Experiences

Cognitive Dissonance: An Unspoken Qualification for Aid Work?

This post was published originally on WhyDev

Wearing the rather unkempt hairdo I’d grown while studying abroad in Senegal, I used a brief stop in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (I know – not exactly the exotic locale you might be expecting from this blog) to get a dearly overdue haircut.

After a few wisecracks about my receding hairline, the barber and I drifted into the familiar realm of aimless small talk that accompanies a haircut almost anywhere. Before long, I was describing my work as an intern at Roots of Development. Deeply interested, the barber prodded me for more information. As he tamed my wild hair, I gave him what details I could – since I had taken the position only a few weeks prior, it was really not all that much. Seeking to describe the organisation fairly, and hoping to avoid industry jargon, I oversimplified and murmured something along the lines of, “We help poor people in a small town in Haiti escape poverty.”

I cringed as I repeated silently the organisation’s chosen discourse. “We work WITH communities who choose, build, manage and maintain their own projects. We support development without dependency.” Nonetheless, the clumsy summary I had supplied was ample justification for a firm handshake from the barber when I rose from his worn-in leather chair.

As he squeezed my hand, he hardened his gaze and said, “Thank you for the work you are doing. You are making the world a better place.” I smiled, returned his firm grip and walked out.

The next time I peered into the mirror, I found myself admiring the haircut, yet wondering if I’d earned his praise.

Working in development. By Ahmed El-Mezeny.
By Ahmed El-Mezeny

Certainly the intent of development is noble. At face value, the notion of alleviating human suffering, of improving living conditions or elongating lives, is unarguably good. That said, the disturbing truth is that academic and professional evaluations of the development industry have been largely negative.

Pondering these critiques, I stopped short of patting myself on the back.

In that moment of self-reflection (cue dramatic soap opera music and flashback effect), I recalled a particular conversation I’d had the previous spring in Senegal, with a group of five Peace Corps Volunteers serving there. They had diverse areas of work, two focusing on sustainable agriculture in rural areas and the other three partnering with small businesses in some of the country’s cities. A curious undergrad with similar interests, I used the opportunity to inquire about the Peace Corps experience, eyeing it as a potential post-grad plan.

“Do you feel as though you are getting a good cultural experience? Are you learning the language and finding a place in Senegalese society?” I asked.

They replied with a resounding yes. “The most powerful cultural experience of my life,” answered one. “It’s an opportunity like no other to spend some time in a country I might otherwise never visit,” said another.

I coughed awkwardly, knowing my next question was a tad stereotypical and would be less enthusiastically received. “Do you think you are making a difference here?”

A long silence followed, broken at last by a muffled, “Well…” Each articulated to me a well-processed answer, indicating it was a question they had received prior or, even more likely, frequently asked themselves. No answer was absolute. Soft, uneasy yes’s and very tentative no’s. Obviously, like me, they had gazed uneasily into the mirror a few times. Like most development practitioners, the Peace Corps Volunteers had chosen this line of work with a healthy dose of self-doubt and cognitive dissonance, or at least developed it during their time in the field.

A great wealth of criticism has come from professional, academic and institutional circles in the development community, forming a chorus of impassioned, and persuasive, condemnation. The age of unbridled optimism (or perhaps hubris) among development workers concerning our capacity to affect change is long, and rightfully, gone.

Most practitioners know aid can be problematic and that development rhetoric tends to oversimplify the causes of global poverty. They know the minimal funds that emerge from the “developed” world have a tinge of political interest or a bitter ideological after taste. Most are well-versed in development theory and criticism, having read books like The White Man’s Burden, Dead Aid and The Anti-Politics Machine.

Yet, despite their knowledge and concerns, most practitioners will, from time to time, be lauded for their compassion and praised for their generosity. Many – like me, following that overdue haircut, and my Peace Corps buddies in Senegal – will take a hard look in the mirror and wonder if they deserve such accolades.

