Tag Archives development

Migration Series | How does a place become (less) hostile? Looking at everyday encounters between migrants and non-migrants as acts and processes of bordering

Migration Series | How does a place become (less) hostile? Looking at everyday encounters between migrants and non-migrants as acts and processes of bordering

What happens if people on the move encounter others who by means of their everyday actions and interactions can render environments hostile or who actively try to prevent this? What ...

Development Studies cannot become an apology for the status quo

Development Studies must always be critical, or it becomes just an apology for the status quo, for exploitation, for the reproduction of inequality within and between nations, and for the destruction of the conditions of life on Earth.

We live in times of converging crises, across the economy, democracy, health, the environment and more, with sprawling implications for ways of living around the globe. These crises and their mutual relationships offer the opportunity for new understandings of the problems of development and possible ways forward, which will inevitably be contested. These debates can be examined historically, focusing on the implications for our discipline.

An overview can start from the period before the Washington Consensus. Politically, it was marked by a strong anti-communism, with the Soviet model offering a plausible alternative to developing countries going through a rapid process of decolonisation and intense left activity. Economically, the dominant notion of development in the West was related to the idea of modernisation as the pathway to an ideal-type advanced capitalism, illustrated by the USA. In turn, economic policy referred to state intervention to provide the economic infrastructure for industrialisation, including public ownership of key industries, substantial aid distributed according to Western policy imperatives and commercial interests, and support for authoritarian regimes aligned with the West. Although the pre-Washington Consensus would now appear extraordinarily progressive, it was heavily contested by scholarship, with Latin American structuralism and dependency theory figuring prominently, and highlighting the inequitable economic structures, social relations and processes that systematically disadvantaged countries in the Global South.

The Washington Consensus emerged in the late 1970s as a dramatic right-wing reaction against the perceived economic and political weaknesses of the previous Keynesian-developmentalist consensus. The Washington Consensus included three main elements. First, the hegemony of mainstream economics within development theory. Second, the hegemony of the World Bank and the IMF setting the agenda for the study of development and the implementation of development policy and, third, ideologically, the attachment of the Washington Consensus to neoliberalism, including the commitment to a notion of ‘free markets’ standing inconsistently between Hayek and Friedman, but unified in claiming that governments were the source of both inefficiency and corruption. While the Washington Consensus claimed to be leaving as much as possible to the market, what it really did was to rebuild the state to intervene on a discretionary basis to promote a globalising and financialised capitalism.

The Washington Consensus was followed, in the 1990s, by the post-Washington Consensus, which was more sensitive to the non-economic domain, and rationalised the ongoing transitions to political democracy in the Global South through appeals to institution-building and the imperative of good governance to limit corruption. Presumably, these goals would be better achieved in a democracy, leading to the conclusion that democracy was good for growth. The promotion of democracy in the South was supported by a development industry parasitic on the poor countries which, suddenly, found reasons to support the World Bank and the IMF, instead of criticising them from financially parched margins.


Financialisation and the degradation of state capacity

Retrospectively, it appears that, from a mainstream perspective, the Washington institutions had stumbled upon the best of all possible worlds: the neoliberal reforms transferred the power to allocate resources to a globalised financial market, while political democracy legitimised the neoliberal state. At the same time, the neoliberal reforms degraded state capacity; multiparty legislatures weakened the Executive; and a supposedly independent judiciary ensured that the neoliberal reforms, an independent central bank, inflation targeting regimes and the conditionalities imposed in return for aid were locked in – all in the name of “democracy” and the “rule of law”.

This arrangement was criticised heavily within Development Studies. The first criticism came through the notion of the developmental state, that was shown to have violated Washington’s prescriptions across the board, for example, through protectionism, directed finance, price and wage controls, and so on. The second criticism focused on the notion of adjustment with a human face, and the impact of the neoliberal reforms on the poor. The third criticism came through the notion of post-development, which highlighted the value and agency of the subaltern.

The field of development has now been transformed again, by the ongoing slowdown in the advanced economies, with global repercussions: even former star performers have been affected, especially since their own transitions to neoliberalism. In parallel, we notice the degradation of neoliberal democracies. They were already circumscribed by an institutional apparatus to insulate economic policy from any form of “interference” by the majority, which dramatically reduced the policy space available to nominally democratic states. The consequence in practice was that those who lost out the most under neoliberalism also tended to be ignored by its institutions.

