Academic journal article Trames

Post-Development and the Role of Tradition in the Process of Development

Academic journal article Trames

Post-Development and the Role of Tradition in the Process of Development

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Post-development is a theory of development which takes a critical look at the theory and practice of development. There is a contention on whether it is just a theory or a perspective (Ziai 2004). However, no such contention exists about whether it is a critique of development. It interrogates, examines, attempts to transcend and tries to make scholars and policy makers actively think about and contest popularly held beliefs regarding development and who is to speak on the direction it should take. Post-development theorists have claimed that development has failed because of its overbearing tendencies and because the whole concept of development and its practice has become ideological, reflecting Western hegemony over the rest of the world. Therefore as Johnson (2014) remarks, at the core of post-development is the focus on an examination and/or challenge of power dynamics. It is believed that development should not be approached through a top-down, trusteeship model, but through a bottom-up way that takes into consideration the local needs of the people. It is always argued that if development discourse and practice continues this way, it may lead to an eventual cultural homogenisation of the world--a tendency that favours only the developed nations of the West. It is therefore argued that development is a cultural process and should involve the people that are the object of development. To do this, the tradition and the lived experiences of the people have to be taken into consideration in the development process. The aims of the post-development theory is to effect a transfer of power, the power to define the problems and goals of a society; from the hands of outside 'experts' to the members of the society itself. The problem, however, is that within the post-development discourse, much attention has not been paid to the specific roles that tradition and cultural values play in the transference of this power to the extent that the society develops in its own terms. This paper attempts to fill this gap by focusing on two elements of tradition, namely, cultural identity and indigenous knowledge and how they can foster the process of development to the extent that local cultural autonomy is not minimised. In the first section of the paper, we shall look at the post-development rejection of development. It is argued that it is not the case that post-development theorists think that development is not a useful concept or an unachievable goal, but that they only reject development as conceived in certain quarters. In the second section, we look at one of the elements of tradition that can help developing nations to own and drive their own development, namely, cultural identity. In the third section, we shall look at the role of indigenous knowledge in the development process.

2. The post-development critique of development

In a speech made in Japan in 2000, Mats Karlsson the Vice President at the World Bank, external and United Nations affairs, admitted that progress in development had been painfully slow since "in too many places the basic needs for a decent and productive life still have not been met" (Karlsson 2000). For him, the traditional conception of development and its attendant efforts have made only limited difference. He also noted that the prospect of convergences between the poor nations and the rich is in danger of becoming a forlorn hope. It is very significant to see this kind of comment come from the World Bank who has been a perpetuator of mainstream development thinking. Karlsson singles out two reasons for the failure of development. The first one is the way in which the development process has historically been conceived and supported by external agencies, including the World Bank. The second is the capacity of developing countries to own, frame, and implement development strategies and get appropriate support from external partner (Karlsson, 2000).

The major attack on development has been the way it has been conceived during post-World War II, especially by the modernisation theorists who constitute the mainstream in development thinking. …

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