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Common Challenges for All?

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 In recent years, there has been growing clamour to throw out this North-South framework – held as outdated – in favour of a new ‘global’ outlook.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.

President Joe Biden speaks with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari after a meeting on the Build Back Better World initiative, Tuesday, November 2, 2021, during the COP26 U.N. Climate Change Conference at the Scottish Event Campus in Glasgow, Scotland. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz).

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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The Global South and the return of geopolitics

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A rise in the number and scale of political tensions between countries in the Global North clearly signal the return of geopolitics; the war waged by Russia on Ukraine is a key example. But while such conflicts are widely reported on, a new geopolitics emerging in the Global South, while equally significant, is often overlooked and should be receiving more attention, writes Wil Hout, ISS Professor of Governance and International Political Economy.

Students of international relations are typically familiarised with the work of Alfred Thayer Mahan and Halford Mackinder, who both stressed the relevance of geographical dominance for great power status. Mahan focused on the role of sea power, while Mackinder’s notion of the ‘heartland’ (which referred to Eastern Europe) stressed control of land masses as a central factor for great power status. Mahan and Mackinder’s work is usually discussed to illustrate the popularity of geopolitical thinking at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century.

When opening a newspaper or looking at news websites in early 2023, it is obvious that we are witnessing the return of geopolitics. In Europe, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has spurred transformations that were unimaginable since the end of the Cold War, leading amongst others to a spike in military spending, the application for NATO membership by Sweden and Finland and the granting of EU candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova. Relations between the US and China have soured and led to a so-called ‘chip war’. Apprehension about China’s expansion in the South China Sea and the Indo-Pacific, as well as about its claims to Taiwan, resulted in the completion of a US-led defensive ‘arc’ in East Asia and the establishment of the Australia-United Kingdom-United States Partnership (AUKUS) in 2021. Vulnerabilities related to the sourcing of rare earths elements have led to increased activities on the part of the US and the European Union to strengthen their position in regional value chains related to these metals.

Geopolitics and the Global South

While current news reports pay much attention to the geopolitical dimensions of great power interactions, the return of geopolitics is certainly as relevant for countries across the Global South as for those in the Global North. In many cases, the manifestations of geopolitics will differ in the Global South, and that is why it is relevant to pay specific attention to them. For reasons of space, the following paragraphs will mainly focus on Africa.

One of the most important – and by now quite well documented – developments has been the challenge to the post-World War II international or ‘liberal’ order posed by the so-called rising powers. Currently, China is seen as one of the key challengers of the principles of the liberal, multilateral order: the creation of so-called parallel institutions such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the Chang Mai Initiative Multilateralization (CMIM) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is often seen as an attempt to provide alternative mechanisms for Western-dominated, multilateral organisations as the World Bank, IMF and NATO. Further, the Belt and Road Initiative is a Chinese attempt to forge stronger ties with countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, importantly through increased investment and the extension of loans. The rhetoric of South-South Cooperation is applied quite regularly to emphasise China’s solidarity with countries in the Global South, but many scholars have voiced criticism of China’s claim to position itself within the developing world.

Africa is an obvious target of the new geopolitics. A first sign of this is the increased diplomatic activity targeting the continent that has been visible in recent months. In December 2022, delegations from 49 African countries and the African Union were hosted by President Biden at the US-Africa Leaders Summit, at the occasion of which US Secretary of State Blinken emphasised that ‘Africa is a major geopolitical force’. In the first two months of 2023, representatives of most major powers toured the continent, with the foreign ministers of ChinaRussiaGermany and France, the US treasury secretary and the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy visiting fourteen African countries.

Will Africa benefit from the increased attention?