With the destruction of the left in the previous period, these tensions opened spaces for anti-systemic forces polarised by what may be called ‘spectacular’ authoritarian leaders. These are supposedly ‘strong’ people, that cultivate a politics of resentment, appeal to common sense, claim to be able to ‘get things done’ by force of will, and promise to confront the outsiders who undermine ‘our’ nation and harm ‘our’ people. But, when they reach power, those spectacular leaders always impose policies intensifying neoliberalism, under the veil of nationalism and a more or less explicit racism, and they are often shadowed by the rise of neo-fascist movements. This was the situation until early 2020, and the pandemic only intensified those tensions. Economies imploded, and authoritarian neoliberal systems became catastrophically perverse, often imposing health policies that killed millions and entrenched Covid-19 so it will never be eliminated.


Authoritarianism and Environmental Collapse call for a Transformation of Development Studies

Contemporary economic and political systems are being slowly but relentlessly overwhelmed by the environmental crisis. This crisis relates, fundamentally, to the contradiction between the limitless search for profits and the limited capacity of the Earth to sustain a climate compatible with the continuation of life as we know it. In turn, the search for solutions is limited by tensions between the accumulated emissions by leading Western economies and the rising emissions in developing countries claiming the right to development today, and by the structure of the global economy, in which several countries are invested in the production of fossil fuels even though this is unsustainable, but they refuse to exit. These tensions have been intensified by financialisation, that tends to raise emissions and block mitigation because financialisation feeds procyclical behaviours that reinforce existing economic structures, increase volatility, and concentrate income, wealth and power. This is incompatible with climate adaptation, strategic industrial policy, or redistribution.

Development Studies must always be critical, or it becomes just an apology for the status quo, for exploitation, for the reproduction of inequality within and between nations, and for the destruction of the conditions of life on Earth. Today, Development Studies faces a neoliberal modality of capitalism whose prosperity relies on speculation, despoliation, extraction and fraud, and which may be sliding into permanent economic underperformance, new forms of fascism and environmental collapse. It is urgent to advance a transformative agenda from within Development Studies. These crises ought to be confronted together for reasons of practicality and legitimacy, through a democratic economic strategy, including political democracy, focusing on the restoration of a collective sphere of citizenship, the expansion of rights, the distribution of income, wealth and power (focusing on the decommodification and definancialisation of social reproduction, starting with universal public services), and a green transition in the economy.

The difficulty is that those alternatives must be underpinned by new social movements and new structures of representation, from political parties to trade unions to community associations, corresponding to the current mode of existence of a society that has been extensively decomposed domestically, imperfectly integrated globally, that has distinct cultures but is connected through internet-based tools. There is nothing more important for Development Studies, today, than to support these critiques of neoliberalism, and support the new movements to reshape our mode of existence.

This blog was first published by EADI.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the author:

Alfredo Saad-Filho is Professor of Political Economy and International Development at the Department of International Development, King’s College London.

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From corporate greed to sustainable business practices: how slow and steady wins the race

From corporate greed to sustainable business practices: how slow and steady wins the race

So often we think that ethics and business do not blend, and too often we are proven right. But what if this is not always the case? What if there ...

The role of National Governments in delivering humanitarian-development-peace nexus approaches: a reflection on current challenges and the way forward

The role of National Governments in delivering humanitarian-development-peace nexus approaches: a reflection on current challenges and the way forward

The concept of humanitarian, development, peace (HDP) — referred to also as the triple nexus — gained momentum during the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016, and more recently with the ...

What the war in Ukraine and the COVID-19 crisis teach us about our global interconnectedness and its implications for inequality

Due to the war in Ukraine not only the country’s inhabitants have come under fire, but also the granary of much of the world. If the war is not stopped, grain prices will rise. This will have severe effects on many countries and vulnerable countries in Africa are likely to bear the brunt. The war, like the corona pandemic, illustrates how closely we are interconnected as nations on a global scale. What effects do such crises have on existing inequality? In this blog, a number of researchers of global development and social justice share their thoughts.

On 17 March, the Institute of Social Studies (ISS) at Erasmus University launched the book ‘COVID-19 and International Development’ (Springer, 2021). During the recent book launch in Amsterdam, ISS researchers have shed light on the unseen faces of the corona pandemic in low-income countries. We spoke with some of the authors of the book about the impact of COVID-19 on the Global South, and their expectations for the future.

What are the main socioeconomic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Global South? 

