Development as a field of deliberate endeavor has not been around for very long, forty years at best. Yet it has become a large industry--a conservative estimate would be roughly $50 billion on an annual basis. Like any industry the development business has developed, willy nilly, its own social structures and internal cultures, a rapidly growing specialized lexicon (opaque to outsiders), layers of underlying values, and prevailing conceptual paradigms. Given the nature of the development endeavor--essentially to do deliberately what until the mid-twentieth century happened without conscious plan or direction--we should not be surprised that this astoundingly ambitious if not arrogant project has also generated considerable ideological froth since its beginnings.
While the ideological tensions of the development business have subsided somewhat in recent years, some of the habits that evolved around those tensions remain strong. One is a tendency to attach the leading hopes of the development business to different "informing ideas" (Basic Human Needs, Sustainable Development) and to attribute "magic bullet" characteristics to different actors, like NGOs (nongovernmental organizations). These fashions tend, interestingly, to last about a decade each. A second tendency is to leap fairly headlong into activating these ideas and actors without much research or reflection.
The great value of Julie Fisher The Road From Rio is its demonstrable humbling effect on our industry's oversimplification of the NGO movement to date. It puts the movement squarely beyond fashion and ideology. The