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The Geographical Journal, Vol. 172, No. 1, March 2006, pp.


Separated by common ground? Bringing

(post)development and (post)colonialism together

Blackwell Publishing Ltd

CEDAR, Department of Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham, Surrey TW20 0EX
E-mail: d.simon@rhul.ac.uk
This paper was accepted for publication in December 2005
The relationship between mainstream development policy (and perhaps also development
studies) and postcolonial theorists has often been characterized as a dialogue of the deaf.
Rather like in the old debates between adherents of modernization and neo-Marxist
theories, the protagonists are often thought to be talking at or past one another, rather
than with each other. This paper reassesses some firmly held views on both sides of the
schism. On the one hand, many official development agencies appear to promote
business as usual (often quite literally, as a recent War on Want report attests in the case
of the UKs DFID using its aid budget to promote profitable opportunities for British
corporations). On the other hand, some postcolonial purists rely on surprisingly
modernist, totalizing discursive techniques while claiming post-structural credentials,
or baulk at the prospects of practical engagement. Discrepancies between theory,
discourse, policy and practice are not the preserve of one side. However, the middle
ground is firmer and better trodden than most believe. Considerable progress has been
made and the paper assesses examples of productive engagement and concludes with
suggestions for carrying forward the challenges.
KEY WORDS: global South, development theory, development, postdevelopment,

postcolonialism, empowerment


espite many common concerns and approaches,

(post)development and postcolonialism are
still surprisingly poorly connected. This paper
explores the reasons for this somewhat arms-length
relationship and suggests ways of bringing them
together as complementary strands of a progressive
normative enterprise.
Until the 1970s, there was a pronounced gulf
between anthropological concerns with social
organization and socio-cultural interpretations of
behaviour by distant others, on the one hand, and
the unself-conscious universalizing, econocentric
modernization approach to development permeating most branches of geography and economics,
on the other. In todays terms, the combination of
neo-Marxism and the quantitative revolution was
not auspicious for experimentation in the relationships between structure and agency, at least until
humanism began to make an impact.


In this sense, the subsequent cultural turn and

flowering of heterogeneity in the wake of the
development impasse and the emergence of
structuration theory and post-structural theoretical
debates have, for the most part, been invigorating.
This refers not so much to the often self-conscious
rebranding of social research into cultural studies,
cultural geography and the like, as to the decentring
of metatheory and preoccupations with monocausal
explanations and universal truths. More nuanced
and less doctrinaire understandings of diversity,
complexity and relativity rather than absoluteness
are central to the exciting work being undertaken
in development studies and cognate areas, not least
in respect of local and indigenous knowledge(s)
(e.g. Verhelst 1990; Warren et al. 1995; Worsley
1997; Watson 2003) and the often fruitful potential
of emergent hybridities and syncretisms (Simon
1998 1999; Sylvester 1999; Nederveen Pieterse 2001).
These debates and discussions have great potential, but for various reasons and using devices and
2006 The Royal Geographical Society

Separated by common ground?

tactics examined below, there is still a surprising

lack of synthesis or coming together of development and poststructural approaches, especially
progressive interpretations of postmodernism and
postcolonialism. Such a rapprochement is long
overdue and the paper concludes with some practical suggestions for promoting it. However, publication
of a damning report by the radical UK-based development NGO, War on Want (2004), could provide
ammunition for antidevelopment advocates who
argue that development has no redeeming features
and that the challenge is not to seek rapprochement
but an entirely new approach. This report exposed
the inappropriate use of millions of pounds
annually from Britains aid budget by the UK
Department for International Development (DFID)
to pay multinational consultants (including one
linked to a conservative free market think tank) to
seek and publicize profitable investment opportunities for British companies in the privatization of
public utilities in low-income and transitional
economies. The report argues that this is contrary
to DFIDs statutory mission to tackle poverty and
promote fulfilment of the Millennium Development
Goals. While the DFID no doubt argues that such
investments, in the guise of publicprivate partnerships or outright privatizations, do lead to more
efficient and effective service delivery, and thus
basic needs provision, many disagree. Indeed, some
argue that this provides evidence that the major
development institutions and agencies are still
pursuing self-interested business as usual in precisely
the manner claimed in the antidevelopment literature. One important strand of my argument here is
that we need to look beyond these bi- and multilateral
bodies and not tar all development organizations,
strategies and efforts with the same congealing
brush, since there is, and always has been, considerably greater diversity of ideology, discourse,
policy and practice than can readily be reduced to
the caricature of a supposedly monolithic and
uniform modernization project constituting development in the antidevelopment canon.
Development critiques: divergent or parallel
discursive terrains?
Reflections one decade on
Explorations of different development discourses
and narratives have flourished in the wake of the
development impasse, and especially in the decade
since the publication in 1995 of two landmark
volumes, Arturo Escobars Encountering development: the making and unmaking of the Third
World, and Jonathan Crushs (1995a) edited Power of
development. Although very different in themselves,