Rolph van der Hoeven and Rob Vos: ‘Developing countries have suffered severe economic fallouts due to the pandemic. Between 100 and 160 million more people in low-income countries have fallen into poverty and hunger. The recovery has been bumpy and developing countries have had little fiscal and monetary capacity to respond. Many countries now face severe debt distress. Some progress has been made towards realizing two of four reforms we proposed in the book: international tax coordination and issuance of new SDRs. However, these still need to be tailored to serve the interests of the Global South. Worldwide, we are unprepared for future pandemics and major global crises. Just look at last year’s events: many of the world’s poor also had to cope with a surge in food prices. The current Russian invasion of Ukraine will further increase food prices, while the capacity of the government to protect the vulnerable has eroded. We should expect poverty and hunger to rise even further.’

Natascha Wagner: ‘We still have very little fact-based evidence on the indirect health consequences in the Global South where health information systems are weak. We have observed severe disruptions in the provision of routine health care services, preventive care, and treatment schemes. Foregone health care potentially results in more severe complications, co-infections and uncurable conditions, in particular among the poorest. The combination of ad hoc lockdowns without a social assistance system that just as rapidly reaches the poorest has severely affected the already sluggish progress towards the SDGs.’

Farhad Mukhtarov: ‘The pandemic has made it clear that the global water crisis is not so much about scarcity or affordability of water. These can be resolved in most cases by temporarily augmenting supply and providing subsidies. Rather, it is about societal inequality, racial and class-based patterns of violence and exploitation. Many things are needed: fairer wealth re-distribution, more equal practices of taxation, greater investment in the public sector, as well as greater social provision of marginalized groups. They are all necessary to treat various ailments of contemporary global societies.’

Matthias Rieger: ‘The global nature of the pandemic and insufficient data often render it hard to precisely quantify “impacts”. During the pandemic I noticed confused public and policy discourse around the world on “impacts” without proper counterfactual thinking. I think the pandemic has highlighted the need to use natural experiment approaches in global health research and to routinely collect reliable health data.’

Sylvanus Kwaku Afesorgbor: ‘We are getting more and more confident that our optimism about the quick recovery from the COVID-19 trade shock was justified. Although the omicron is more contagious, it has less health consequences and the impact of the pandemic is weaning off – also amongst the non-vaccinated’.


Have you become more (or less) optimistic about the COVID-19 -related impacts since your chapter was written?

Peter A.G. van Bergeijk: Globalization encountered another setback with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The revival of a Cold War setting is on the verge. This will tend to reduce the world’s openness by another 1.5% points (indication of the increase in the share number): Mr. Putin may have effectively killed the era of globalization.’


Binyam Afewerk Demena: NEW The major (COVID-19) implication is that the feasibility of export-oriented growth strategies decreases. In addition, the workings of international organizations will be further frustrated. That is bad news for developing countries. The Global South still has to deal with many challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, due to weak health systems, low socio-economic conditions, extreme poverty rates, and limited access to sanitation to contain impacts.’

Agni Kalfagianni: ‘The COVID-19 pandemic has put further strain on poor health care systems and has reduced even more access to food for the most vulnerable. Not much has changed really to give reason for either optimism or pessimism in that respect. The lack of solidarity towards vaccine access from the Global North to the Global South exacerbated existing problems. Regarding future pandemics; we may react more quickly, given the experience that we gained. But until major changes in the health care systems and global cooperation take place, we will fail again.’

Are we now better prepared to protect vulnerable individuals and communities from future pandemics? 

Zemzem Shigute: ‘The corona virus has proven to be a conundrum that even the most economically powerful nations were not able to control. The virus itself does not discriminate between rich and poor people or nations. However, marginalized groups, including migrants, continue to bear its plight. They face intersecting layers of struggle based on various factors including gender, marital status, education, language, employment, and duration of stay in the country.’

Syed Mansoob Murshed: ‘The COVID-19 pandemic’s initial impact on inequality was negative. However, there are signs that the world’s inequality tolerance may be diminishing. Secondly, the labour supply surge – engendered when China and the former Eastern bloc embraced capitalism – is now also ending. That may be good news for workers and the poor in developing countries but has to be counterbalanced with the bad news about trade disruptions and rising energy prices.’

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

Are you looking for more content about Global Development and Social Justice? Subscribe to Bliss, the official blog of the International Institute of Social Studies, and stay updated about interesting topics our researchers are working on.