Though I’ve given this topic a lot of thought, I’ve yet to reach a satisfying conclusion. I’m still not sure how to continue on as a practitioner without a healthy dose of cognitive dissonance. So instead of leaving you with some profound realization, I’ll end with a question to older, wiser (just take the compliment) development practitioners.

How have you integrated recognition of the industry’s flaws into your professional identity? How have you learned to recognize development’s problems, while continuing to work in the field or advocating for its expansion? How do you motivate yourselves on tough days when you doubt the impact of your efforts?

I hope dearly it’s more than the dual tides of time and apathy that have allowed the leaders of the field to remain there for a decade, or a few.

Standard
Commentary

Aid Is Power. Of Course The BRICS Got In On The Act

At their summit on Wednesday of last week, the BRICS nations (or the “emerging economies” of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) announced the founding of a new international development bank. This new financial institution will, like the World Bank, provide funding for infrastructure projects throughout the developing world and, like the IMF, use reserves of various currencies to stave off financial crises.

The founding of this new bank is largely the result of the BRICS nations’ discontent with the often disproportionate power allotted to the US and European nations within the internal mechanism of the World Bank and IMF. At the moment, for instance, Brazil and Spain have similar voting shares within the IMF (which are officially determined based on the size of a given nation’s economy using figures like GDP), despite the fact that the Spanish economy is less than two-thirds the size of the Brazilian. Dr. Roslyn Fuller suggests, and  rightfully so, that this new bank is the inevitable manifestation of the West’s inability to adapt to the new multipolar world, or in her words, the result of its failure to turn at this crucial turning point in global relations.

Obviously, there is a deeply geopolitical element to the founding of this new BRIC development bank. In large part, like much in the arena of diplomacy, it is a matter of ego – an opportunity for the BRICS countries to declare independence from and comparable influence to the old bastions of power in Washington, D.C. [Ed: My old foreign policy professor would call it “symbolic politics”].

The India Times refers to the new bank as a “counter-weight” to the World Bank. Reuters’ story on the topic declares in its title that “BRICS set up bank to counter Western hold on global finances.” The LA Times writes that the new bank was founded with “aspirations to challenge the dominance of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.”

This adversarial depiction of these two banks common to many media outlets the world over has likely left some of us development interns scratching our heads. After all, isn’t the fundamental goal of the World Bank to combat global poverty, not to preserve any uneven global power structures nor propagate US dominance? Shouldn’t this new bank be welcomed as a dearly needed partner and ally of the DC based financial institutions?

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim would most certainly agree. In a South China Morning Post article he is quoted as saying,

“For us, our competition is poverty. Our enemy is lack of economic growth…. We have no choice but to welcome any new entrants because every new entrant will help us battle poverty.”

Kim said he was eager to collaborate with this new bank in joint efforts to better aid the world’s poor.

Again we are faced with the problem of perceiving and interpreting the place of politics in development work. As William Easterly noted in his most recent book (echoing themes already present in works by James Ferguson and others prior), development organizations tend to mystify the deeply ideological roots of their policy prescriptions and the subsequent political effects of such policies in technocratic rhetoric and claims of impartiality. In such a way the World Bank, an organization with a policy history that mirrors the ideological trends of its American host (such that neoliberal structural adjustment reforms became popular during the Reagan era), can be depicted as an impartial organization advocating empirically proven  policies. Many development interns and practitioners seem to get lost in the technocratic rhetorical haze and forget, or completely ignore, the political elements of this line of work.

However, when the BRICS nations founded their new international bank the global media was able to perceive this move as one with deeply political roots and implications.

The ability to distribute aid is a mark of power; even more so, the ability to determine the ideological character and political directions of this aid. The media is not hailing the bank as a new contributor in the fight against the common scourge of poverty, but a diplomatically complex assertion of growing power and international influence among BRICS nations.