they have come to be regarded as emblematic of

the critiques of modernization-as-development and
the modernist ideology underpinning both capitalist and state-socialist incarnations of conventional
developmentalism. While far from homogeneous,
such critiques coalesced under the rubric of antidevelopment by virtue of their central concern with
structural violence, environmental and cultural
destruction, impoverishment, marginalization and
dependency induced by conventional, large-scale
development interventions, which also failed to
deliver the much lauded promises of development.
Escobar provided a detailed and insightful
critique of American-aided state-led developmentalism in Colombia, in particular; a decade later it
remains one of the most detailed and sophisticated
expositions on the link between ideology, discourse
and practice. However, its power was then
diluted through generalization to Latin America as
a whole and even the entire Third World (as
reflected in the books subtitle), glossing over
often important differences of process, impact and
outcome. Its emphasis on critique of the status quo
the final chapter on new social movements as
embodying a putative alternative approach was
rather general and preliminary served to catalyse
the label for such perspectives as anti-development.
Crushs volume emerged from a conference on
the topic and brought together an inevitably more
diverse set of contributions that while critical of
conventional development and developmentalism
fit less readily under the anti- banner. Some
certainly do; perhaps the most powerful exemplar
is Nanda Shresthas (1995) very personal autobiographical exploration, which still conveys the
anger and dismay at the shattering of his socialized
dreams and aspirations, and how he came to
discover himself as a development category. But
there were many other rich seams, including Mike
Cowen and Bob Shentons (1995) discussion of
development doctrines which provides a very
accessible prcis (ideal for students) of the arguments in their subsequent weighty tome, Doctrines
of development (1996). However, the thrust of the
book as a whole is discursive critique of the (often,
if not universally, negative) power of mainstream
development in terms eloquently set out by
Jonathan Crushs (1995b) introductory essay,
Imagining development.
By contrast, post-development has gradually
gained currency, sometimes being used more or
less synonymously with anti-development, but
increasingly to designate a move beyond critique
to the envisioning of alternatives or successors (in
the literal meaning of the term) to conventional
development. Esteva and Prakash (1998) provide
one of the earliest substantive examples of this,


Separated by common ground?

although they do not actually use the term postdevelopment, preferring postmodernism. While the
prefixes anti- and post- (development) are still often
used almost interchangeably in the literature, there
is considerable analytical and discursive value in
adhering to the distinction just made above.
Nevertheless, the power of development discourse,
to paraphrase the title of Crushs (1995a) book, is
not to be beholden only out there, in the field
and world beyond, but also in the academy, where
otherings and marginalizations occur often silently,
perhaps sometimes conspiratorially, but often
subliminally because of our fascination with, and
adherence to, intellectual innovations, turns and
fashions. For instance, 1995 also saw the publication of a third landmark academic book that was
critical of the dominant development discourse and
its implementation, and, moreover, was far more
influential than either of the two discussed above
in terms of its impact on real world development
policies and practice. Yet it has been comparatively rarely cited in the critical literature and it
is certainly not held up as a beacon of the genre in
a similar way as Encountering development and
Power of development. The reason seems principally to be that it was not couched in poststructural
discourse and sought to promote change through,
rather than outside, the existing global institutional
development architecture. It was therefore largely
ignored by the left, despite being written by one
of the leading progressive liberals in development
studies over several decades, and today undoubtedly one of the doyens in the field. He has held
influential academic and policy-making positions,
is associated as much as anyone with the basic
needs focus of the 1970s, and has maintained his
independence, integrity and critical ability throughout. He is Paul Streeten and the book, based on
the Raffaeli Mattioli Lectures in 1991, is entitled
Thinking about development (Streeten 1995). It
refocused attention on poverty eradication and the
regressive impact of structural adjustment programmes
in this context by emasculating the implementational capacity of Southern states. The thrust of
these arguments contributed directly to the belated
about-turn by the World Bank in recognizing in
no less prominent an outlet than their World development report 1997: the state in a changing world
that the overkill and deleterious impact of their
previous neoliberal extremism had to be reversed
and efficient and effective state capabilities rebuilt.
Does this not deserve credit in terms of fomenting
important policy change, albeit of a reformist
It could be argued that the whole thrust of antiand post-development is precisely the rejection of
the existing institutions and procedures; that they