EADI ISS Conference 2021 | Development researchers as advocates: eight tips for more engaged scholarship

EADI ISS Conference 2021 | Development researchers as advocates: eight tips for more engaged scholarship

Research impact has become a strategic priority for many research institutes around the world, with an increasing focus on “bridging the gap” between research and society and positioning research in ...

The question of democracy in environmental politics: The Green Road Project in Turkey by Melek Mutioglu Ozkesen

Road construction is usually presented as a major condition for development, but the question is: development for who and whose land is being intruded for the construction of the road? ...

Religion within development, or development within religion? by Fernande Pool

Religion should not be considered one among many wellbeing dimensions that development enables people to engage in, but one among many ontological sources that enables people to engage in development, Fernande Pool, postdoctoral researcher at the ISS, argues. A truly inclusive and respectful dialogue on development would go beyond a secular/religious binary and allow for alternative sources and conceptualisations, whether embedded in religious or non-religious sources.

What is the place of religion in development? Since the 1970s, development practitioners and theorists have gone ‘beyond GDP’ to describe people’s wellbeing. Committed to value-driven, human development, they have started to pay attention to religion. In human development, religion is no longer merely considered an obstruction to, or instrumental to, development, but itself is a valuable part of wellbeing. Yet, if religion is regarded as one dimension of wellbeing, the development framework usually remains secular, whereas this does not align with the lived reality everywhere. So I argue that we still need a cognitive turn.

Engaging development through religion

My contribution is based on two years of ethnographic research with devout Muslims in an Indian village I call Joygram. I suggest that religion should, when appropriate, not (only) be considered a sub-category of development—something development allows people to engage in. Instead, it can form the basis from which to engage with development to begin with. Human development implies some normative ideas of what being human means and what kind of society would allow one to be ‘more human’.

For the research participants, notions of what being human means, and the ethical freedom to discuss these normative ideas, are embedded in the Islamic dharma. To approach religion as a sub-category in an otherwise secular development framework excludes these religious life experiences and ideas from the outset. The scope of this blog is merely to show how different ontological notions underpinning human development can be, and that a proper understanding of these differences requires a cognitive turn.

Including different ontologies

A next question to ask would be: if secular and religious ideas of being would be considered as equally valid in an inclusive dialogue on worthwhile development, would development interventions be not only morally better as a process but also better in terms of their outcomes? A brief example from Joygram seems to suggest so.

In Joygram, the values driving development, including conceptualisations of the human person, life, and society as mentioned above, are embedded in what I call the Islamic dharma: the locally specific, all-encompassing ethics of justice and order to which religion—in this case Islam—is integral. Muslims in Joygram foster a dynamic concept of the human as emerging from divine submission and constant interactions within social networks. First, humanity emerges from the acknowledgment of the eternal indebtedness to the creator-god for the gift of life. Subsequently, the being is made a ‘human person’ through exchanges within a network of social relationships.

So, Joygramis believe that relationality comes into existence before the individual. This doesn’t take away, however, that every person has a right to the same human dignity. It is just that the human is conceptualised differently from, for instance, the human as a sovereign individual in most liberal theories. What it means to be human is deeply embedded in dharma, which includes religion. So without the notion of dharma as the basis for dialogue, one cannot even begin to talk about humans, let alone human development. Indeed, outside dharma, there is no humanity, because there are no values. So, if development in Joygram is to be worthwhile, it has to be embedded in dharma, too. Development dialogues outside the space of dharma would be reduced to purely technocratic and instrumental measures.

The need for a cognitive turn

A dialogue on development that would include and respect the Islamic dharma would require a cognitive turn, otherwise the starting position of a discussion is still within the hegemonic secular ontology. This is not unlike the cognitive turn required to shift the focus from GDP to individual capabilities. Perhaps development should not merely take religious values into account, or enable or liberate people to engage in religion. A development dialogue could be more inclusive if it acknowledges that the entire meaning of the world, the human, and key values like freedom and dignity may be informed by religious ideas and experiences. This means allowing for alternative conceptualisations of being human, but also of autonomy, relationships, and so on.

This does not mean, however, that universal values have to be discarded in favour of cultural relativism. It means, rather, that certain universal values or development goals, such as Martha Nussbaum’s list of basic capabilities, may be pursued on the basis of different ontological grounds. The Joygrami worldview and Nussbaum’s capability approach are not incompatible, even if they are based on different notions of what being human means. Yet in Joygram, the capabilities would be striven after within dharma, not as side by side with dharma, because then they would lose their ultimate value.