While former colonial powers such as France and Britain remain involved in Africa for economic and security considerations and the EU recently concluded, together with the African Union, a Joint Vision for 2030 as part of the Africa-EU Partnership, some of the rising powers have also made deliberate attempts to strengthen their foothold in the continent. With the vast majority of countries in Africa having signed a memorandum of understanding with China on the Belt and Road Initiative, China has expanded its investment in infrastructure across the continent. The Kampala-Entebbe and Nairobi Expressways, together with the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway, are the most visible signs of Chinese investment in Africa. Critical voices have meanwhile criticised the Chinese presence in Africa because it has led to a new form of dependency by luring countries into a ‘debt trap’. Through the activities of the notorious Wagner Group, Russia has also been active militarily in the Central African Republic, Mali, Libya, Sudan, Mozambique and Madagascar, where they supported the incumbent regime or particular groups in exchange for mining concessions. India, as one of the champions of the Non-aligned Movement, is picturing itself as an alternative to Western and Chinese involvement and has supported, for instance, Africa’s call for a permanent seat on the UN’s Security Council, which is also referred to as the Ezulwini consensus.

External involvement in Africa is undoubtedly important, but developments in the continent also have important geopolitical dimensions. A recent report of the European Union Institute for Security Studies discusses the ‘new geopolitical frontlines’ in terms of four geographical spaces (sands, oceans, cities and peripheries) and four functional domains (trade, digital, jobs and information). It is obvious that Africa currently faces a broad array of geopolitical opportunities and challenges. Driven by Africa’s economic dynamism, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is an obvious opportunity to redraw the (regional) economic boundaries that are dividing the continent. The agreement could be a motor for economic development, by creating a larger intra-African market, and could reduce economic dependence on other parts of the world. The AfCFTA not only aims to liberalise continent-wide trade, but is also intent on establishing the free movement of persons, capital and services.

The various geopolitical spaces contain noticeable centripetal forces that may have a positive influence in the African geopolitical landscape, while certain centrifugal developments could lead to more adverse outcomes. The Sahara is both the area that connects the countries of North and sub-Saharan Africa, and a fertile ground for criminal activity, including human and drug trafficking, and the rise of transnational terrorist networks. Likewise, the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Guinea are areas of trade and military activity while they also attract groups involved in piracy and armed robbery. African cities are the hotbed of growing middle classes and economic dynamism, but they also contain the potential for political mobilisation and resistance to the dominance of political and economic elites. Finally, peripheral areas, which are distant from the political centre of the state, are vulnerable to the rise of extremist, jihadist groups.

The upcoming panel at the EADI CEsA 2023 General Conference will be a place to assess and discuss the extent to which geopolitics has returned in the Global South and what are the implications of this return. Important questions are: does heightened geopolitical struggle offer opportunities for the countries in the Global South to maintain or strengthen their political and/or economic position, are there any obvious allies for addressing geopolitical challenges, how do the countries in the Global South define their own geopolitical position, and is regional cooperation a viable instrument to counter geopolitical fallout?

This blog was first published in EADI blog.

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

About the author:

Wil Hout is Professor of Governance and International Political Economy at the International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

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EADI ISS Conference 2021 | Some steps for decolonising international research-for-development partnerships

While partnerships between researchers and practitioners from the Global North and Global South can be and often are intellectually and socially impactful, they remain highly unequal. Coloniality pervades these partnerships, influencing who leads the research projects implemented in the Global South and whose interests are represented. Here, the conveners and panellists of a roundtable discussion on partnerships in academia that formed part of the recent EADI ISS Conference 2021 propose some steps for decolonising international research partnerships. 

Much of the very urgent and timely discussion on decolonising the academe[1] – recognising and changing the colonial relations of power that are embedded in teaching as well as research – has focused on representation, on diversifying the curricula, and on theorising from the Global South. But what about research partnerships and collaborations? This is a slightly overlooked issue in the decolonisation agenda, but one that is no less important.

In the field of international development particularly, but not only, collaborations between academic institutions in the Global North and academic and non-academic institutions in the Global South are often crucial to demonstrate research impact and to generate funding. But these partnerships themselves are fraught by unequal power relations. To truly decolonise research, it is necessary to decolonise every aspect of it – including the way in which we collaborate internationally.

At a recent roundtable at the EADI ISS Conference 2021 called ‘Partnership, participation and power in academia’, we sought answers to questions that included:

  • How do unequal power relations manifest in the design and operation of research?
  • What might we do to challenge these relations?
  • What would it mean to decolonise these research partnerships?