One must turn to President Kim to hear the politically sterile, familiar discourse of “the global confrontation of poverty.” While development organizations have often succeeded in their efforts to appear apolitical, here his remarks stand in contrast to a mass of geographically diverse journalists, making his apolitical representation of the World Bank seem – quite candidly – illusory.

Political jostling and diplomatic hissy fits aside, I am eager to see what will come of this new development bank.

As former World Bank economist (and Nobel prize winner) Joseph Stiglitz indicates in his appearance on Democracy Now, this new bank will only expand investment within the “developing world” and encourage further efforts to stimulate economic growth therein. With reserves of over 3 trillion its seems China’s greater participation (and that of the other BRICS) in the development industry is long over due, and a serious opportunity to better meet the needs of the world’s poorest.

Further, this new bank, which will likely pull from demographic and geographic circles underrepresented in Washington, will expand the development policy debate to include previously unheard voices (essentially the goal of development blogs like this one and Why Dev). The familiar danger of “group think” among policymakers can perhaps be staved off through the inclusion of these new diverse contributors (especially since a voice on the international stage tends to be loudest when its orator has full pockets).

Of course there are also new dangers. We must be wary, as with the World Bank, of hidden political rationales embedded in what I am sure will be the technocratically defended policy proposals of this new development bank. Their foreignness to Western observers makes them no less likely to fall into the typically western pitfall of propagating their own cultural hegemony and privileging their own ways of being, thinking, and prospering in their policies.

In short, this new bank is a bit of a mystery. Its institutional history is only about to begin. Here’s to hoping its better than that of the World Bank.

Hell, if nothing else, maybe they’ll even give me job. No one else seems to be interested. 

Standard
Uncategorized

Development Is Political. Why Does Anyone Pretend Otherwise?

Development experts tend to depict their policy recommendations as technocratic and impartial. That is to say, economic policy and governmental reform, when it has originated from with the development bureaucracy, is often endowed with an apolitical quality. Its proponents will laud such a policy as time-tested, proven, and driven by empirical studies. However, a perceptive eye reveals that development is often, or perhaps always, DEEPLY political and highly influenced by certain ideologies.

Imagine if an organization arrived on the East coast of the US and advertised that it knew exactly how the US should reinvigorate its economy and initiate new growth. It would probably receive more than a few skeptical raised eyebrows from the American populace. Even more, if it suggested its plan was apolitical, something both the Republican and the Democrats might agree upon (simply unimaginable considering the current political climate), there would be furore. Our bitterly partisan politicians would certainly be quick to discern with whom this organization’s ideologies aligned. What’s more, nobody would take this claim of impartiality seriously, seriously undermining the credibility of the organisation as a whole. So why do development organisations maintain this charade?

A peak into development history (and quite a history it is) is quick to yield quite a few examples of this routine deception. “Structural Adjustments” are probably the poster child for policies that rely heavily on certain political and ideological trends. These policies emerged in the 1980’s in an era of neoliberal enthusiasm led by figures like Ronald Reagan and Margret Thatcher. Based on what is now called by prominent development historians (such as Irma Adelman) the “government is evil” school of thought, these structural adjustment programs propagated a variety of liberalizing policies on much of the developing world. At the time, these policies (for example the reduction of barriers to trade, or minimization of state budgets) were sold as necessary steps on the road to development. Of course hindsight indicates otherwise, and it is now quite clear that these policies were more informed by ideology than the sort of impartial reasoning upon which they were sold. For more information on the effects of structural adjustment policies look here.

Recent events further reveal the political nature of development work. It was discovered by the AP that USAID was the mastermind behind a Cuban twitter platform that sought to both stir up unrest among Cuba’s youth as well as gather personal data on the websites users. An explicit hope of the program was to initiate a sort of “Cuban Spring” – or, to put it a little less gracefully, regime change. Such a program is not that unlike many other ill-fated foreign policy moves by the US, but the fact that the operation was funded by USAID might be a bit more surprising. The American consciousness is more likely to associate the USAID logo with a selfless humanitarian and his bags of disaster relief food aid (the sort of “beneficent” charity work that often brands development more generally) than with diplomats or military strategists. Americans simply do not see aid as a mere “carrot” among various sticks in the diplomat’s political toolbox, but stories like this belie that reality.