I reiterate that religion is more a complex social phenomenon than a static and compartmentalised set of norms and symbols, and dynamic religious ideas of being and sociality interact with ideas of being and sociality outside of that discreet religion—if there ever was one. Religions constantly change, partly because of those interactions, but also because of internal reasoning. Moreover, religion is nothing special, yet central: it seems likely that every human being lives with ideas of being and sociality, whether consciously or not, and there are always elements that transcend everyday life, whether directly associated with a particular religion or not. A truly inclusive and respectful dialogue on development would go beyond a secular/religious binary and allow for alternative sources and conceptualisations, whether embedded in religious or non-religious sources.

Image Credit: Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar / CC BY-SA 3.0

About the author:

Picture-d5a9-41db-ab99-ac23fa465eb8.jpgFernande Pool is a Marie Skłodowksa Curie “Leading” Fellow at ISS. Her current ethnographic research with Muslims in the Netherlands aims to destabilise hegemonic conceptualisations of religion and secularism, wellbeing and development. Her PhD thesis, completed in March 2016 at the London School of Economics anthropology department, explored the ethical life of Muslims in West Bengal, India. She is the co-founder and co-director of Lived Religion Project and AltVisions



Development Dialogue 2018 | Social cash transfers: the risk of Malawi’s donor dependence by Roeland Hemsteede

Development Dialogue 2018 | Social cash transfers: the risk of Malawi’s donor dependence by Roeland Hemsteede

Social cash transfers are becoming more popular, especially in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa. But what happens when the government does not support these programmes? Roeland Hemsteede shows that in ...

Development Dialogue 2018 | Do children entering preschool early develop more quickly? by Saikat Ghosh and Subhasish Dey

Development Dialogue 2018 | Do children entering preschool early develop more quickly? by Saikat Ghosh and Subhasish Dey

Despite fierce debate among scholars regarding the age at which children are ready to enter preschool, the issue remains contentious. This article based on an empirical footing argues that earlier ...

Development Dialogue 2018 | Blue Economy: A New Frontier of an African Renaissance? by Johan Spamer

The African Union recently proclaimed that the ‘Blue Economy’, as the ocean economy is increasingly known, could become the ‘New Frontier of an African Renaissance’. The Blue Economy promises sustainable development through its focus on socio-economic inclusion and the protection of the maritime environment, but is it really all it promises to be? With the first global conference on the sustainable development of the blue economy taking place in two weeks, this article takes a closer look at what the Blue Economy is about.  

It was as late as 2012 that the Blue Economy was officially recognised at the Third International Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro (Rio+20). In the absence of a universal definition, Verma (2018) argues that the Blue Economy can be regarded as the integration of ocean economy with the principles of social inclusion, environmental sustainability, and innovative, dynamic business models (p.103). As such, the Blue Economy offers a new and alternative sustainability approach that goes beyond simply harmonising activities in an ecologically friendly manner. It’s a notion that grew out of the Green Economy (Claudio, 2013), but with different policies and frameworks, offering its own characteristics and domain for countries whose futures are based on maritime resources. Africa is calling the Blue Economy narrative the frontline of the continent’s rebirth, but what is this new notion, and how is it different from other blue-infused (e.g. Europe’s blue growth) drives?


The paths followed by leading African countries (e.g. Seychelles, Mauritius, Kenya and South Africa) in establishing Blue Economy frameworks are important, and so is the manner in which these countries go about it by establishing dedicated departments for implementation. The Blue Economy per definition offers an opportunity to prevent the vulnerable, often also marginalised populations, from missing out on socio-economic opportunities in the maritime sector. Furthermore, these beneficiaries can now obtain a fair share of the public good, claim their voices on an equal footing, and can attain a secured sense of dignity through unlocking wealth opportunities.

At least, this is the picture painted by African legislators. However, we are still lacking sufficient empirical data and scientific research to substantiate these foreseen outcomes. Critique against or endorsements of the African Blue Economy are both reference to ad hoc cases and by making broad conclusions in the absence of rigourous in-depth case analyses. Furthermore, the scope of the Blue Economy within the African context includes lakes, rivers, dams, and underground water. It goes beyond the traditional coastal and ocean-based economies with landlocked countries also included in the regional strategies (UNECA, 2016). This makes generalisation and case comparisons with non-African Blue Economy countries complex.