During the roundtable, participants highlighted key issues that arose in how international research collaborations are designed and implemented. These are summarised below. We start with reflections on how coloniality manifests itself through various stages of the collaboration process.

Agenda-setting: whose interests are really represented?

There are a number of programmatic and institutional issues that result in unequal relations between collaborators across the Global North and Global South, both within academic institutions and between academia and practice. Funding sources and structures are obvious culprits here. Not only are funders often situated in the Global North, the criteria for eligibility and affiliation means that these partners need to be the principal or lead investigators. As a result, more often than not, project outcomes and impacts end up being structured and valued by the parameters of funding bodies and university departments in the Global North with little regard for what might be important for partners inhabiting other geographies and institutional environments. So, for example, the inordinate emphasis in projects on high-impact journal publications may be at odds with the priorities of an NGO partner in the Global South.

Constrained research design processes

Moreover, grant applications typically require clearly defined questions, outcomes and outputs – in fact, proposals are often marked down when they demonstrate the slightest sign of tentativeness – and the time between the announcement of grant and submission deadlines can be quite limited. These issues mean that research partnerships do not always have enough time and space to jointly develop a research agenda that accounts equally for interests of partners across the Global North and Global South and to allow for the messy process that robust research often tends to be.

More knowledge is more power (when it comes to agenda setting)

In fact, because researchers in the Global North also have more tacit knowledge and institutional support to make a proposal ‘fundable’, they have more power in setting the research agenda. In such situations, the degree to which partnerships are equitable depends on the discretion and conscience of individual academics. 

Partners in the Global South: mediators or change agents?

There are more fundamental questions that arise from these issues: who is considered a researcher and what does it mean to be a researcher? It is now widely accepted that the ‘lone researcher’ never was – the work of academics has always been enabled by other individuals and networks of support. In the context of many North-South research collaborations, practitioner organisers and local communities based in the Global South often become mediators providing access to field data, data collecting agents and/or passive recipients of research findings. Academics everywhere, but especially in the Global North, need to find ways of sharing power with institutions, communities and individuals in whose name these collaborative grants are often established.

Decolonising international research partnerships: some steps

With these issues and questions in mind, and based on the roundtable discussion, we propose some steps to decolonise international academic collaborations and foster partnerships that are equitable, democratic, and lead to locally relevant impacts.

  1. Decolonise the research ecosystem

First, the research ecosystem of funding bodies, higher education organisations and research institutions needs to be transformed to eliminate systemic biases against research partners from the Global South. More often than not, grant guidelines require that project leadership and budget administration remain with the Northern partners while hiring policies for project staff (e.g. PhD researchers) frequently discriminate against Southern candidates. We propose:

  • Redressing the hierarchies of funding structures: building funding instruments that recognise academic excellence, merit, and local relevance, regardless of researchers’ nationality;
  • Designing funding instruments that prioritise project leadership by Southern partners, both academics and practitioners;
  • Reflecting on the ways in which our own attitudes and practices perpetuate the systemic injustices within the research ecosystem.
  1. Decolonise the research process

Second, it is necessary to think critically about the biases that permeate the research inception process – from articulating the research idea through conceptualisation to funding acquisition. Rarely does it happen that the Northern and Southern co-applicants have the chance to brainstorm the research idea together and articulate their needs and preferences.  For projects to be co-created in an equitable manner, we propose the following:

  • Debunking the myth of research projects as linear and allowing for flexibility, adaptation, and learning throughout the project cycle;
  • Recognising that a certain degree of ‘messiness’ is an indispensable part of collaborative knowledge co-creation and that project priorities, as well as desired outputs and impacts, might change during the project;
  • Creating spaces for informal interaction between researchers and practitioners from institutions in the Global North and Global South where innovative ideas can be developed and discussed prior to grant application submission.
  1. Decolonise the research outputs

Third, research projects in the field of international development are frequently expected to deliver both applied (positive social change on the ground) and scientific (contributions to theory) impacts, but it is only the latter that often determine project ‘success’. This results in a somewhat skewed project logic that prioritises scientific outputs over practical insights.

Research outputs may be decolonised by:

  • Legitimising alternative knowledge systems, recognising the plurality of methodological approaches, and appreciating the indispensability of grounded and localised practitioner experiences;
  • Decoupling academic and non-academic project outputs, as well as recognising their value and complementary nature.