cannot be reformed and need replacement and

reorientation, and that mainstream multilateral
poverty eradication strategies become diluted and
ineffective. Perhaps, but the ideas in Thinking
about development are also profound. Furthermore,
Development betrayed (Norgaard 1994), another
pathbreaking book that documents the failures of
conventional development and advocates its rejection in favour of a radically different approach
(coevolution) in carefully nuanced terms that
are radical and postmodern in all but name, has
suffered the same fate despite taking the alternative
(re)vision(ing) far further than Escobar (1995). Both
Streeten and Norgaards books appeared through
leading mainstream publishers with global distribution systems, so that cannot explain the different
exposure. These are good exemplars of what we
might term critical development, another broad
label that accommodates progressive work, including that which does not invoke poststructural
theory and nomenclature.
In general, the substantive differences between
anti-, post- or critical development are often small.
There is one important exception: the summary
dismissal by anti- and postdevelopment writers of
development as constituting a singular, monolithic
form of self-interested Northern economic imperialism
and universally disastrous modernism a veritable
misbegotten enterprise (Parpart and Veltmeyer
2004, 51). However, in the view of many contributors to these debates, this tactic is neither accurate
nor helpful, despite the well-documented problems
with many large-scale, conventional, modernizationas-development projects, programmes and institutions
(cf. Max-Neef 1992; Friedmann 1992; Lehmann
1997; Shanmugaratnam 1997; Simon 1998 2002
2003; Kiely 1999; Fagan 1999; Munck 1999;
Sardar 1999; Sylvester 1999; Jones 2000; Nederveen Pieterse 2000 2001 2004; Arce and Long
2000; Schuurman 2000; Albrow 2001; Bebbington
and Bebbington 2001; Nustad 2001; Tomlinson
2001; Brigg 2002; Parpart and Veltmeyer 2004;
Rapley 2004; Ziai 2004).
Critical convergences
Development has always been far more heterogeneous in discourse, policy and practice than
implied by the universalizing claims of many antiand post-development writers. Such assertions also
take little account of the many millions of people
who have benefited and others whose legitimate
aspirations for a better quality of life and more
sustainable livelihoods are bound up with progressive and appropriate visions and programmes of
development. Popular protests, said to represent
a rejection of development per se, are usually

Separated by common ground?

reactions to the specific, non-participatory interventions that threaten or undermine lives, livelihoods
and environments in the name of development
through displacement by large dam schemes,
corporate greed and the like. Indeed, Moore (2000)
offers a vivid illustration of this, where a Zimbabwean communitys resistance against successive
colonial and postcolonial impositions in the name
of development rejected these as not constituting
development, which is what they still demanded:
He [a prominent headman] used the English term
development that global keyword of modernity. It
was the only English word he used. Then the
headman quickly carved out the discursive distinction
again, sharply, and in Shona, reiterating the difference
between the lines of oppression and the path of
development, this time glossed as budidiro (development).
Moore 2000, 655

