Critical Approaches to Development
The first Critical Approaches to Development workshop was organized in November 2018 and ended up spontaneously generating a still modest network of academics and professionals who are critically engaged with the theme of development. From the contributions of this first workshop, we created this space to share knowledge and experiences and build some dialogues together.
Our conversation started with a common reflection:
The mainstream development discourse shows numerous signs of failure. On the side of its formulation, the limitations of the focus on projects based on linear, causal and scientific formulations, top-down instruments and vague objectives based almost exclusively on the fulfillment of goals under ubiquitous and demanding monitoring have long been pointed out. On the side of its effects, decades of mainstream development projects have not prevented - and, on the contrary, seem in many cases to have contributed to - the exacerbation of global inequality, the withdrawal of social rights and protections and environmental depletion. Moreover, these projects often remain unable to contemplate subjects and forms of life that are distinct from modern Western standards, if not because of the logic of the lack — lack of resources, goods, conditions for development, and resilience. Finally, in the context of its reform and adaptation, the proliferation of new practices in mainstream development - each based on the latest conceptual innovation in the area - unaccompanied by reflections and practices that pay attention to the margins of the field and the debate often serve only to keep the machine running under different guises, without actually contributing to inclusion. While the motto of the UN Agenda 2030 says “leave no one behind”, for example, there is a critical note of the danger that a “data revolution” will add layers of inequality by differentiating even more in terms of skills and technological resources, reinforcing the status of a Western science that often disqualifies local knowledge without fulfilling the promise of better lives.
Given the current scenario of polarizations, fake news , global setbacks in some social gains and threats to the environment, the need for a critical engagement with the development discourse is urgent, especially if it is able to mix academic and professional perspectives in a debate rich and diverse. However, as the criticism of mainstream development often turns only to a new concept, a new good practice and the maintenance of the status quo, it is necessary to approach with caution what we here call “critical approaches to development”, understanding its diversity, but imposing as a minimum engagement limit starting from the margins, an inclusive look and attention to other forms of knowledge. In this context, what to expect from critical approaches to development and development? What to expect from criticism of the most problematic forms of development What kind of theoretical and practical resources can not only provide the necessary criticism, but also its transformative impulse?
The main objectives of the network and the workshops organized since 2018 are
a) to allow the formation of a body of shared knowledge based on experiences and perspectives from the Global South, in order to refocus the debate on development with a view from the margins. Faced with an unequal division of labor in the global production of knowledge, the initiative seeks to offer robust theories based on concepts and experiences in the South.
b) provide and build networks through a plural dialogue between academia, activism and professional development sectors, with a view to collective learning, healthy disagreements and strategic collaborations.
c) with these steps, in the long run, rethink the role of knowledge production on alternatives to development and alternative developments.
It is intended that these activities are always permeated with mentoring and sharing practices in general.