Research partnerships: processes, not actor constellations

North-South partnerships are not an isolated issue – they are part of a complex and dynamic research-for-development system. For this reason, we propose approaching partnerships as a process, as opposed to simply a contract or institutional arrangement. This process starts with decentralised, inclusive, and democratic agenda setting, followed by resource allocation that acknowledges the indispensable and complementary contributions of all partners. Project governance needs to be democratic and fair and, finally, knowledge co-creation must be recognised as leading to both academic and non-academic outputs and impacts. Approaching partnerships as a process can allow us to prioritise locally defined development agendas, to include and appreciate all relevant stakeholders, and to build on their diverse knowledges, skills, and experience

[1] For example, https://www.geog.cam.ac.uk/about/decolonisation/

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

About the authors:

Katarzyna Cieslik is a Research Associate at the University of Cambridge. Her research focuses on work, livelihoods and employment in the Global South, in particular in relation to technology/work/environment tradeoffs.

Shreya Sinha is a Lecturer at the University of Reading, working on agrarian political economy, political ecology and critical development studies with a focus on India.

Cees Leeuwis is professor of Knowledge, Technology and Innovation at Wageningen University. He studies processes of socio-technical innovation and transformation in networks, research for development policy, the functioning of innovation support systems and the role of innovation platforms, communication, extension and brokers therein.

Tania Eulalia Martínez-Cruz is an independent researcher and consultant at the Indigenous Peoples Unit at FAO, researching the politics of knowledge, gender and social inclusion/exclusion, climate action, nutrition and traditional food systems.

Nivedita Narain  is Chief Executive Officer, Charities Aid Foundation India, an adjunct faculty member at the Charles Sturt University, Australia and has worked with Professional Assistance for Development Action (PRADAN) for over thirty years. She has worked on gender, livelihoods, and human resources management for non-profits and setting-up development practice as an academic discipline.

Bhaskar Vira is a Professor of Political Economy at the University of Cambridge. His research focuses on environmental and development economics; political economy, particularly the study of institutions and institutional change; public policy in the developing world.

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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 is still plagued by a superhero complex. This article sketches how his work contributes to the deconstruction of the Global North’s own portrayal as a saviour, and serves as a background to his lecture.

Oddly enough I find myself thinking of Hollywood superhero movies as I sit here writing about Arturo Escobar’s upcoming visit to ISS. Online advertisements relentlessly propose that I watch summer blockbusters while I am busy reading about Escobar and his work on development.

When I watch these blockbuster superhero movies, I always think about the extras running around getting squashed in the carnage, and how the audience is invited to see that the only solution to the tragic situation is a superhero to calm the chaos. In the latest generation of movies, we now have the trope of the self-aware superhero. Now, superheroes realise that in their interventions they have inadvertently killed many victims, or even that their very existence as superheroes relies on the villains and inevitably leads to the chaos, as they relentlessly save lives. As the movie draws to a close, the storytellers set up a sequel for the next summer by continually justifying the need for superheroes, and the plot neatly sidesteps the growing question of the superhero’s own involvement in creating the mayhem.

The superhero mentality can be heard also in the development industry. We don’t want to be involved but we have to be involved. How can we stand idly by and do nothing when the world is so full of inequality and unnecessary suffering? People are literally dying in front of us!

The saviour complex is a romantic story for the privileged among us in the Global North; private citizens and development practitioners alike. It is very tempting to leap into action when we are confronted with carefully constructed images like that pesky fly on that starving baby’s cheek. We hear horrible stories of oppression, poverty, and disease; yet, like this recent generation of superhero movies, we fail to question deeply enough the role of the interventionist countries in creating or exacerbating the story.

Escobar’s remedy

Now, to Arturo Escobar’s visit at the ISS. This celebrated anthropologist who has provoked many existential crises for development scholars and practitioners asks uncomfortable questions. He points to how the Global South has come to be seen as an impoverished and underdeveloped world and most of all, how it is framed as a place where the rescuers from the Global North can intervene (Escobar 1992).