This nuanced rejection of unwanted state impositions as oppression, but the aspiration for positive
change in the form of investment and infrastructure
in line with local priorities as constituting development is, in my experience, more common in
Southern contexts than general rejectionism of the
antidevelopment genre. It is also both discursively
and programmatically much closer to the many
radical empowerment and other grassroots, bottomup and participatory approaches articulated as
alternatives to modernization-as-development by
John Friedmann (1992), Manfred Max-Neef (1992)
and others since, but which are largely ignored in
post-development writings. The one partial exception is in relation to the recent critiques of participatory methodologies as development agency
panaceas (Mohan and Stokke 2000; Cooke and
Kothari 2001; Long 2001).
Notwithstanding the attention gained and debate
spawned by the more polemical and globalizing/
universalizing contributions on anti- and postdevelopment, this at least partially Foucauldian
work on the powerknowledge nexus of the
development industry was weak empirically and
shallow in its grasp of the development institutions
themselves, as Michael Watts (2003, 437) has
noted. By contrast, James Ferguson (1990 1999)
and others have added great value by seeking to
explore development in a much more grounded
institutional and textual way, posing hard questions
about how development ideas are institutionalized
and how particular development interventions may
generate conflict as much as consent . . . (Watts
2003, 437). The relevant volumes in the ambitious
UN Intellectual History Project (Emmerij et al.
2001; Berthelot 2004; Jolly et al. 2004; Toye and
Toye 2004; Forum for Development Studies 2005)


attempt a similar task. Perhaps the progenitors of

this genre were Payers (1974) and Hayter and
Watsons (1985) critiques of the modus operandi of
the IMF and World Bank, and Susan Georges (1976)
analysis of the institutional political economy of
world hunger. More recent work includes Finnemore (1997), Shore and Wright (1997), Sikkink
(1997), Fine et al. (2001), Pincus and Winters
(2002) and Peet (2003).
There has indeed been much progress in theoretical and conceptual terms too, in seeking to move
beyond such broad-brush and universalizing
caricatures of development which were inaccurate, ultimately counterproductive in many ways,
and epistemologically flawed in terms of the poststructural precepts invoked by their proponents.
Moore (2000) suggests that this portrayal of development as a monolithic post-World War II discourse
papering over the multiple reworkings of and
resistance to development in particular Third
World sites resulted from the heavy reliance by
these poststructural writers on textual representations: Notably absent are the charged and often
highly localized cultural politics that inflect translocal discourses of development, a sort of contraflow
to globalizing discourses (Moore 2000, 655).
Secondly, as Cowen and Shenton (1996) and Rist
(1997) have documented in detail, this approach
ignores longer term trajectories and processes, some
of which had profound importance. This assessment which is complemented by Watts (2003)
critique highlights the dangers implicit in relying
so heavily on discourse and textual analysis and,
by extension, the importance of deploying multiple
research techniques.
However, we should not ignore the political
instrumentality of the globalizing poststructuralist
polemics. If development were portrayed as this
monolithic project in anti- or post-development
terms, then it would be essential to search for
alternatives in other realms. This is the origin of
postcolonial perspectives on development and
those strands of post-development that have sought
to move beyond critique of conventional development into more active re-learning to see and
reassess the reality of the global South (Escobar
2001, 153). It was also the stimulus to alternative
formulations such as indigenous and alternative
modernities (which seek to decentre modernity as
distinctively and universally Western) and rightsbased approaches which raise substantial
challenges in poststructural terms around the
universalization of essentially Western-defined
individual (as opposed to collective) rights, and
can be the last moral resort for recolonization
(Esteva and Prakash 1998, 1368), but also potentially liberatory and empowering in oppressive


Separated by common ground?

