problem of the unemployed, or refugees or immigrants, and so on). No one seems to remember that for such ‘problems’ to arise two sets of actors must be involved: rich and poor, white and black, men and women. In other words, the rich do not exist without the poor - to take one example. The advantage of an approach that focuses on only one party in the relationship is that it puts the blame for the ‘problem’ on the weaker party and removes whoever has arrogated the right to pose the question from the ‘problem’ altogether. By eliding social relations this rhetorical sleight of hand brings forth a new, apparently ‘objective’ reality; poverty in this particular case. The new reality can then be discussed, quantified, attacked; attempts can even be made to eradicate it without questioning social relations overall.

-Gilbert Rist, in The History of Development (p.229). It’s an absolutely monumental book, though you’ll have to wade through rather dense analysis mixed with this sort of biting wit.

(posted by Dean)

The problem of poverty lies not in poverty but in wealth.

-Wolfgang Sachs, “The Need for a Home Perspective,” in The Post-Development Reader

This was a favorite quote picked up independently by a few participants in the seminar.

It’s a recurring theme in the post-development/critical development literature, as the next quote post will show.


The West is living in a triumphant euphoria. The collapse of the East provides it with a perfect alibi: in the East it was worse. One should, instead, wonder whether is was fundamentally different. In the West, justice is sacrificed on the altar of the goddess Productivity in the name of liberty. In the East, liberty was sacrificed on the altar of the goddess Productivity in the name of justice. In the South we can still ask ourselves if this goddess is worth our lives.

-Eduardo Galeano, “To Be Like Them” in the Post-Development Reader

(posted by Dean)

A really thought-provoking response to Week 8’s readings by a participant:

I think the main theme of Pfieffer and Hanlon’s readings is that we (donors, people who want to help) should trust the needy with money. I think this fits in really well with the power discussion we had a couple weeks ago – if money is power (and it is, in a lot of ways, as we saw last week), what Pfieffer and Hanlon are saying is that the powerful need to redistribute power, to surrender some of their power to the less powerful. Right now, by imposing conditions on aid, the powerful are trying to keep control over their money, and it is doing little to reduce inequality. I think the lack of trust also contributes to the self-perpetuating nature of NGOs. If they don’t trust the locals enough to eventually hand over projects/operations to them, either the NGO stays there forever or the project dies after they leave.

   I do agree that there needs to be more trust in developing countries and their people, because not trusting them is paternalistic and just a way of holding onto power (and inequality). But the idea of money does get to me a little bit. That one day in class, when we predicted the future for a community that gets a tractor, we came up with all sorts of terrible outcomes, revolving around introducing them to the money economy. That makes me a little reluctant, now, to champion just giving money away. I recognize some differences in the two situations – a one-time purchase of a tractor versus sustained cash payments, but still have concerns. Cash payments help insulate the poor against market forces, like increases in grain price, but I’m not sure how it would address environmental concerns, or what it would do to change what development looks like (is it still industrialization and commercialization?).

My response:

I really agree with so many of your points, and appreciate you linking it back to the issue of money and integration into the broader capitalist “development” system. It’s what I struggle with in regards to Hanlon’s idea too. I’m not sure I have an answer. But if the alternative is horrendously complex NGO/donor projects with thousands of pages of paperwork and competition etc., I’d rather see money go straight to the poor. Yet the question remains: is this really “development”? And is it simply reifying an environmentally unsustainable system of economic growth? [See week 3.]

That said, even those who argue for a steady state, no-growth economy are quite adamant that we need to spread the resources we do have more evenly as we transition to a more sustainable economy. And to do that, Hanlon makes the case that cash transfers are a much more effective way than fancy and convoluted NGO projects in many contexts.