His work on post-development is a call for all of us who are living a world of privilege to critique why rescuing and changing other peoples’ lives is still at the heart of development. Escobar states that whatever the context, it is the need to develop itself that must be questioned. At the core of development, you are dealing with an external definition of what the world should look like.

Escobar argues that development is not merely a bug that needs to be recoded and re-released– it is a faulty framework. Why is it that standards of living are largely produced by the privileged of the Global North, and why is their help needed at all? Buzzwords such as inclusive and sustainable development can only go so far when ideas of progress and good living are still overwhelmingly dictated by development institutions and governments from the Global North. Instead, development thinkers should be searching for alternatives to development.

Escobar, originally from Colombia and teaching at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, shares alternative imaginaries and narratives to development drawn from his research and dialogues with Indigenous Colombian, Afro-Colombian, and peasant communities in Latin America (Escobar 2018). He shows how these societies are exercising their ability to live in line with their identities and their relations with not just other humans, but also to non-human and non-animal beings.

His argument is not that we must return to pre-colonial ways of living. This ignores how cultures, environments, and people change over time. We cannot ignore the problems and struggles that may have existed in history. Instead, the challenge is to recognise how industrialised, developed countries do not always have the answers about how to change ways for the better. This is a major shift away from the mainstream message of development with its linear views of what is progress and what is failure. Otherwise, imperialism and colonialism will continue to thrive through an imposition of foreign standards and norms (Escobar 1995).

Escobar sees today’s challenge is to think of a “pluriverse” — a world where many worlds fit. The concept he borrows from the Zapatistas of Chiapas (Escobar 2018: 16-17). He suggests that this new imaginary will expand our imagination of what is possible. His argument is for radical interdependence and understanding peoples’ roles in constructing the realities around them. His work provides ways forward that complicate the power dynamics inherent in our privileged world’s superhero complex.

The development industry needs to deconstruct its own portrayal as a saviour and recognise its continuing role in erasing pre-existing relations and forming new oppressions. Rather than continuing the same patronising imagery of a world of passive victims, Arturo Escobar’s radical interdependence imagines a radical equality, of worlds where no singular individual is the eternal consummate hero; of narratives that are complexly interwoven without one story overshadowing the rest. Global situations and conflicts may be dire, but we need a paradigm shift where foreign intervention is not always the default answer.

Escobar, A. (1995) ‘Introduction: Development and the Anthropology of Modernity’, in A. Escobar (ed.) Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World, pp. 3-20. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Escobar, A. (1992) ‘Planning,’ in W. Sachs (ed.) The Development Dictionary: A Guide to Knowledge as Power, 132–145. London, New York: Zed Books.
Escobar, A. (2018) Designs for the Pluriverse: Radical Interdependence, Autonomy, and the Making of Worlds. Durham, London: Duke University Press.

Carolyn Bliss Photo (1)About the author: 

Carolyn Yu is a recent graduate from the ISS MA program, majoring in Social Policy for Development and specialising in Women and Gender Studies. She is coordinating the events surrounding Arturo Escobar’s visit to ISS.

Deglobalisation Series | Financial deglobalisation: a North-South divide? by Haroldo Montagu

The Financial Crisis of 2008/09 led to a structural break in financial globalisation, setting cross-border capital flows back to the average of the 1990s. Do differences between cross-border financial flows of the Global North and Global South disqualify the financial slowdown as deglobalisation? Will the 21st Century be a deglobalised century, or are we just witnessing a new (and maybe better) face of financial globalisation?

While it is clear that trade flows collapsed and slowed down after the global financial crisis of 2008/2009 and that deglobalisation in terms of international trade has occurred ever since, the picture is less clear for capital flows. Forbes argues that financial deglobalisation is visible in the sharp and sustained decline in cross-border financial flows associated with the recent global financial crisis, with no signs of recovery. Leading think tanks and international organisations, such as the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), the Bank of International Settlements (BIS), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), have, however, argued that financial deglobalisation is not a reality because the decrease of financial flows is not a broad-based and sustained phenomenon. Closer scrutiny of data related to this can help us to better understand whether financial deglobalisation is happening or not.