Central to this approach, and within the context of people-orientated sustainability (Attri and Bohler-Muller, 2018), is the principle of social justice through fairness (equity) and inclusivity. The aforesaid echoes strongly with the SDGs’ sentiment (see SDG 14) to ensure long-term sustainability by:

  • Enhancing and leveraging newly received benefits from the ocean environments to the benefit of all (inclusivity) through activities such as bioprospecting, allocated fishing quotas or rights, oil and mineral extraction agreements;
  • Fostering national equality (parity which includes gender equity), allowing for inclusive growth associated with decent employment for all; and
  • Having strong international governance structures and measurements in place to specifically guide the developing country regimes for nearby seabed development. This relates to the management of their rights and interests to be properly sanctioned in the expansion of their national waters beyond the current state dominion.

Keen et al. (2018) provide a useful overview of the Blue Economy. As expected, the three main sustainable components (economic, social alias community and ecosystem) underpin the core Blue Economy aspects. These components are complemented by enabling institutional arrangements as well as technological capacity, reflecting the linkages within such a multi-scalar model. The three predominant concepts that are important to oversee this sustainable development framework are: a) agency, b) power, and c) politics.

As such, we can contextualise and link these concepts within the domain of development studies in the following manner (although not limited to): the need for agency through institutional platforms (e.g. multi-stakeholder initiatives), power relations (e.g. gender), influencing the political economy (e.g. the role of the developmental state), political ecology (e.g. ecosystem resilience), and the role of technology (e.g. innovation).

Notable is the acknowledgement of the importance of diversity (cultural values) and gender equity. The Indian Ocean Rim Association’s (IORA) Declaration on Gender Equality and Women’s Economic Empowerment, adopted at the 16th Council of Ministers Meeting in 2016 (Bali, Indonesia), affirmed the overall commitment towards the promotion of women’s rights (Verma, 2018). The success of the Blue Economy as an exemplar for promoting inclusiveness and equity depends on how different vulnerable groups such as marginalised women, skill-deficient persons, and poor communities are incorporated. At a theoretical level, the Blue Economy is portrayed as an evolutionary concept over the long term. The benefits are foreseen to mainly depend on the theories still to be developed by the scholarly activity in this research domain (Attri, 2018).


The Blue Economy as a sustainable development framework explains how social justice and equality can be addressed on different levels, especially for the most vulnerable. Partnerships, capacity building, infrastructure development and country-level frameworks are very important in the process of opening up new markets and allowing for greater access in a sustainable way. Barbesgaard (2018) challenges this view, labelling ‘blue growth’ as ocean grabbing. This view is supported by Brent et al. (2018), who highlight contradictions within the blue economy’s ethos and question the promise of an inclusive three-fold win on a socio-economic-ecological level.  Still, this is what Africa seems to be calling for (at least the African Union), and the Blue Economy is seen as the vessel to cross to new (socially just) opportunities by keeping a balance between factors; more growth but with less unsustainable practices.

Kenya will be hosting the first global Sustainable Blue Economy Conference from 26-28 November 2018 in Nairobi.  All are invited, with special arrangements to welcome the marginalised and often excluded parties (e.g. poor communities and small-scale fishers). However, the question remains: will all have equal voices and approve the agenda? See http://www.blueeconomyconference.go.ke/ for more details.

Attri, V.N. (2018). The Blue Economy and the Theory of Paradigm Shifts. In Attri, V.N. and Bohler-Muller, N. (Eds). (2018). The Blue Economy Handbook of the Indian Ocean Region. (pp. 15 – 37).  Africa Institute of South Africa.
Attri, V.N. and Bohler-Muller, N. (2018). The Beginning of the Journey. In Attri, V.N. and Bohler-Muller, N. (Eds.). (2018). The Blue Economy Handbook of the Indian Ocean Region. (pp. 1 – 12). Africa Institute of South Africa.
African Union (2012). 2050 Africa’s integrated maritime strategy, version 1.0. African Union.
Barbesgaard, M. (2018). Blue growth: saviour or ocean grabbing? The Journal of Peasant Studies, 45 (1) 130 – 149.
Brent, Z.W., Barbesgaard, M. and Pedersen, C. (2018). The Blue Fix: Unmasking the politics behind the promise of blue growth. Transnational Institute.
Claudio, C. (2013). From Green to Blue Economy. Philippines Daily Enquirer 23 June 2013. Available at: http://business.inquirer.net/128587/from-green-to-blue-economy [Accessed 23 Augustus 2018].
Keen, M.R., Schwarz A-M and Wini-Simeon. Towards defining the Blue Economy: Practical lessons from Pacific Ocean governance. Marine policy, 88 (2018), 333-341.
UNCTAD. (2014). The Oceans Economy: Opportunities and Challenges for Small Island Developing States. United Nations Publications.
Verma, N. (2018). Integrating a Gender Perspective into the Blue Economy. In Attri, V.N. and Bohler-Muller, N. (Eds.). (2018). The Blue Economy Handbook of the Indian Ocean Region. (pp. 98 – 124). Africa Institute of South Africa.
UNECA. (2016). Africa’s Blue Economy: A Policy Handbook. Economic Commission for Africa.