situations. This illustrates the ethical, discursive

and practical difficulties in these debates.
All such terminology is ultimately contingent and
potentially ambiguous, but the labels of variants of
modernities are no less problematic than postmodernism because modernity itself is a quintessential
Western construct and condition. Then there is
the added difficulty of the widespread use of
modern(ity) to refer to present-day. Hence a different
appellation seems more appropriate to contexts
chronological, epistemological and methodological
in which alternative knowledges and modes
of explanation and understanding to western
modern science and development are being sought
(Esteva and Prakash 1998; Simon 1998 1999; de
Sousa Santos 2003; Escobar 2004). Although
postmodernism is certainly not problem free, it does
accurately convey the sense of moving beyond and
transcending the central tenets of modernity and
modernism within which modernization-asdevelopment is so firmly embedded.
Importantly, more recent contributions by the leading figures of anti- and post-development (e.g. Escobar
2001 2004; Sachs 2002), also reflect considerable movement in this direction, to a point where their own revisionings are converging with other critical perspectives
on development (e.g. Simon 1998 1999 2003 forthcoming; Fagan 1999; Munck 1999; Parpart and
Veltmeyer 2004; Ziai 2004). Ziai (2004) argues that
postdevelopment is itself diverse, comprising two
clear strands. The first, which he labels sceptical,
is consonant with these perspectives, while the
other (neopopulist) is more conservative, aligned
with neoliberalism in its rejection of large-scale development(alism). Kiely (1999) and Rapley (2004, 353)
make similar points. Therefore, post-development
has now also become mired in controversies over
nomenclature as a result of diverse discursive practices a situation which seems to underscore the
overlap and conjunctions among the various streams
of critical development studies.
Despite considerable progress in these debates
along the lines surveyed above, I suggest that a
gut-level antidevelopmental rejectionism remains
the basic if unfortunate reason for the persistent
and substantial lack of engagement between development (studies) and postcolonialism (and postdevelopment). Equally, however, we should be
mindful that the globalizing normative penchant of
much postdevelopment discourse which may
contradict the supposedly poststructural precepts
underpinning it is at variance with the central
postcolonial concern with the ordinary or subaltern
people scripted out of conventional histories and
development narratives. I now turn to explore
some of the contours of these evolving debates as a
prelude to my arguments for a rapprochement.

The Cultural Turn and Postcolonialism

Conceptualizing cultural diversity postcolonially
Cultural diversity or at least the ways in which
local, indigenous, non-western cultures differed
from those of western industrial capitalist cultures
constituted a central problem or obstacle to
development, to be overcome by large-scale, technologically driven aid and investment programmes.
Homogenization on the western model was the
implicit and explicit objective in a manner that
rather presaged Fukuyamas misplaced faith in the
so-called end of history. This western ethnocentrism (or Euro/Americocentrism) needed to be
challenged although, in fairness, this was one of
the objectives of neo-Marxist writers in the dependencia tradition, most explicitly by Samir Amin
(1989). Edward Said (1978) and Ziauddin Sardar
(1999), amongst many others, provide more postcolonial perspectives on Eurocentrism, in terms of
which Western modernity became the basis for
distinguishing otherness in guises including orientalism and Islam. As we have again seen so overtly
in Western geopolitical discourses over the last
few years, these guises are regularly revived and
revised in depressingly familiar but self-serving
reductionist, essentializing and xenophobic terms:
In the process the uncountable sediments of history,
that include innumerable histories and a dizzying
variety of peoples, languages, experiences, and cultures,
all these are swept aside or ignored, relegated to the
sand heap along with the treasures ground into
meaningless fragments that were taken out of
Baghdads libraries and museums.
Said 2004, 871

Herein lie the central concerns and challenges of

the schematic overview by Schech and Haggis
(2000) which underscores the value of approaching
culture as a social process rather than a static or
immutable entity or ensemble of facts, material
objects and rituals. Such concerns form part of the
cultural turn, which has fed directly into the
flowering of poststructural theory especially
through postcolonialism and some variants of posttraditionalism as applied to development (Tucker
1997; Simon 1998 1999; Sylvester 1999; Nederveen Pieterse 1995 2001 2004; Schech and Haggis
2000, 5784; Brigg 2002; Power 2003, 11942;
Rao and Walton 2004). This conceptual and
methodological progress has also focused attention
on the need to understand the local in nuanced
and polyvocal terms that highlight human agency,
subjective perceptions and different knowledges.
At the same time, though, it is critically important

Separated by common ground?