We can see the political influences on development organizations themselves, rather than their policies, through recent news concerning World Vision. A major evangelical development organization, World Vision, announced last week a policy change that would allow the organization to hire employees in same-sex marriages, and then promptly rescinded it following outrage from quite a few of its supporters. Here we see the globally contentious issue of gay rights impacting the bureaucratic procedures of World Vision, mechanisms which are often assumed to be crafted with only the efficient execution of development work in mind. Again, it is clear politics pervades development, even into the realm of internal organizational matters.

In short, politics is an inevitable part of the development industry. Though we may try to separate our policy recommendations from the cultural biases, economic ideologies, and power relations of our respective nations, we have a remarkably poor history of doing so.

So why is it then that the politics of development is so rarely given its due as a condition that profoundly affects the way in which policy is executed?

A few issues may be at work here. For one, the development industry generally seems to be plagued by a chronic lack of controversy. That is not to say that we do not have our debates, often even with raised voices (did anyone else see that Twitter battle between Sachs and Mwenda!?). However, the “business of doing good” is often protected from necessary scepticism because of its good intentions, especially from the critiques of external voices. I suppose no one wants to be the critic of the hard working humanitarian [Ed: except Bill Easterly and his tyrannical experts].

Second, while the professionalization of development has its perks, the new(ish) infrastructure to educate and train practitioners has only further veiled the political nature of this work. There are hundreds of schools across the globe, in major international hubs, as well as tiny colleges (like the one I attend), that offer degrees in Development Economics or Studies. While this can lead to a better informed and highly professional development practitioner base, it also augments our capacity within the industry to make our recommendations appear impartial and empirically grounded. Our supposed authority as experts and technocrats finds new life thanks to our various development degrees and certificates.

This post does not intend to be a call to action, as I see no way development may be depoliticized.

Rather what is necessary is an industry-wide paradigm shift to a mindset which recognizes the highly political nature of our work. When public policy comes up around the dinner table at a family reunion, I take each Aunt or Uncle’s policy recommendations with a grain of salt, keeping in mind their respective political ideologies, not to mention my own. Especially candid family members often announce their party affiliations before descending into awkward, and vaguely confrontational debate. Development “experts,” on the other hand, must only announce their various credentials, their numerous degrees, or their hard-earned experience elsewhere to gain entrance into the highest echelon of policy circles abroad and to speak with an almost unquestioned authority once within.

I do not believe it is unreasonable to hold development experts, in the very least, to the same degree of scrutiny one might apply to a casual family meal. Let’s face it, Uncle George, I love you, but we will never agree on issues of American public policy….. we probably shouldn’t on development policy either.

(Final Note: Read James Ferguson, “The Anti-Politics Machine” if you want to know more about the ways in which development work is obscured from its political and ideological roots!)

 

Standard
Experiences

Cold Home-Front: Why development should look inwards

Much of the United States spent the past week shivering through the coldest few days of the last decade. With temperatures well into the negatives and piercing wind chills forcing the mercury to record lows, Americans headed for the hills (colloquially, of course, because a real hill would just be more exposed).

As with any minor inconvenience, the American media reported on the cold snap with its characteristic talent for repetition (ad nauseum) and sensationalism. The storm, named Hercules (of all names), received near constant coverage on all of the 24-hour news stations.

Things took a remarkable turn when Fox News correspondents, and some Republican politicians, began suggest the cold snap disproved the well-researched and documented trend of global warming. I had trouble finding clips of those particular moments on the Fox News website so I have resorted to this montage made by the Daily Show.