This blog article is part of a series related to the Development Dialogue 2018 Conference that was recently held at the ISS.

JS Photo #1

About the author:

Johan Spamer is a researcher at ISS in the domain of multi-stakeholders initiatives (MSIs), inclusive development and innovation, specifically within the Blue Economy.

ISS hosts 16th Development Dialogue for early-stage researchers

ISS hosts 16th Development Dialogue for early-stage researchers

The Development Dialogue, an annual event organized by and for PhD researchers, this year welcomes over 80 participants. The conference theme is “Social Justice amidst the Convergence of Crises: Repoliticitzing ...

The Global North’s superhero complex and how Escobar can help us save ourselves by Carolyn Yu

The Global North’s superhero complex and how Escobar can help us save ourselves by Carolyn Yu

This week Arturo Escobar is delivering a lecture at the ISS on the topic of post-development. Escobar’s work on rethinking development is crucial in a time when the development field ...

SDG 12: a long way off from changing how we produce and consume by Des Gasper, Amod Shah and Sunil Tankha

The SDGs are a striking set of goals that potentially could facilitate major changes across the world. SDG 12—to ‘ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns’ (SCPs)—is fundamental and exceptionally broad. But both political and technical factors have contributed to a watered-down set of SDG 12 targets and indicators. These need to be revisited, deepened and added to in national and local level plans for the goal to live up to much of its promise.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted in 2015, have many notable features. They apply for all countries. They link economic, social and environmental dimensions of development, moving beyond the Millennium Development Goals’ narrower focus on poverty, education and health. And not least, they include an exceptionally broad Goal 12: to ‘Ensure Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns’ (SCP). How did this goal arise and what might it mean in practice? We have been looking at this as one part of a research project on the SDGs, coordinated from the New School University in New York and the University of Oslo.

To understand how the stand-alone SDG 12 and its targets emerged, we studied the 2013-14 discussions in the intergovernmental Open Working Group (OWG) on SDGs established by the UN General Assembly. The OWG proposals for SDG 12 were adopted in an unchanged form after further negotiations in the General Assembly in 2015. We explored, too, the subsequent work of the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators in 2015-16. We conclude that both political and technical factors have contributed to a watered-down set of SCP targets and indicators, which need to be revisited, deepened and added to.

SDG-12-Ensure-sustainable-consumption-and-productionA stand-alone goal on SCP…

The successful push for a stand-alone goal on SCP represents a partial success for developing countries in trying to ensure application in the SDGs of the Rio principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR).[1] Richer countries implicitly bear primary responsibility for a SCP goal since they have, and have long had, the greatest environmental impacts per person.

The OWG discussions show that while wealthier countries argued for shared responsibility and for SCP to be only a cross-cutting theme across all SDGs, many developing countries emphasised CBDR and the duty and necessity for richer countries to act first and do more, and hence pressed for a stand-alone SCP goal. They argued, too, that any universal goal on SCP should not compromise their priorities of poverty eradication and socio-economic progress.

The eventual adoption of a stand-alone goal also reflects developing countries’ strong concerns about their ability to access green technologies. Many countries, not least India, were adamant on strengthening the visibility of rich countries’ responsibility to share technologies needed to produce energy and goods cleanly, and to counteract the bias in market-centered innovation whereby intellectual property rights help to motivate innovators but also limit diffusion, especially to poorer countries. The inclusion of targets on scientific and technological support to developing countries in SDG 12 (and on technology transfer in SDG 17) serve to heighten public attention to this issue, even though they are not directly actionable since they depend on the cooperation of patent-holding private corporations.

but with often vague and diluted contents…

The positions in the OWG discussions reflected deeper disagreements about the nature of SCP and the paths to reach it, including the ethical and production choices to be made and the distribution of costs and benefits of these efforts. The negotiations on targets brought considerable dilution of ambition; nearly all ‘targets’ are really sub-goals rather than specific targets and have often remained vague. They are universal in nature but practically all references calling on developed countries to ‘take the lead’ were removed. Removal, too, of almost all percentage references means that countries are not committing to specific quantified improvements. So progress will depend on the interest and priorities within individual countries.

