Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World

Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World

Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World

Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World


How did the industrialized nations of North America and Europe come to be seen as the appropriate models for post-World War II societies in Asia, Africa, and Latin America? How did the postwar discourse on development actually create the so-called Third World? And what will happen when development ideology collapses? To answer these questions, Arturo Escobar shows how development policies became mechanisms of control that were just as pervasive and effective as their colonial counterparts. The development apparatus generated categories powerful enough to shape the thinking even of its occasional critics while poverty and hunger became widespread. "Development" was not even partially "deconstructed" until the 1980s, when new tools for analyzing the representation of social reality were applied to specific "Third World" cases. Here Escobar deploys these new techniques in a provocative analysis of development discourse and practice in general, concluding with a discussion of alternative visions for a postdevelopment era.

Escobar emphasizes the role of economists in development discourse--his case study of Colombia demonstrates that the economization of food resulted in ambitious plans, and more hunger. To depict the production of knowledge and power in other development fields, the author shows how peasants, women, and nature became objects of knowledge and targets of power under the "gaze of experts."


This book grew out of a sense of puzzlement: the fact that for many years the
industrialized nations of North America and Europe were supposed to be the indubitable models for the societies of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, the so-called Third World, and that these societies must catch up with the industrialized countries, perhaps even become like them. This belief is still held today in many quarters. Development was and continues to be— although less convincingly so as the years go by and its promises go unfulfilled—the magic formula. The presumed ineluctability of this notion—and, for the most part, its unquestioned desirability—was most puzzling to me. This work arose out of the need to explain this situation, namely, the creation of a Third World and the dream of development, both of which have been an integral part of the socioeconomic, cultural, and political life of the post–World War II period.

The overall approach taken in the book can be described as poststructuralist. More precisely, the approach is discursive, in the sense that it stems from the recognition of the importance of the dynamics of discourse and power to any study of culture. But there is much more than an analysis of discourse and practice; I also attempt to contribute to the development of a framework for the cultural critique of economics as a foundational structure of modernity, including the formulation of a culture-based political economy. In addition, I include a detailed examination of the emergence of peasants, women, and the environment as clients of the development apparatus in the 1970s and 1980s. Finally, I incorporate throughout the text accounts of Third World scholars, many of whom tell stories that are less mediated by the needs of the U.S. and European academy.

The approach is also anthropological. As Stuart Hall said, “If culture happens to be what seizes your soul, you will have to recognize that you will always be working in an area of displacement.” The analysis in this book is cultural in the anthropological sense but also in the sense of cultural studies. It may be situated among current attempts to advance anthropology and cultural studies as critical, intellectual, and political projects.

As the title of the book suggests, development and even the Third World may be in the process of being unmade. This is happening not so much because the Second World (the socialist economies of Europe) is gone and the Holy Trinity of the post–World War II era is finally collapsing on its own but because of development's failure and the increasing opposition to it by popular groups in the Third World. The voices that are calling for an end to . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.