Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Toward a Development Discourse Inclusive of Music

Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Toward a Development Discourse Inclusive of Music

Article excerpt


This article argues for a reconceptualization of the orthodox development discourse to consider music as a form of powerful cultural expression. Elucidating the way in which musical cultural expression is an important aspect of the rich lives of those who experience development, the author illustrates the way in which orthodox development conceals culture and musical expression through nonrecognition. Drawing from Santos' sociology of absences to explain the way in which culture and music have been made actively invisible by the orthodox development discourse, the author makes a case for engaging with music in order to make explicit the limitations of rational, individualized, economic-centric development. The author argues that the practice of development is ultimately contingent upon deploying nonmaterial and nonmarket epistemes through its coercive governance. Through the use of historic examples, the author shows that music has been both a means of emancipation from domination but also instrumentalized as a tool for domination. By attempting to deny the relevance of culture and music, orthodox development is shown to contain a central contradiction, one that points to the need to account for a more inclusive conceptualization of politics.


music, culture, development, inclusive politics, sociology of absences

What better way than music to show a child how to be human?

Daniel Barenboim (1)


Music is a powerful medium through which human beings give meaning to life, and for the development (writ small) of the human mind and heart. The exact manner in which music exerts its power is complex and is a manifestation of specific musical contexts. The challenge for those of us who believe in the power of music lies in devising "modes of articulating musical activity in that larger context ... to connect [music] to ideology, or social space, or power ...." (2) This article attempts to make those connections in the context of development discourse.

The orthodox discourse of development has been premised upon a rationalist paradigm, and as such has reduced the identity of all human beings to be rational, economic beings: in other words, homo economicus. However, the legitimacy of this reductionist discourse (as manifested through the policies of multilateral economic institutions, such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund), has been questioned due to the disjuncture between its underlying narrow vision of humanity and the rich lived experiences of diverse peoples. As Polanyi explained, the cultural environment risks disintegration in the face of market domination, and to address this, sites of struggle can be considered a protective movement against the primacy of the market episteme. (3) The attempt to implement a "free-market" global economy--hailed within the development discourse as being the key to both wealth creation and poverty alleviation--reaffirms the hierarchies of power between economic classes.

There have been multiple critiques of development ranging from the neo-Marxist dependency theory to the populist. (4) However, because the development discourse has incorporated certain elements of these critiques, the discourse has maintained its hegemonic place without questioning fundamental assumptions of economics and power relations. In this way, many self-described "alternative" development narratives "merely recapitulate ... the older views" of development. (5)

Acknowledging the postdevelopment literature (including Pieterse, and Cowen and Shenton) as well as Santos' "sociology of absences," this article examines the narrowly conceived development discourse and, in consideration of multiple sites of struggle, expands the politics of development beyond the formal and rational to include cultural space, specifically music. Through this article, I explore the question: How might we reconceptualize development in consideration of cultural practices such as music? …

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