Further, developing a set of strong and relevant indicators to measure and stimulate progress on SDG 12 will at best be a long process. The weakness as yet of many of the globally formulated indicators reflects the problems of operationalising what are sometimes vague and novel targets, and the limited political interest in a primarily technical exercise in which specialised UN Agencies and National Statistical Offices (NSOs) predominate. Moreover, the process of deciding upon the current indicators was highly compressed in time. In several areas, for example regarding corporate reporting, the indicators are mere publication counts.

While many targets under SDG 12 do not yet have very satisfactory indicators, enunciation of the targets may spur further work. Both the indicator specification and target monitoring need ongoing improvement, including at national level, where there will sometimes be scope for augmenting the targets too. Unfortunately, NSOs and other responsible parties typically do not yet have a clear and resourced mandate to collect the data required, let alone improve it. How far will national governments invest in the monitoring framework?

…and centred on technological innovation rather than consumption restraint…  

SDG 12 is not only extremely broad but, whereas most other SDGs have been achieved to more or less satisfactory extents in at least some countries, sustainable consumption and production (SCP) have not yet been realised anywhere.[2] So what is required is here perhaps even more open to debate. SDG 12 itself tacitly focuses on improving production and consumption, not reducing these processes. They can supposedly continue to grow indefinitely, as long as they become ‘smart’. Many researchers have argued, since the 1960s, that sustainability requires a fundamental rethink of not only production and distribution processes—to reduce waste, absorb by-products, and so on—but also of the culture of ever-growing consumption and the underlying systems of societal organisation and motivation, including by building an orientation towards consuming less while ‘living more’ and more equitably. The SDG 12 targets say little on such issues, apart from promoting ‘awareness for sustainable development’ (Target 12.8) through attention in formal schooling. Fundamental reorientation of consumer societies was a theme in many fora that fed into the SDG negotiations, but not into the outcomes.

SDG 12 continues, instead, the interpretation of SCP which emerged from ‘green business’ circles in the 1980s and 1990s (now sometimes called ‘eco-modernism’): that technical innovation will supposedly dramatically reduce ‘material footprints’ and allow production and consumption to grow endlessly. This perspective long ago became prominent also in UNEP, the coordinating agency for SDG 12 discussions, and in the Marrakech Process that followed up on SCP after the 2002 Johannesburg Summit on Sustainable Development. No major new pro-business lobbying or interventions in 2012-15 were needed for this perspective to dominate the formulation of SDG 12. The approach emphasises voluntary, informed consumption and production decisions, rather than regulation. It rests on hopes that existing and soon-to-be-developed technologies can obviate the need for restraint and politically difficult discussions.

…yet offering a space for increased attention and future mobilisation ?

At present SDG 12 does not adequately reflect transformative conceptualisations of SCP. The targets appear often diluted and vague, and the indicators further narrow the scope and ambition. There is little attention to moderating consumption. SDG 12 does, though, provide major spaces for attention to SCP from relevant agencies and publics, worldwide, while underlining to some extent the CBDR principle. In an optimistic scenario the goal and targets would induce domestic mobilisation and country-specific reform, that would lead to augmentation of targets, innovation in indicators for both monitoring and demanding action, and broader innovations in thinking-and-doing for real sustainability.

[1] The CBDR principle was adopted at the 1992 Rio ‘Earth Summit’, the UN Conference on Environment and Development.

[2] See e.g. V. Mignaqui, 2014, Sustainable Development as a Goal, International J. of Social Quality 4(1): 57-77.

Picture credit: John Henderson

Desmond Gasper_UN-2014-resized2About the authors:

Des Gasper
is Professor at ISS in Human Development and Public Policy.amod-photo


Amod Shah is a PhD candidate at the ISS, focusing on land acquisition-related conflict in India.039a9083bea074c4ac8332632eda82df
Sunil Tankha is Assistant Professor of States, Societies and World Development at the ISS.