One commentator exclaims, “All this snow and still cries over global warming!” with a decidedly smug smile. Another predicts, that “global warming, a phrase we are all familiar with… is going to die this year… given the kind of incredible cold weather we’ve had this weekend.”

I, like many others, was disturbed to hear this sort of rhetoric from an organization with such a huge audience. Studying and understanding climate change has been an integral part my education and professional career. Currently, I am writing a thesis on pastoral herders in the Sahel, a region that has been drastically affected by global climatic change. Annual rains south of the Sahara have slowly declined over the last two or three decades, expanding Africa’s great desert into more heavily populated areas. Similarly, droughts of increasing frequency and severity have plagued the region. Whether part of a longer term trend, or a short term patch of poor weather, the idea that some sort of climatic change is occurring seems fairly certain. These changes have terrible implication for herders in the Sahel, as well as their agriculturalist neighbors.

Lake Chad is the Sahel’s grimmest tale of climate change. Since the 1960’s the lake, a crucial source of water for the four Sahelian nations that border it, has slowly diminished to about a 20th of its original size.

Such shocking changes are hard to ignore. Yet somehow the people at Fox News have managed to do just that.

I was glad to hear many of my development intern peers and classmates were equally distraught this trend of climate change denial in the US. My peers, with their different regional concentrations, were rich in global examples of climate change. I have linked a few below:

What we realized collectively is that as internationally focused development students, researchers, and interns we sometimes forget to give the home-front its due attention. While we have come to admire those in our given regions of interest abroad who lobby for better governance, responsible economic management, and empirically proven policies, we have shirked our own responsibility to participate in domestic affairs.

Further, the experiences we have abroad give us a unique capacity (not to mention responsibility) to inform social policies. By bringing in experiences from across the globe we expand the sample size in humankind’s constant fleshing out of ideas, policies, and projects. Our insights can be valuable because our perspectives are different.

 

 

Standard
Commentary

Optimism In Africa

A recent Gallup poll found that Sub-Saharan Africa is the most optimistic region in the world. Obviously confused by a result so counter popular perceptions, Gallup speculated as to the cause of such a strange result, concluding that “optimism may be more widespread in these countries simply because people cannot imagine that their lives could get any worse.”

Mike Mieson on Why Dev recently posted a great critique of that explanation, using Gallup’s data and some insight from the World Bank to depict a much more hearty explanation than this “well it can’t get worse” rationale.

Much of his explanation rests on trends of economic growth and strides in health that have been observed throughout Africa during the decade. Most of the nations that top the list of most optimistic countries, Mieson notes, have experienced periods of high GDP growth in the last five years as well as reductions in their maternal mortality rates.

I think Mieson hit the nail on the head as far as explaining the greatest contributors to this pattern of optimism in Africa. That being said, I think there is still something missing from his analysis.

The specific case of Senegal is instructive. There, a 2% growth rate and minimal reduction in maternal mortality rate do not seem to be sufficient enough to warrant Senegal’s place as the 9th most optimistic nation on the face of this Earth (especially when one considers the fact that Senegal shares this planet with nations like Turkmenistan that have experienced growth of about 20% over the last 5 years). Clearly some other mechanism is at work.

I would add to Mieson’s evaluation a third major contributing factor to Sub-Saharan Africa’s overwhelming optimism; improvements in governance.

This additional factor can help to explain Senegal’s optimism. The last decade has been characterized by some serious advancements in the legitimacy of that nation’s democracy. That is in no small part thanks to a growing youth social movement led by Y’en A Marre (Fed Up), a rag-tag assembly of reformist rappers and journalists. Y’en A Marre gained public support during the 2012 election by helping to dethrone then President Abdoulaye Wade, in favour of his former prime minister, Macky Sall. Turning down high profile government appointments following the election of Sall, Y’en A Marre has thus far been committed to building a Senegalese civil society and breaking down old procedures of reciprocity.