Graph 1: Cross-border financial flows (share of world GDP) reached a peak before the crisis and have since been at a lower level, with indications that they are now flattening out
Graph 1.png
Source: own elaboration based on IFS and WEO databases (2018) (see IMF data)

As illustrated in Graph 1, the financial crisis created a structural break in the level and pace of financial globalisation. In 2007, international financial flows peaked at more than 50% of world GDP, but then global cross-border flows fell significantly in 2008 and after some recovery levelled out at around 15% of world GDP (slightly above the average for the 1990s).

G7 versus BRICS

This global average, however, does not in itself reflect different experiences in the Global North and Global South. So, let’s take on one side the advanced economies gathered in the G7 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK, US) representing the Global North and, on the other, emerging economies labelled as BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), as a Global South sample, and regard their own experiences to move beyond the aggregate picture that might not reveal differences in the extent of deglobalisation. Graph 2, like Graph 1, shows cross-border financial flows, but rather than focusing on global GDP displays the regional GDPs for the Global North (G7) and the Global South (BRICS).

Graph 2: Different experiences in G7 and BRICS (cross-border financial flows as a share of regional GDPs)
Financial deglobalisation(?)

Graph 2

Source: own elaboration based on IFS and WEO databases (2018) (see IMF data)

The graph clearly shows that the G7 grouping reached a financial peak in 2007, followed by a sharp decline in 2008/09 and poor recovery following the crisis. The graph, however, paints a very different picture for the BRICS economies. A number of factors are noteworthy in determining whether financial globalisation is also taking place in the BRICS grouping. First, the decrease in financial flows after the crisis, although important, is not as significant for the BRICS as for G7 countries. While the decline of the advanced economies was about 40 percentage points during 2008/09, amongst the BRICS economies the fall was only about 8 percentage points.

Second, in the BRICS grouping the financial flows recovery (both in level and in terms of speed) was quite remarkable. As a consequence, in 2010 the BRICS had recovered to a level well above the level in the 1990s, while the share of the G7 countries remained around 30 percentage points below the pre-crisis peak. These figures clearly show that nowadays the BRICS countries hold a similar share of financial integration (relative to their own GDPs) as the G7 countries(!). A third point worth mentioning is that BRICS’s financial flows, while insignificant in the 1990s and early 2000s, increased, on average, to about 2% of world GDP following the crisis (2010-2016). Again, this means that the gap between advanced and emerging economies is shrinking.

How global is financial deglobalisation?

The key issue is whether these dissimilarities would disqualify the labelling of the financial slowdown after the crisis as deglobalisation that after all is understood to be a widespread phenomenon. While G7 countries can’t recover financial momentum, the BRICS’s financial decline was neither sharp nor sustained. In short, there does not (yet) seem to be enough evidence to call it a collapse justifying the deglobalisation denomination.

The McKinsey Global Institute also points out here to other differences between advanced and developing countries. They argue that while cross-border capital flows for the whole world remain 60% below their peak finance momentum, in developing countries capital flows have rebounded. By estimating shares in constant terms, different than the current ones I showed, MGI arrived at the same conclusion. In addition, they emphasise the increase in South-South financial flows linked to foreign direct investment (FDI).

In the same vein the BIS argues here that even in the advanced economies, deglobalisation is restricted only to European countries. If focusing only on banking flows, consolidated by bank nationality—and not by bank location as the IMF usually presents—a broad-based deglobalisation trend is not evident. Rather, we are witnessing a European financial retreat.

Resetting financial globalisation

What is this diverse financial flows behaviour telling us? According to Mallaby, after the crisis financial flows show a “healthy correction”, defining the years leading up to the financial peak as an “aberration”. Accepting the “healthy correction” hypothesis would lead us to pose an alternative characterisation to the deglobalisation of financial markets. In this sense, words like “retreat”, “retrenchment” and even or “reverse” would be more appropriate for depicting the phenomenon. Moreover, can we say that post-crisis financial globalisation is healthier than the one registered before the crisis? Maybe it is not about lower shares, but better ones, leading to sounder financial markets where the financial globalisation reach is set by policymakers and regulators and not by an indomitable financial speculation, heading, as usual, to a crisis.

