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.