A critical look on our perception of development by understanding Arturo Escobar’s literature

Is there any point in doing ‘development’ work?

Hausarbeit, 2013

15 Seiten, Note: 1,7



1.) Introduction

2.) A historical view on ‘development’

3.) Deconstructing ‘development’

4.) Pluriverse instead of universe or local social movements

5.) Concluding Remark


1.) Introduction

Once I started to reflect the course “Anthropology and Development”, it was quite sure that I would choose one critical and mind-opening article as a base for my work. The works of Arturo Escobar a Columbian anthropologist came into my head. I really appreciated his interdisciplinary methods. During our class, his concepts were the one that polarized the most and lead to vivid discussions. He took discursive analysis out off sociology and philosophy and completed a very sophisticated breakdown of our most essential perception of what we called “development”. His ideas covered enormous fields starting from malnutrition up to women rights. Most points about development I took before my readings for granted and never scrutinized it. Similar to debunking the term “Orient” in Edward Said’s work “Orientalism”, Escobar questions our notion of “development” and calls it a product of the western world. Going through lots of his texts Arturo Escobar reveals his points with a clear language and made it a good read for me. What he really emphasizes repeatedly is that the uses of terms like “Third World”, “underdeveloped” and “poor” have to be reconsidered on a big scale. It is not about criticizing one point after the other. It is a highly challenging work for every reader to leave so much concepts behind which were naturally built in our language and thoughts. His major work “Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World” summarizes plenty of his earlier works published in magazines like “Development or “Future” in the 1990s. Although sometimes reviewed as too much based on generalizations it is interesting how my view on lots of political, economical and cultural topics was not only changed but also completely flipped inside out. Even if you do not agree with Arturo Escobar on every point or fail to follow on his side-trips into other topics, there remains at least a small impact in your perceptions of your surroundings, whether it is to a positive or a not so good direction. I definitely see so much potential in Escobar’s work not only for anthropology and development itself but also most notably for presenting the discursive methods on a broader scale. Much of his presented improvements or alternatives are already working today for several regional and international campaign and organizations. It is fascinating how his ideas never lost any topicality until now. My motivation for writing about this exact topic is various and changed various times through out the writing process. When I started, I wanted to present Arturo Escobar’s ideas and get myself a deeper understanding of his constructs and thoughts by researching nearly every article he ever published in public. Through reading his works from 1988 when he just started to publish for a bigger public up to current articles where he discuss the US politics around and after 9/11 you even get a insight how he evolves through all this years by following steadily the events.

2.) A historical view on “development”

When you talk about invention of development, the first point that sticks out the most is the post-World War II era. Changes in hierarchy concerning the World Bank and other mainly political-economical institutions were taken in the post war upheaval and confusion. Purpose was to bring economical reforms in almost all areas. That is why interventions in society and economic were taken quite early after the mess which the war left over. Therefore, the main new approach was the management of all social and economic affairs of one country:

“From (…) November of 1949, an economic mission, organized by (…) the World Bank, visited Columbia with the purpose of (…) creation of a society equipped with the material and organizational factors required to pave the way for rapid success to the forms of life created by industrial civilization” (Escobar 1988: 428-429)

Escobar illustrates with the help of an example out of his home country Columbia, what numerous people lived through all over the globe. An industrial civilization was the measurement for all upcoming nations, which is why everyone else not fitting in this category was labeled as ‘underdeveloped’.

This construct of entitlement was spread essentially between 1945 to circa 1950 in quite a devastating manner. And so we were in middle of the postwar transformations in which the messiness were an opportunity to rearrange old inflexible and rigid balance of power. Relations between ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ were arbitrary realigned as well as in general there was a slightly ‘diktat’ for societies and governments what to do and how to act in a certain space or scenario. What was going on was a redefinition of the ‘West’ in its self and its influence on the global power structure:

“This discourse emerged and took definite shape between 1945 and 1955, in the climate of the great postwar transformations, drastically altering the character and scope of the relations between rich and poor countries and, in general, the very perception of what governments and societies were to do” (Escobar 1988: 429)

In this context, certain points should be taken into consideration. First, there was a major breakdown of the old colonial systems and its ideas. Although its relevance was dying away earlier this set a final turnover in this affairs. Aside from that, the big change also involved the population and production structures. In addition, an interesting transition was affecting the leading role of communism in certain parts of the world and furthermore the question was raised how it evolves in the post-war era. Overall communism came out like a winning figure or at least better than the other did. That is why an upcoming fear of the communism was generated. Going along with it was an ascending faith in science and technology in general, as part of the aspiring sense of transformation. All this points I mentioned before were also heavily influenced by the Marshall Plan, which against our perceptions brought several things out of balance. (Escobar 1988:429-430)

Through all this happenings development gained steadily power and popularity, which lead to a rising takeover over the predefined ‘poor’. This in turn caused a dependent relationship or satellization between the ‘already developed’ and the ‘underdeveloped’, as some of you already knew from Marcel Mauss and his brilliant work about the gift, that there is a certain inability to refuse or decline the so now called development aid:

“The poor countries became the target of an endless number of programs and interventions that seemed to be inescapable and that ensured their control.” (Escobar 1988: 430)

More observable was this shift in the increasing numbers of prospective experts, who took all points of the social and cultural life and acted like these were points you could calculate of foreshadow like math. In this minor step, one could explain best how a rationalization was dictated to the others (Escobar 1988: 430).

It was indeed a doctrine of the developed West that industrialization, high degrees of urbanization and education just like mechanization of agriculture along the widespread adoption of the values and principles of modernity, including forms of order, rationality and orientation. So this otherness or difference was strictly negated and there where only the chance of assimilation in order to be accepted as developed (Escobar 1997: 497).

All limitations what to say in the setting of such a discourse repeat in different ways the same set of statements, so that real alternatives cannot be formulated or expressed. Nevertheless, since the discourse creates endless prescriptions, views, institutions, programs and so forth, it still gives an impression of a great learning process:


Ende der Leseprobe aus 15 Seiten


A critical look on our perception of development by understanding Arturo Escobar’s literature
Is there any point in doing ‘development’ work?
Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg  (Institut für Ethnologie)
Anthropology and Development
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
531 KB
Arturo Escobar, development, Ethnology, Ethnologie, Anthropology, Anthropologie, Deconstruction, Encountering Development
Arbeit zitieren
Konstantin Dyck (Autor:in), 2013, A critical look on our perception of development by understanding Arturo Escobar’s literature, München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/214545


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