Whether is the rising regulation, the macro-prudential policies or just plain and simple risk aversion after the aberration (or a mix of all of them), financial globalisation’s newest phase looks, in general, the least volatile phase that might be least prone to crisis. However, is this new shape of globalisation good news? As usual, it depends. The Global North cannot afford to cause another boom-and-bust cycle whose impacts and costs are, indeed, globalised while their benefits are not. On the other hand, Global South recovery is not necessarily good news either. It is not clear that financial flows linked to ODA, debt, remittances or even FDI alone can drive economic growth or development.

Hence, cautionary measures should be taken (or reinforced) by governments to allocate foreign capital where is needed and do not validate unregulated financial speculation, especially the one triggered from the Global North. Despite their heterogeneity and criticism, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) might be a good starting point regarding what is required to finance with foreign capital and what it’s not. Additionally, countries of the Global South must stand up and speak out, jointly, in international fora, warning about the dangers of financial aberrations. This should be presented as a global problem (even when it originated in the Global North) rather than a regional phenomenon or as a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing, which it may not be.

Will the 21st Century be a deglobalised century, or are we just witnessing a new (and maybe better) face of financial globalisation? Only time and, hopefully, financial markets regulators, will tell.

Also see: Is anti-globalisation only a preoccupation in the Global North? by Rory Horner, Seth Schindler, Daniel Haberly and Yuko Aoyama

Untitled.pngAbout the author:

Haroldo Montagu is a recent graduate of the ISS. Before studying at ISS, the author was appointed as National Director of Development Strategies and Macroeconomic Policy at the Ministry of Economy and Public Finance of Argentina. He also worked as a consultant for the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. He teaches topics in International Economics and Economic Development at university level in Argentina.



Deglobalisation Series | Is anti-globalisation only a preoccupation in the Global North? by Rory Horner, Seth Schindler, Daniel Haberly and Yuko Aoyama

A remarkable ‘big switch’  has emerged from the turn of the millennium in terms of attitudes towards and discourses over globalisation. But while the world is currently witnessing a new backlash against economic globalisation, considerable support for globalisation within some parts of the Global South should not be overlooked.

While the world is currently witnessing a new backlash against economic globalisation, considerable support for globalisation within some parts of the Global South should not be overlooked. Supporters of the UK’s exit from the European Union seek to “take back control” from Brussels, while Donald Trump’s economic ethno-nationalism has promised to put “America first”. In contrast, the picture that emerges in the Global South is quite different, as part of a remarkable ‘big switch’ that has been taking place from the turn of the millennium in terms of attitudes towards and discourses over globalisation.

Support for globalisation in the global South

The polling company YouGov, in a 2016 survey of people across 19 countries, found that France, the US and the UK were the places where the fewest people believe that “globalisation has been a force for good”. In contrast, the survey found the most enthusiasm for globalisation in East and Southeast Asia, where over 70% of respondents in all countries believed it has been a force for good. The highest approval rate, 91%, was in Vietnam.

From a poor starting point, many in the Global South have experienced some improvement in basic development indicators in the 20th and 21st Centuries. People living in Asia accounted for the vast majority of those who experienced relative income gains from 1988 to 2008. In comparison with the 1990s, the Global South now earns a much larger share of world GDP, has more middle-income countries, more middle-class people, less dependency on foreign aid, considerably greater life expectancy, and lower child and maternal mortality rates.

Less of a backlash in the Global South necessarily means support for neoliberal globalisation—and the optimism in countries such as Vietnam may paradoxically be a result of an earlier rejection thereof. China, in particular, has not followed the same approach to economic globalisation as that which was encouraged by the US and organisations such as the IMF and World Bank in the late 20th Century.

Meanwhile, many of the world’s poorest in the Global South have seen very little improvement in quality of life in recent years, yet they are much more marginal and less well-positioned to express their frustrations than the ‘losers’ in countries such as the US and UK. They must not be forgotten.

China and India warn against deglobalisation

Most notably, the last two World Economic Forum gatherings at Davos have seen explicit statements from the respective leads of China and India warning against deglobalisation. In January 2017, China’s president Xi Jinping said that his country would assume the leadership of 21st Century globalisation. Defending the current economic order, Xi said that China was committed to making globalisation work for everyone—its responsibility as “leaders of our times”.

