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Philosophy and Development: Who speaks for the poor?

Lecturers: David Sweeney and Laura Griffin

Originally Taught: Summer School 2013

This course will offer a philosophical treatment of development, as explored through dialogue between a philosopher (David) and a development scholar (Laura).

We will seek alternative understandings of current development concepts and projects (such as the Millennium Development Goals), by uncovering the historical and philosophical underpinnings of the two main discourses of Development: 'progress' and 'inequality'. This will include tracing the lineage of concerns such as modernity and empowerment, focusing on education and social evolutionism. In particular, we will see how notions of enlightenment and progress related to individual education and tuition became envisaged for social groups and societies, suggesting the potential for social transformation and advancement.

By paying close attention to the origins of development as a discipline and a concerted programme of intervention, we will also consider development discourses such as 'third world', 'poverty' and 'modernisation'. The importance of continental philosophy to development as a discipline, and particularly the rise of post-development critique will be discussed, as well as the ways in which development theory and practice have responded to these crises of legitimacy and relevance.

We will look at the way development supports failing Western institutions and practices (such as capitalism, consumerism, compulsory education, large-scale infrastructure) by imagining certain parts of the world as 'under developed' and legitimising interventions which seek to replicate these failing Western social and economic structures.

Questioning the endurance or reconfiguration of notions of education, progress and inequality within current thought and action on poverty and development, we will reflect on the possibilities for our current and future selves and societies. How might philosophy --- and a deeper understanding of the notion of progress --- inform our ideas and actions about poverty, inequality and education today?

Course Schedule:

Monday: Introducing development and progress
In our first class we will introduce and define some of the main concepts of the course. This involves familiarising ourselves with development as a contested concept, and as a particular project which involves a certain understanding of poverty and inequality. We will briefly look at the current iteration of development as a project, with the example of the Millennium Development Goals. Also considered will be the origins of the more general notion of progress --- namely the history of the enlightenment. This includes the coming to prominence of scientific positivism on the one hand, and the state, individual freedom and rights on the other hand. We will look at the political arguments --- answering the question, What is the Good for society? --- of such philosophers as Bacon, Descartes, Hobbes, Locke and Kant.

Tuesday: Locating 'the poor'
The origins of the term 'development' will be traced, focussing on the rise of social evolutionism in US foreign policy following World War II, beginning with the inauguration of US President Truman. The importance of the distinction between 'first world' and 'third world' will also be discussed, along with the promotion out of a (universalised and naturalised) path from poverty to modernisation. This will draw on such authors as Parsons and Rostow. With Ranciere we will see the role of the poor in the history of philosophy, including such questions as: Who can legitimately speak for the poor? and Who gives themselves a voice by taking away the voice of the poor?

Wednesday: Critiques and crises
In this class we will see how development became subject to a range of kinds of challenges and critiques throughout the second half of the twentieth century --- with some attacking the means and/or the ends of development, and others questioning development's underlying binaries and assumptions. Especially relevant is the application of continental philosophers (such as Foucault) to questions of development and the third world, and in particular the deconstruction of development as a discourse. With Illich, we will consider the limits of progress, and ask: Is progress is always good? Might there be differences between 'good' and 'bad' progress?

Thursday: Renewal of hope in development and education
As both a discipline and a project, development has managed to survive and respond to its various critiques and crises, through a number of reiterations and reformulations. We will trace some of these, including a renewed focus on alleviating or ending poverty (Sachs), and a faith in individual empowerment and freedom (Sen, Nussbaum, Yunus, de Soto). Of particular interest is the concern with universal education. Recalling Illich, we will ask: Can education save the poor? With Rancière was can go even further and question the innocence of education itself. Is education the spreaders of freedom? Or does it's knowledge and explanations 'stultify' the student.

Friday: Return to progress and inequality
Equipped with the understandings and histories of the concepts discussed through the course, we will re-examine current development thinking (as for instance espoused in the Millennium Development Goals), and consider the endurance of progress. We will ask: What does 'development' and'progress' mean today? What is possible, and what is at stake, when we apply the lens (or lenses) of 'progress' in our own attempts to understand and respond to poverty and inequality?

The readings will be taken from the following (and will be available once the coures starts). In the mean time enjoy the quotes and follow the links.

  • Arturo Escobar 1984. 'Discourse and Power in Development: Michel Foucault and the Relevance of his Work to the Third World', Alternatives 10: 377-400.
"At a very general level, we can say that new types of power and knowledge are being deployed in the Third World which try to insure the conformity of its peoples to a certain type of economic and cultural behavior (broadly speaking, that embodied in 'the American way of life'). Through this process, not only the economic, but increasingly also the sociocultural and political systems are being progressively permeated and appropriated by the socioeconomic and cultural systems of the 'advanced' countries, obeying chiefly, though not exclusively, economic imperatives."
  • Gustavo Esteva Back from the Future Link. This is a great introduction to Illich and oh so many importants ideas.
  • Ivan Illich 1970. Deschooling Society Link PDF. For a bit about Ivan Illich have a look here Link and here Link and here Illich Society.
"Many students, especially those who are poor, intuitively know what the schools do for them. They school them to confuse process and substance. Once these become blurred, a new logic is assumed: the more treatment there is, the better are the results; or, escalation leads to success." Deschooling Society.
  • Ivan Illich 1971. Celebration of Awareness. A call for institutional revolution.
  • Ivan Illich 1973. Tools for Conviviality Link.
  • Ivan Illich 1973. Energy and Equity Link.
  • H. Norberg-Hodge 1996. 'The Pressure to Modernize and Globalize', in Mander, J. and Goldsmith, E. (eds) The Case Against the Global Economy. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books: 33--46.
  • Martha C. Nussbaum 2000. 'Introduction Part II: The Capabilities Approach: An Overview & PartIII: The Capabilities Approach: Sen & Nussbaum' in Women and Human Development: The Capabilities Approach. Cambridge University Press, pp. 4--14.
  • T. Parsons 1964. 'Evolutionary Universals in Society', American Sociological Review 29: 339-357.
  • Jacques Rancière 1989. The nights of labor: the workers' dream in nineteenth-century France, Temple University Press. For a bit of information about Rancière follow this link Link.
  • Jacques Rancière 1991. The Ignorant Schoolmaster, Stanford University Press.
"Progress is the pedagogical fiction built into the fiction of the society as a whole." The Ignorant Schoolmaster.
  • Jacques Rancière 1994. The names of history: on the poetics of knowledge, University of Minnesota Press.
  • Jacques Rancière 2003. Short Voyages to the Land of the People, Stanford University Press.
  • Jacques Rancière 2004. The Philosopher and His Poor, Duke University Press.
  • W. Rostow 1971. The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Frans Schuurman 2000. Paradigms lost, paradigms regained? Development Studies in the Twenty-First Century', Third World Quarterly 21(1): 7--20.
"The very essence of development studies is a normative preoccupation with the poor, marginalized and exploited people in the South. In this sense, inequality rather than diversity or difference should be the main focus of development studies: inequality of access to power, to resources, to a human existence --- in short, inequality of emancipation."
  • Amartya Sen 1999. Development as Freedom, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 3--11.
  • President Truman's inaugural address Link.
  • Vandana Shiva 1989. 'Development: The "new colonialism"', Development, the Journal of the Society for International Development, 32(1) pp. 84--7.
  • Vandana Shiva 2005. 'Two myths that keep the world poor', Ode magazine. November. Muhummad Yunus 2008. 'Creating a World without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism', Public Affairs.



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