Shortly after losing power, it became clear that Karim Wade, the son of former President Abdoulaye Wade and a high minister during his father’s 12 year rule, had been stealing state funds in an embezzlement scheme of quite shocking proportions (the charges add up to about $1.4 billion). Many Senegalese have been surprised to see the trial proceed with what seems to be an intent to punish the politician to the full extent of his crime. It appears Karim Wade will serve some serious time, and rightfully so.

Both of these trends certainly give Senegalese citizens reason for a bit of hope. There remains some well-warranted distaste for the political system. A common joke in Senegal combines the French word for politician (politicien) and dog (chien) into “politichien,” to form a little less than subtle political play on words [Ed: see ‘Politricks’]. That being said, the last decade has seen the ousting of an unpopular President, and the imprisonment of a corrupt politician who likely thought himself above the law; both certainly reasons for hope.

Improvements in government help to explain the data beyond Senegal as well. A recent study using 57 criteria including measures of security, rule of law, and transparency found that governments have been improving in the vast majority (about two thirds) of the countries on the continent. Certainly this plays a part in the continent’s optimism.

Alternatively, factoring in government can also help to explain some of the less optimistic nations on the African continent. In a Pew survey that also evaluated optimism across the globe, Egypt was ranked as the least optimistic nation of the African countries surveyed. Political turmoil there, following the Coup d’Etat that ousted President Morsi, can certainly go a long way in explaining some of that nation’s pessimism.

Cleary government has a role to play in shaping the average African’s expectations for the future.

In a continent too often associated with corrupt officials and autocratic sensibilities, some governments are slowly reforming for the better. As a result Africans are feeling particularly positive about their future prospects, and that of their children. Citizens are noticing positive changes on their continent. It’s time the folks over at Gallup do too.

Standard

In the last decade ‘sustainability‘ has become a crucial consideration in crafting development policy. From the mega-conferences of the UN and the World Bank to the planning and evaluation documents of specific projects, ‘sustainable development’ is on the lips of development experts and amateur bloggers the world over.

A group of Fulani Pastoralists round a well in the Ferlo region of Senegal

It makes sense. Global climate change and natural resource shortages present perhaps the greatest obstacles to development in much of the world as well as challenge the continued feasibility of the ‘developed‘ life-style in the West. Wolfgang Sachs and his fellow development critics would argue the ecological consequences of development are of such a magnitude that they necessitate a re-evaluation of the Western model of growth oriented market capitalism as well as any efforts to export that model elsewhere with any development efforts. Sustainable development, he argues, is a term created to preserve development and the implicit model it bears, and not the globe’s dwindling natural resources.

He might point for instance to the World Bank’s 2008 Agriculture for Development report to support this claim. In describing the ecological challenges to agricultural development, it concludes,

“The solutions not to slow agricultural development – it is to seek more sustainable production systems”

Of course, aligning with Sachs leaves the empathetic practitioner in an awkward situation. Without global revolutionary social change, the Sachs argument leaves little room for any attempts at ameliorating the lives or livelihoods of the world’s poorest individuals.

A recent trip of mine to the Ferlo region of Senegal portrays this ecological challenge to development all too well.

The Ferlo portion of Northern Senegal is historically the stomping grounds of Senegal’s highly mobile pastoral herders (called generally the Fulbe or Fula). In the last few decades agriculturalists have slowly expanded into this semi-arid area, spurred on by both development organizations and the Senegalese government. Concurrent with that trend has been one of ecological degradation that is transforming this Sahelian strip between the Sahara and the lush grasslands of central Africa into an environment that looks much more like the latter than the former. Thus the Fulbe are struggling simultaneously with an increase in demand for, and a diminishing supply of, natural resources.

Further complicating the situation those new cultivators in the region are high privileged over the pastoralists, as agriculture is considered a main engine of economic growth. Agriculturalists are encouraged to claim new lands and expand cultivation. Pastoralists, under Senegalese land tenure laws, have been unable to make similar land claims, and have received only comparably minimal support from the development industry.