At Davos in 2018, Narendra Modi, prime minister of India, warned against deglobalisation:

It feels like the opposite of globalisation is happening. The negative impact of this kind of mindset and wrong priorities cannot be considered less dangerous than climate change or terrorism.

 The ‘big switch’ on globalisation

It is remarkable that the backlash most associated with the Brexit referendum in the UK and the election of Donald Trump in the US has emerged from the right of the political spectrum, in countries long recognised as the chief architects and beneficiaries of economic globalisation.

At the turn of the millennium, the primary opposition to globalisation was concerned with its impacts in the Global South. Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist at the World Bank, in his 2006 book Making Globalization Work wrote that “the rules of the game have been largely set by the advanced industrial countries”, who unsurprisingly “shaped globalization to further their own interests.” Their political influence was represented through dominant roles in organisations such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the WTO, and the corporate dominance of their multinationals.

Protests in Seattle against the WTO in 1999. By Steve Kaiser from Seattle via Wikimedia CommonsCC BY-SA

In the 1990s the anti-globalisation movement opposed neoliberal economic integration from a range of perspectives, with a particular emphasis on the Global South. The movement was populated by activists, non-governmental organisations and groups with a variety of concerns: peace, climate change, conservation, indigenous rights, fair trade, debt relief, organised labour, sweatshops, and the AIDS pandemic.

Yet, in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, UK prime minister Theresa May offered a sceptical assessment at the 2017 World Economic Forum at Davos, arguing that “talk of greater globalisation can make people fearful. For many, it means their jobs being outsourced and wages undercut. It means having to sit back as they watch their communities change around them.” The US, under Trump, subsequently began renegotiating NAFTA and withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Significant proportions of the population in the US and other countries in the Global North have experienced limited, if any, income gains in the most recent era of globalisation. Leading global inequality expert Branko Milanovic has explored changes in real incomes between 1988 and 2008 to show who particularly lost out on relative gains in income. He found two groups lost most: the global upper middle class—those between the 75th and 90th percentiles on the global income distribution scale, of whom 86% were from advanced economies—and the poorest 5% of the world population.

Emerging evidence indicates that increased global trade has played a role in economic stagnation or decline for people in the North, especially in the US. MIT economist David Autor and his colleagues suggest that the ‘China shock’ has had major redistributive effects in the US, leading to declines in manufacturing employment.

Economists had previously argued that the “losers” from trade could be compensated by transfers of wealth. Autor and his colleagues found that while there have been increases in welfare payments to regions of the US hardest hit by the trade shock, they fall far short of compensating for the income loss.

Not just globalisation

Not all of the stagnation and decline experienced in the Global North can be attributed to economic globalisation. Technological change is a big factor and national policy choices around taxation and social welfare have also played key roles in shaping inequality patterns within countries. In such a context, ‘globalisation’ has been deployed as a scapegoat by some governments, invoking external blame for economic problems made at home.

The current backlash is not just about economic globalisation. It has involved ethno-nationalist and anti-immigrant components, for example among supporters of Trump and Brexit.

A key lesson from the late 20th Century is to be wary of wholesale attacks on, and sweeping defences of, 21st Century economic globalisation. In light of the difficulties of establishing solidarity between ‘losers’ in different parts of the world, the challenge of our times is for an alter-globalisation movement which addresses all of them.

Moreover, if the stellar growth rates of the last 15-20 years slow down, the relatively positive view of globalisation in much of the global South may not continue, with the possibility of a backlash (re)emerging beyond the Global North.

Also see: Deglobalisation 2.0: Trump and Brexit are but symptoms by Peter A.G. van Bergeijk

About the authors:

Rory_Horner_work_profile_photo.JPGRory Horner, Lecturer, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester321250

Daniel Haberly, Lecturer In Human Geography, University of Sussex;


Seth Schindler, Lecturer, Department of Geography, University of Sheffield, and Aoyama2016


Yuko Aoyama, Professor of Economic Geography, Clark University