to integrate the local scale discursively and nondeterministically with the broader national, regional
and ultimately global contexts. The term glocalization
captures this well, since cultures can, and do, exist
or find expression at different scales. By nondeterministically I refer to the need to avoid both
the exceptionalist cul-de-sac of localism and the
universalizing or totalizing trap of the many
broadly neoliberal versions of cultural and globalization theory or neo-Marxist renderings which
often privilege national, rather than local, issues
and dynamics. Rao and Waltons (2004) approach
exemplifies this new discursive strategy particularly
well, focusing on the value of locally specific
cultural understandings that avoid exceptionalism
and determinism in promoting improved public
action to alleviate poverty and reduce inequality.
Variants of localist exceptionalism both intentional and sometimes unintentional can be
detected in quite diverse poststructural and other
progressive epistemologies and methodologies
seeking to (re)valorize and/or mobilize politically
around the cultures, identities, rights, indigenous
knowledges (including environmental) and world
views of marginal(ized) and subordinated groups.
Examples include localization and locality-based
anti-globalization agendas (e.g. Escobar 2001; Escobar
et al. 2002) and a range of empowerment-oriented
participatory approaches to development (see
Mohan and Stokke 2000; Cooke and Kothari 2001;
Simon et al. 2003; Golooba-Mutebi 2005). By contrast,
the universalizing neoliberal-inspired approaches
imply or advocate global cultural convergence/
homogenization through the assimilation of western
capitalist consumer culture, and are thus very much
metanarratives constituting latter-day versions of
modernization theory (Nederveen Pieterse 2004,
721). Slater (2003) helpfully draws attention to the
distinctive position of the USA as a postcolonial
society now wielding global imperial power and
the problems thereby posed for radical postcolonial
agendas of situated local rather than hegemonic
neoliberal democratic forms.
How do postcolonialisms profoundly cultural
concerns with subaltern histories, voices and
identities interface with critical or progressive
approaches to development? On the one hand,
there has been potentially disabling angst about
issues of representation and reflexivity (especially
by western authors in respect of Third World
others), although Bell (2002) has demonstrated
ably how postcoloniality can inform analysis of
poverty and development at a distance. Some
Southern critics reject postcolonialism as itself too
Eurocentric by retaining the often short, if brutal,
colonial interruption as the central defining referent
both chronologically and methodologically. Instead,


an indigenous focus attending to the longer dure

(i.e. including the precolonial era) is advocated
(Nabudere 1997 2002). This conception accords
well with Achille Mbembes concern with the
particular historicity of African societies, and
. . . thinking about the postcolonial African subject,
his /her history and his /her present in the world
(Mbembe 2001, 17) [and by extension, those
elsewhere in the South], even though Mbembe
situates his perspective as firmly postcolonial,
seeking to challenge conventional social theory:
. . . by defining itself both as an accurate portrayal
of Western modernity that is, by starting from
conventions that are purely local and as universal
grammar, social theory has condemned itself always
to make generalizations from idioms of a
provincialism that no longer requires demonstration
since it proves extremely difficult to understand nonWestern objects within its dominant paradigms.
Mbembe 2001, 11

On the other hand, scholars seeking to maintain

active and constructive practical, but theoretically
informed, engagement have sought diverse ways of
promoting non-paternalistic NorthSouth collaborations and deploying participatory and mutual learning research methodologies. Still others, especially
in development institutions and agencies, have
sought pragmatic or instrumental uses for indigenous knowledge. Representational angst, which has
driven some Northern researchers to disengage
entirely, may have the consequence of privileging
and legitimizing all of the diverse and often
conflicting Southern voices and knowledges,
with little basis for discriminating among them.
Conversely, the instrumental position may risk
perhaps inadvertently seeing any form of Southern or indigenous culture/knowledge (these pairs of
terms sometimes becoming unhelpfully conflated)
as little more than a tool or artefact to facilitate
acceptance of, and progress with, conventional
development interventions, or again as something
to be privileged rather than to be assessed for its
relevance and potential for hybridization in a particular context alongside non-local knowledges (cf.
Warren et al. 1995; Schech and Haggis 2000; Simon
et al. 2003; Briggs and Sharpe 2004; Tamas 2004).
This point is worth emphasizing: cultural
resources can be exploited by community members
for their own processes of self-development and
empowerment (as demonstrated, e.g., by Escobar
et al. 2002; Watson 2003) and/or by outsiders to
facilitate implementation of externally defined
goals, projects or priorities that may well not
accord with and may indeed be inimical to
local aspirations and priorities. The latter case


