IDSA01H3 Chapter 5: WEEK 5: REID-HENRY
DepartmentInternational Development Studies
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Arturo Escobar: A Post-Development thinker to be Reckoned with !
By: Reid-Henry !
-In either case, those abnormalities needed bringing into line. Development was just a
modern way of doing this: a re-enactment of Orientalist tropes in technocratic guise—-
Hence it was ultimately a way for the west to manage the rest for their own gain, only ever
allowing poor people a future that the rich could imagine for them
-Coming at a time when western universities were in the grip of the postmodern challenge
to systems of knowledge, Escobar's post-development critique sparked considerable debate
-Coming at a time when mainstream development was beginning to incorporate a softer,
more human approach alongside the market-driven solutions of the 1980s, Escobar found
ever more evidence to support his ideas
-As he saw it, the more the development industry claimed to be improving on past practice
– as it tramped from anti-poverty to pro-poor to basic human needs approaches – the more
it continued to fall into the serious trap of imposing a western agenda on others
-But if the ﬁrst ﬁnger that people lift to help is on a hand destined to meddle, what are those
who wish to see a fairer world to do?
-While some anti-development writers have encouraged a back-to-the-soil populism in
response, Escobar's answer is again a good deal more sophisticated
-For him the answer lies in creating space – intellectual ﬁrst and foremost – for "local
agency" to assert itself
-In practice this means one of two things:
-First, it means encouraging local communities and traditions rooted in local identities to
address their own problems.
-Not buying into the western development agenda does not mean denying that some
societies lack both resources and power relative to others
-This was an argument that Escobar developed in dialogue with feminist scholars like
Vandana Shiva, and it can be found today in such initiatives as the Buen Vivir moment in
-Second, and related to this ﬁrst, it means criticising any existing distortions – economic or
political – that limit peoples' ability to develop
-Escobar has therefore been highly critical of free trade zones, such as the maquiladoras in
Mexico, or what is happening on a vaster scale in parts of China
-Instead, he points to a politics of "degrowth" as a way of addressing some of these
-But can local always be the answer to the problems of globalisation? As many have
argued, and as Escobar would doubtless acknowledge, when there are material
differences in life chances (not to mention life expectancy) between different places, an
excessive localism may end up as no less essentialising than an all-out universalism: little
more than a romanticism of the poor
-But these are lessons that development has in large measure learned (which isn't to say it
doesn't repeat many others)
-And if it has indeed failed to the extent that great poverty still exists, it has nonetheless
helped bring about remarkable gains in life chances and opportunities.
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