Traditionally, Development Studies has been centred around a demarcation between the global North (Europe and North America) and the global South (Asia, Africa, and Latin America). In recent years, there has been growing clamour to throw out this North-South framework – held as outdated – in favour of a new ‘global’ outlook. It sounds harmless enough, but in our recent open access article published in Development and Change, we map out our concerns.
In the article, we focus on two highly cited ‘pandemic papers’ published by scholars from two of the most influential and well-resourced Development Studies institutes globally in one of the discipline’s leading journals, World Development (see here and here). We take these ‘pandemic papers’ as part of a broader trend towards a new ‘global development’ paradigm that pre-dated the pandemic, but which has gained significant ground since, warranting critical appraisal. The argument underlying the trend is that due to recent and growing North-South convergence, and the troubled colonial past of Development Studies, a global approach is needed to consider development processes and challenges that cover all countries, including those in the global North.
Aligning themselves with post-development scholarship, the papers offer a valuable critique of the Truman version of development, which envisions the global North as developing the South through aid projects. We also agree with the view outlined in the papers that Development Studies should be grounded in more equitable sharing of knowledge and resources.
Reductive accounts of historical origins and current realities of development
Yet in making their call to adopt a universalist, global development framework, the ‘pandemic papers’ obfuscate existing relations of colonial, imperial and structural subordination, and overlook the Southern origins of and justifications for the North-South framework they seek to overturn. Rather than the origin story of development as Truman’s inaugural address in 1949, in which he highlighted his programme for intervention in countries in the global South, Southern-based visions of development have their own origin stories, often associated with a similarly significant event. The 5th Pan African Congress of 1945 and the Bandung Conference of 1955 – eventually leading to the creation of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1961 – provide two such examples.
By failing to acknowledge or engage with these intellectual inheritances and reducing development to the Truman version of Northern aid, the authors erase Southern visions and imaginings of development from sight. For example (but not only), the Southern originating centre-periphery framework which elucidates how Western imperialism creates and sustains a system of dependency and unequal exchange.
If heeded, we argue the call to move towards a ‘global development’ framework risks concealing how development aspirations in the South continue to be disrupted and stifled, and development processes shaped, by the neo-colonial and imperial ambitions and actions of the North, while undermining the ability of future development scholars to engage with and interpret these processes or examine alternative development paths forged.
The danger of ‘universalising’ Development Studies
To illustrate the dangers of universalising approaches to Development Studies in more detail, we draw on three examples from the ‘pandemic papers’ regarding their treatment of global production, financial integration, and social reproduction. In the case of production, a global framework is presented in which all countries confront the same issues in a similar order of magnitude, with little differentiation between them in terms of location within and across global value chains. This runs contrary to a body of global value chain scholarship, which highlights how highly uneven effects across the North‒South divide function to sustain and reproduce inequities and inequalities in global trade and development. Yet these effects are obscured by the global development framework illustrated in the articles, and as such, appear to be analytically disconnected. Similarly, the existing financial architecture and the imperatives of social reproduction underpin the perpetuation of hierarchies, which, if anything, were amplified during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Related to this, the outlined analytical agenda and toolset underpinning the ‘global development’ framework are likely to result in a significant distancing and decoupling from cutting-edge and development-relevant scholarship on capitalist development and global political economy. These are strands of literature that traditionally have contributed much to Development Studies by way of theoretical and empirical contributions. Under its current guise, global development might become increasingly incompatible with, and incapable of dialoguing with and benefiting from, these other strands.
(Re)centring the global South in Development Studies
Through their universalist framings, the two articles mirror the claims of Western governments to ‘global’ solutions, which relegate the continued reproduction of North‒South structural inequalities and inequities to the margins. By affecting a posture of ‘false sameness’ and inscribing a uniform experience of deprivation, the ‘pandemic papers’ contribute to an erasure of centuries of violence on the majority world of predominantly Black and Brown people, and their historic and current positioning in the matrix of global power and subordination. Although both papers call on Development Studies scholars to refocus their attention on the global North, it is difficult to see how re-centring the study of North America and Europe can reverse tensions, and how Europeans studying Europe becomes a route to decolonizing Development Studies.
Rather than de-centring the global North‒South framework, the analytically more useful way forward, in our view, is for Development Studies to seek to (re)centre the global South and use global South lenses to understand the global political economy. The process of (re)centring the global South does not mean setting the remit of Development Studies as being exclusively about the study of contexts considered to be a part of the global South. It rather entails recognizing that global South experiences, theories and lenses are necessary to understand capitalist development globally, foregrounding historical and contemporary hierarchies. Structural imbalances that function to reproduce the North‒South divide, and their historical origins, must remain in the foreground.
While the world no longer consists, for the most part, of explicit colonies and colonial powers, multiple aspects of the global economy reproduce similar geographies of power, influence and subordination. It is thus vital to rethink and recognize capitalist development as historically constituted and politically implicated. Rather than seeking to wish away these histories and divides, Development Studies can strive to show that what goes on in the global South is not only important and distinct from specific contexts of the global North, but that it is a vital viewpoint for understanding the structure and dynamics of the world economy and the majority world.
This blog was first published by Debating Development Research.
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About the authors:
Jörg Wiegratz is Lecturer in Political Economy of Global Development at the University of Leeds, UK, Senior Research Associate at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa, and Research Associate at the Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, United States International University-Africa, Kenya. He specializes in neoliberalism, fraud, commercialization and economic pressure, with a focus on Uganda and Kenya. He is a member of the Editorial Working Group for the Review of African Political Economy (ROAPE).
Pritish Behuria is a Senior Lecturer in the University of Manchester’s Global Development Institute, UK. He primarily researches the politics of economic transformation in East Africa. He has previously worked at the London School of Economics and Political Science and SOAS, University of London, UK.
Christina Laskaridis is Lecturer in Economics at the Open University, Milton Keynes, UK, and Associate Fellow and Lecturer at Saïd Business School and St Edmund Hall, University of Oxford, UK. She works on the political economy of sovereign debt, international organizations and monetary and debt debates. Her work examines the nature of economic expertise from a historical perspective. She is the 2022 recipient of the Joseph Dorfman Best Dissertation Prize by the History of Economics Society.
Lebohang Liepollo Pheko is an activist scholar who is currently a Senior Research Fellow at Trade Collective, Johannesburg, South Africa. She has taught at the University of South Africa, University of Johannesburg, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute for Technology and Linköping University. Her key scholarly interests are international trade, international development, decolonial feminism, feminist economics and globalization. Her work uses an intersectional approach to explore race, gender and class oppressions, and is rooted in social movement struggles.
Ben Radley is a Lecturer in International Development for the Department of Social and Policy Sciences at the University of Bath, UK. His research centres on the interplay between so-called green transitions and processes of economic transformation in Central Africa, with a focus on labour dynamics and the role played by Northern corporations. He is a member of the Editorial Working Group for ROAPE, and an affiliated member of the Centre of Mining Research at the Catholic University of Bukavu, DRC.
Sara Stevano is a development and feminist political economist. She is a Senior Lecturer in Economics at SOAS University of London, UK, having held teaching and research positions at the University of the West of England, Bristol, and King’s College London, UK. Her areas of study are the political economy of work, food and nutrition, inequalities and social reproduction. Her work focuses on Africa, with primary research experience in Mozambique and Ghana.
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