Separated by common ground?

would equate to oppression (as cited above),

exploitation or a form of neo-colonialism. This, in
turn, draws attention to the close interrelationships
between culture and power, not least in terms of
contested forms and processes of governance and
changes to institutional arrangements. Structurally
and discursively, this applies as much to the notion
of trusteeship as a self-interested, but also moral
and altruistic, intention to develop, that originated
in the late colonial era and still underpins much
current official development discourse and policy
(Cowen and Shenton 1996), as it does to radical
strategies of empowerment that challenge the
power of vested interests (Friedmann 1992).
In more practical terms, cultural practices are
socially embedded in networks of relationships, so
that the networks that sustain meaningful practices
can thus become significant vehicles for political
action (Bebbington et al. 2004, 191). Similarly,
Donald Moores (2000) nuanced and historically
grounded ethnographic study of the cultural politics
of resistance by a specific rural Zimbabwean
community to successive attempts to impose
modernization in the name of development by the
colonial and postcolonial states, exemplifies the
rich and locally contextualized insights that postcolonial and critical approaches to development
dilemmas can yield. Crucially, Moore is reflexive
and overtly aware of his own positionality and
agency. Such important connections have often
been overlooked or downplayed, even by progressive
analysts. Indeed, Kapoor (2004) invokes Gayatri
Spivaks demands for what amounts to hyper-selfreflexivity to argue that even many prominent
radical or critical development analysts from the
South fail to achieve this.
Mainstreaming cultural liberty and development
The 2004 Human Development Report, Cultural
liberty in todays diverse world (UNDP 2004), fits
neatly into this debate. The report represents a
landmark by demonstrating that these issues, and
appropriate enabling policies to promote multicultural democracy, have not just permeated the
thinking of progressive branches within the UN
system, but have now been tabled publicly at this
level for serious consideration by national governments worldwide. Furthermore, this has been done
not as a libertarian political or human rights
project but as a core initiative explicitly to promote
appropriate human development. In the words of
the Report,
Cultural liberty is a vital part of human development
because being able to choose ones identity who
one is without losing the respect of others or being

excluded from other choices is important in leading

a full life . . . Expanding cultural freedoms is an
important goal in human development one that
needs urgent attention in the 21st century. All people
want to be free to be who they are. All people want
to be free to express their identity as members of a
group with shared commitments and values whether
it is nationality, ethnicity, language or religion, whether
it is family, profession or avocation. Globalization is
driving ever-increasing interactions among the worlds
people. This world needs both greater respect for
diversity and stronger commitment to unity. Individuals
have to shed rigid identities if they are to become part
of diverse societies and uphold cosmopolitan values
of tolerance and respect for universal human rights.
UNDP 2004, 1, 12

In order to tackle the current renaissance of

conservative traditionalism and fundamentalism
(presumably within Christianity and Islam in particular), and to head off criticism that it is too individually libertarian and western-centric, the central
thrust of the Report is a reasoned and substantiated
argument that there is no conflict between individual and collective cultural rights and liberties. It
seeks to debunk five pervasive myths that underpin
the suppression, or ignoring, of many cultural
identities by states of various ideological persuasions in the name of strengthening the state, avoiding
intercommunal conflict and promoting development.
These myths are as follows.
1 Peoples ethnic identities compete with their attachment to the state, so there is a trade-off between
recognizing diversity and unifying the state.
2 Ethnic groups are prone to violent conflict with each
other in clashes of values, so there is a trade-off
between respecting diversity and sustaining peace.
3 Cultural liberty requires defending traditional
practices, so there could be a trade-off between recognizing cultural diversity and other human development priorities such as progress in development,
democracy and human rights.
4 Ethnically diverse countries are less able to develop,
so there is a trade-off between respecting diversity
and promoting development.
5 Some cultures are more likely to make developmental progress than others, and some cultures have
inherent democratic values while others do not, so
there is a trade-off between accommodating certain
cultures and promoting development and democracy.
The clear message is that cultural flexibility and
appropriateness are not only important in their own
right, but that, far from conflicting with progressive
and participatory approaches to human development, they are essential to these. Moreover,
individuals increasingly hold and utilize a complex