Montreal is having a conference about “degrowth” in the Americas! An excerpt for why they’re arguing for degrowth and what that even means:

Little Vade Mecum for the Growth Objector

By Yves-Marie Abraham, HEC Montréal
May 2011

1. What is degrowth?

  • This is not an economic depression, nor a recession, but a decline in the importance of the economy itself in our lives and our societies.
  • This is not the decline of GDP, but the end of GDP and all other quantitative measures used as indicators of well being.
  • This is not a decline in population size, but a questioning of humanity’s self-destructive lifestyle.
  • This is not a step backwards, but an invitation to step aside, out of the race in pursuit of excessiveness.
  • This is not nostalgia for some golden age, but an unprecedented project to invent creative ways of living together.
  • This is not degrowth imposed by the depletion of the biosphere’s resources, but a voluntary degrowth, to live better here and now, preserving the conditions necessary for the long-term survival of humanity.
  • This is not an end in itself, but a necessary step in the search for models depicting free societies, liberated from the dogma of growth.
  • This is not a project of voluntary deprivation and impoverishment, but an attempt to find a “better life”, based on simplicity, restraint, and sharing.
  • This is not “sustainable development”, but a rejection of capitalism, no matter if it is “green” or “socially just”, and no matter if it has State-run or private enterprises.
  • This is not ecofascism, but a call for a democratic revolution to end our productivist-consumerist model of society.
  • This is not voluntary simplicity, but a revolutionary political project that implies the adoption of the principles of voluntary simplicity on the individual level.
  • This is not is not an “anti-modern” movement, but a “neo-modern” movement, based on respect for the values of freedom and equality.

In summary, degrowth is a call for a radical break from traditional growth-based models of society, no matter if these models are “left” or “right”, to invent new ways of living together in a true democracy, respectful of the values of equality and freedom, based on sharing and cooperation, and with sufficiently moderate consumption so as to be sustainable.

…continued here.


from Elaine’s response to Ancient Futures:

It may be interesting to look if Ladakhi people would want to help develop ways that they can influence the development of communities around the world. This idea explicitly flips the role of the “north” helping the “south.” There would need to be genuine interest and effort by Ladakhi people.

I wonder if there have been efforts of this type where the roles are opposite of the common dichotomy of the “north” helping the “south.”

You’re on to something - there are some efforts to facilitate South-South and even South—>North exchanges. I’d say the former is more common than the latter, but one you might find particularly interesting is Design for the 1st World. The story goes that a design student in NYU was told to design something for the “third world” as a class project. She took that idea and flipped it around, making a contest for the “third world” to design something for our “first world” problems like obesity, social anomie, etc.

Just a handful of grassroots south-south exchanges (which also exchange South-North):

The World Social Forum - this is huge!
Via Campesina - food justice network
Multiworld - alternative education and knowledge from the South

Helena Norberg-Hodge’s organization, International Society for Ecology and Culture (ISEC) has tried to encourage the North to learn from Ladakh. How much other communities around the South have been able to learn from Ladakh I’m not sure.

It would be a wonderful initiative to take on!


This is the all too common and unfortunate downside of hydroelectric dams. They inundate huge swaths of land - and that land is rarely “empty.” Even when there are no human settlements, there can be priceless historic sites (as in the GAP Southern Anatolia Project in Turkey) or precious ecological services that are permanently lost. (When dams are first constructed, they actually have an ENORMOUS carbon footprint, not only due to the energy-intensive concrete, but also the release of carbon from plants which decay under the flooding behind the dam.)

Is it time we looked at different ways to content ourselves beyond increasing our energy consumption? Or are these necessary steps for Brazil to “catch up” and should we mainly look inward at our own consumption?


Other peoples are not failed attempts at being us. They’re not failed attempts to keep up with the pace of history. They’re not failed attempts to be modern. On the contrary, they are, by definition, unique answers to a fundamental question: what does it mean to be human and alive? And when the peoples of the world answer that question, they do so in at least 7,000 different voices, and those voices become our collective repertoire for dealing with the challenges that will confront us as a species in the ensuing millennia.
Wade Davis