This article provides an overview of past and present debates relating to the essential terms and role of development research. It starts by briefly exploring the paradigm shifts in (research on) international relations from post-colonial area studies and the evolution of development research from the second half of the twentieth century until today. It considers their interrelationship and links to various past and newly emerging development challenges. The authors argue that global paradigm shifts posed a number of fundamental challenges to development research and the profession had to re-think its role and acquire competencies accordingly. The second part considers how to make development research more relevant for the twenty-first century. Today, the prospects for development research are much better than usually acknowledged, for a host of different reasons. However, development research needs to develop new ways and strategies in order to address complex inter-related problems in the era of globalization as well as changing donor-recipient relationships. This is even more important since policies regarding the Millennium Development Goals would seem to be insufficient in the future. New threats such as security risks or climate change and the emergence of China and India must be considered carefully.
Development Studies in universities continues to flourish and paradoxically so in a period of hegemonic neo-liberalism which seems to subvert key assumptions and commitments on which Development Studies was established as a field of academic attention, not long ago. The paper will examine this and other paradoxes in terms of the underlying tensions that generate them. On one hand, those tensions manifest different kinds of boundary issues: intellectually between Development Studies and the established disciplines (and traditions) on which it draws; practically and politically between the conventions (and conditions) of scholarly inquiry and the demands of agencies that do development (governments, aid donors, various international organisations). On the other hand are issues of how tensions between instrumental and reflexive knowledge (as formulated by Michael Burawoy) are internalised within Development Studies, and with what effects.
This paper presents some thoughts on the ambivalences, contradictions and assumptions in Development Studies and raises concerns about how the field writes and rehearses its history and future, and how it identifies its field of study. It foregrounds the problems associated with foundational dichotomies and distinctions within development and examines the constraints, and possible ways forward, for creating a critical space for development to interrogate the ideologies, processes and practices of globalisation and neoliberalism.
Since the establishment of Development Studies at several European universities at the end of the 1960s, these institutes evolved from an amalgam of left-inclined students and professors towards representatives of an established academic discipline. The author critically reflects upon the transformations that have taken place over that period. In doing so, he first outlines the foundational characteristics of Development Studies and then gives a subjective account of the current situation. In his view, contemporary Development Studies are challenged by 1) a market logic which has penetrated academia and stands in a contradiction to the critical contents of Development Studies and 2) the material and discursive processes of globalisation which require a shift in analytical perspective, disciplinary approach and methods. When addressing the future perspectives of Development Studies in the concluding part, the author argues for a return to a critical research tradition. Critical theory within Development Studies should incorporate new analytical schemes to analyse the economic, political and socio-cultural realities of globalisation. At the same time, Development Studies should not be afraid to reassert a normative approach. That quest might well take us towards a sort of neo-dependency paradigm.
Development is a term which has been linked to widely diverging meanings. Predominantly, it has broadly referred to a process of positive social change which has been achieved in developed countries and is yet to be achieved in developing countries. A critical perspective on the enterprise of development is necessary in order to situate it within a context of political, economic and cultural power relations, but this perspective lacks awareness of its own contingency. A poststructuralist perspective is useful to trace the links between signifier and signified in development, and to denaturalise the concept, but lacks political commitment. Consequently, a synthesis of these perspectives is needed to analyse development in a way that is both theoretically adequate and politically meaningful.
The article discusses the role of the developmentalist project within an African context, such project being part both of the national liberation struggles and the descent of most post-colonial states into authoritarianism and economic crisis. Special emphasis is given to the problematic role of Western prescriptions that shaped the fate of the continent from the modernization approach to the neo-liberal orthodoxy. As a consequence, the article calls on African social scientists to find new, independent and imaginative ways of thinking about development.