Session 3 : Post Development

Post Development or the end of development as some put it, was actually an assessment of development theories and practice in the world. Towards the end of the 20th Century a new wave of critical approaches hit the world of development. A time frame, where post development theorist openly rejected the state of development and criticised harshly what their predecessors had proposed. Are the solutions to the global issues of poverty and inequality working? Is the gap between the poor countries and the rich being bridged? Are the rich getting richer at the expense of the poor? Post development theorists present an explicit picture of the state of development, during this period. The state of the world clearly showed that poverty and inequality was still prevailing. Theorists like Sachs, Rahnema and Escobar expressed their views strongly on the state of development. In the ‘ Dictionary of Development’, Sachs outlines some of the issues impeding development in poorer countries.

In this unit, we understand explicitly that past theories of development were not working; economic measurements have shown the poor countries are not getting any richer and inequality still prevailed. The state of the world makes us question what development is actually about and whether development is being achieved through the proposed solutions at the time.

Criticisms of previous theories showed that there were major issues. Sachs and his colleagues had two main themes ‘a transition from economies based on fossil-fuel reserves to economies based on biodiversity’ (Sachs 2010) and ‘oppose economic world view and champion the right to act according to values of culture, democracy and justice’ (Sachs 2010)

The effects of industrialisation can be felt all over the world, and industrialisation comes at a price, but is the world prepared, or can the world pay that price of the cost of development? A perfect case study is China. China has progressed rapidly and rubbing shoulders with leading economies of the West. The state of China now was the state of England when the wave of industrialization hit. Coal is the main source of energy/power, running the wheels of these industries and with it pollution. The visible state of pollution in China is horrendous and pollution is threatening growth. Must this be the state that every poor country must go through to reach development? Are there alternate ways of development without /minimal environmental costs? Mr Zhou, china’s minister for Environmental Protection identifies the conflict between humanity and nature and expresses it this way ‘The depletion, deterioration and exhaustion of resources and the deterioration of the environment have become serious bottlenecks constraining economic and social development.’(BBC, 2011) There is obviously an on-going, conflict between development by industrialisation and nature, and post development theorists are proposing a shift from this kind of development which is based on modernisation/dependency theories to a model based on biodiversity to save the planet. It is indeed frightening to think of the state of the world along these lines, if every country was to embark on development this way, at what cost will it be to our planet? Will we have our planet less habitable and progress in the name of development? Did the rest of the world miss what Ghandi saw over 80 years ago when he wrote “God forbid that India should ever take to industrialisation after the manner of the West. The economic imperialism of a single tiny island kingdom (England) is today keeping the world in chains. If an entire nation of 300 million took to similar economic exploitation, it would strip the world bare like locust.” (Sachs 2010) Surely the cost of development is a great price to pay. Will the world survive development as it is?

The second theme of criticisms from the post development era borders around the championing of economy, as the major yardstick to development. Modernisation and dependency theorist viewed and measured development by the economic wellbeing of the country, post development theorist propose a shift from this view to more context specifics with the inclusion of variables which enhances a holistic outlook of development. Obviously the ‘grand theory’ and ‘grand narratives’ approach had fallen short of many considerations, and this can be highlighted in the impact of development practice on women and thier indication of the need for removal of the ‘ big umbrella’ in their rejection of generalized research findings. This further supports post development opposition of collectiveness in development studies.

In the light of post development criticism, it is also worth examining the way forward, development studies has been plagued with one era of criticism after the other, is this just another phase of the progress of development or the ushering in of a radical shift in the paradigm of development. I am of the view that the end of development debate is not a sterile but it does not also offer much in terms of solid directives to the way forward. These debates do not seem to have moved a great distance away from what was, although in criticising, it has brought to light certain aspects that can be considered more viable that what was being propagated previously. Critics are of the view that, ‘post development has offered very little in the way of practical guidance to reducing   poverty and overcoming oppression’, they have ‘hesitated to offer any concrete action’ and ‘studies that cry out for some proposal of what to do in desperate situations suddenly end where they should propose or call (safely) for “further research” (Grieg et al’ (2007 p 210) although this makes it look sterile, all  doesn’t seem to be lost in that is provides a higher level of reflection on past theories and I agree with Rapley when says that ‘.. if post development theory fails to provide answers to the pressing needs of today’s world it remains useful for the questions it raises’. It has indeed also brought to light another view in the solution of the problems of poverty and inequality that is global solutions may not work to eradicate poverty and inequality but rather context specific solutions would be better alternatives.

This unit has been exceptionally interesting because of its bearing on current world issues. Learning outcomes include the fact that the world of development has reached a critical stage, development has not fulfilled its promises, past theories are not working and there is the need for new strategies to solve poverty and inequality issues, but do the critiques have the answer? Or must the world wait for a new set of theorists to propose definite solutions. Bill Gates suggests creative capitalism, a term to define the belief that companies can help underserved populations while still making robust profits. Bill Gates (2008). While Sir Richard Branson and Rajiv Shah (USAID) makes a call for the world to embrace enlightened capitalism. Is this truly the way forward or just another phase of development theories?

An experience of mixed emotions from this unit also created a sense of unease. It’s sad to see how things have progressed without viable solutions to issues of poverty and inequality and the cost of this dead end to our planet, however I nurse some hope that as the stark reality has been highlighted by post development theorist a paradigm shift will be considered with the view of yielding better results to create a balance in our world.

This unit once again heightens the need to think critically and to weigh and assess all options before making recommendations. This process of analysing issues also enables one to draw concrete conclusions, which is one of the key things I take away from this unit. I do believe if a more critical approach had been adopted by early theorists of development, the state of the world would be different from what it is now.


Grieg et al (2007) Challenging Global Inequality: Development Theory and Practice in the 21st Century. Basingstoe: Palgrave Macmillian

Lehmann, D. ‘An Opportunity Lost: Escobar’s Deconstruction of Development’ The Journal of Devlopment Studies, Vol 33, No. 4, April 1997, pp.568 – 579. Frank Cass, London.

Sachs, W., (2010) ‘The Development Dictionary: A Guide to Knowledge as Power’ Zed Books, London & New York.

Shah. R. (2011) ‘Embracing Enlightened Capitalism’ USAID Public-Private Partnership Forum, Washington DC.  [Accessed October 26th 2011]… [Accessed October 26th 2011]…/bill-gates-2008-world-economic-forum-creative-capitalism.aspx [Accessed October 27th 2011] [Accessed October 27th 2011]…/sir_richard_branson_and_enlightened_capitalism [Accessed November 1st 2011]


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