Clearly, something is wrong here. However, no easy alternative presents itself. One might argue not enough consideration has been given to sustainability and the current shortage of natural resources. By supporting agricultural as a means of development, we are further endangering a fragile environment as well as the people that have used it successfully for hundreds if not thousands of years. Alternatively, one could argue a halting of agricultural support would mean an abdication of one of development’s most powerful tools. Agricultural support might initiate wider economic growth in Senegal or help to reduce its need for food imports, thereby making the nation more food secure. While hurting the Fulbe and endangering the already ecologically weak region of the Ferlo are certainly not positive consequences of this development strategy, perhaps agricultural expansion is a necessary condition for development.

This brief portrait shows how crucial, and often unsettling, ideas of sustainability are in development tactics. Can development continue to march forward considering its ecological effects and challenges? Are these environmental effects a necessary and permissible condition for growth? How can we support poverty alleviation and still preserve our shared, and singular planet?

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Commentary, Platform

The Ecology vs #Globaldev Debate In Senegal

Image
Fresh look

Developed and Developing: Time to start over?

As interns in the development arena, we constitute the “bottom rung” of a very large and diverse industry of practitioners, academics, and knowledgeable commentators and bloggers. A media hungry reader might stubble upon this blog and find him/herself wondering why thoughts from this lowly subterranean bottom rung are worth reading.

Well, you skeptical pragmatist you, what we offer here is an outsider’s look – authors with minds somewhat untamed and untarnished by industry assumptions.

Some might call that condition ignorance. I call it perspective.

Sure, we lack experience and expertise in many ways. But we also lack bad habits, excessive cynicism and the lazy thinking of familiarity. Based on that one can derive a rather grandiose mission statement for this humble blog [Ed. Play nice!] – question what others might have accepted. If we are indeed to give inquisition a fair shot, I suppose it is fitting that we start at square one:

Why is that we label nations as ‘developed’ and ‘developing?’ (or ‘under-developed’ or ‘less developed’)

These terms are the most basic of a complex vocabulary that constitutes our industry discourse, and yet with this first step, it seems we have already come into difficult territory

The term ‘developed’ has an air of completion. Its use of the past tense seems to indicate that we in the industrialized nations have crossed some theoretical finish line.

Additionally it gives undue credit to the process that got the industrial world where it is, as well as a certain authority to push that model off onto others. However, there are some serious weaknesses to the model that deserve recognition. If every ‘developing’ nation managed to cross the threshold and earn the ‘-ed,’ we would need another seven or so planets to provide the needed resources to sustain that sort of global affluence.

The term ‘developing’ on the other hand oozes influences of ‘modernization theory’. This is the idea that there is one road from poverty, a designated path that leads to prosperity. Often in the texts of academics and practitioners alike one will find comparison to 15th century England, Early 17th century Europe, or China Pre-1978 being applied to diverse regions with unique cultural and historic backgrounds.

It isn’t good enough.

While this critique of discourse may seem a bit overwrought that doesn’t change the fact that our terms are lacking. After all, Harry Truman first launched this lexicon of “the under-developed regions of the world” in his 1949 inauguration address. Keeping in mind that Western thinking at the time justified colonization across the globe, we may want to avoid considering the leaders of that paradigm our ‘founding fathers’. The Cold War’s contribution of ‘the third world’ (i.e. that which lies between the spheres of the US and capitalism and the USSR and communism) has improved our vocabulary very little, if at all.

As interns we have a unique capacity to evaluate this discourse. When a new term is introduced to you in your work and it seems a bit odd, consider the possibility that it is not solely because it is novel to your ears.

Keep your questions and maintain your suspicions.

Certainly you will have a limited capacity to alter this industry’s terminology and learning it may seem challenging enough. However, simply adapting to it perpetuates current flaws and stifles our collective imagination. So let’s think of some new terms.

Standard