Separated by common ground?

multiplicity of identities according to the particular

circumstances. These are also the essential concerns
of postcolonialism, although the report carefully
avoids poststructural terminology.
Conclusion: finding common ground and moving on
While the controversies over the meanings and
tenability of development persist, I argue that replacing the term, or underlying concept, will not ultimately address the basic problems of inequality, poverty,
powerlessness and so forth. It is therefore more
useful to differentiate between the conventional
and widely rejected versions of modernization-asdevelopment and progressive, empowering visions,
be they glossed as critical development or postdevelopment. This would remove the largest
impediment to a fuller symbiosis or synthesis between
development and postcolonial studies, which
already share much in both principle and practice
as overtly progressive and liberational discourses.
Furthermore, while the overwhelming dominance
of global capitalism and the enmeshing of virtually all social economies within it is undeniable,
this should not be seen as necessarily disabling of
all progressive efforts short of systemic overthrow.
After all, the progressive potential of postmodernism in the context of the global South goes far
beyond the Harvey-esque and Soja-esque conceptions of it as merely a corporate manifestation of
late capitalism, and on the basis of which David
Ley (2003) published its obituary. In the enabling
and potentially liberatory senses of the concept as
deployed here, such talk of its demise is surely
premature, if not inaccurate; indeed, recent authoritative invocations (de Souza Santos 2003; Escobar
2004) suggest that its value is becoming more
widely appreciated in terms parallelling the various
The challenge now is to link such local identities, practices and agendas to broader and multiscale campaigns and projects for progressive and
radical change that are substantively postcolonial
and critically (post)developmental. How might this
be achieved? I suggest provisionally four broad
(and to some extent overlapping) avenues that
would bear fuller exploration elsewhere. This is not
intended as a complete list, but merely as indicative of ways forward, involving different blends of
academic research, participatory engagement and
activism. First, I advocate the establishment of
new, and the extension of existing, NorthSouth
alliances and partnerships for progressive research,
information sharing, dissemination of good practice,
and joint political action among and across the
often distinct constituencies represented by
progressive politicians, agency staff, NGOs, scholars


and activists. Here we might include both Escobars

(2004, 210, 223) meshworks of anti-globalization
social movements constituting a form of counterhegemonic globalization and Routledges (2003)
convergence space of grassroots anti-globalization
social movements both of which are claimed to
practise a different multi-scalar spatial politics from
the reactive counter-Empire posited by Hardt and
Negri (2000). Olesen (2005) labels such solidarity
networks as global Zapatismo in tribute to the
landmark anti-government revolt in Mexicos Chiapas
state during the 1990s. Nevertheless, the nongovernmental sector is highly heterogeneous and
by no means entirely progressive, while experience
has shown that there are very real difficulties and
challenges in (re)building and maintaining such
collaborations and relations of trust within and
between these constituencies (Simon et al. 2003;
Mawdsley et al. 2005; Velloso de Santisteban
2005). Included under this heading would also be
the promotion of activist networks, where possible
embracing both North and South, and focused
around major politico-economic campaigning
issues like trade-related intellectual property rights
(TRIPs); bio-prospecting; genetically modified
crops; World Trade Organization (WTO) regulations,
large dams and environmental justice agendas,
which can be powerful agents for change.
My second area is more directly policy-oriented
but nevertheless follows closely from the previous
agenda and requires appropriate research. This
is (how) to strengthen alternative or progressive
trading structures, such as Fair Trade, countertrading initiatives and the Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI)
alliance of companies, NGOs and trade unions
seeking to ensure that working conditions of
employees worldwide supplying the British market
meet, or exceed, international labour standards
(http://www.ethicaltrade.org). Experience in recent
years has shown that such campaigns are making
a real difference to the producers and workers
concerned, reducing or avoiding exploitation, and
enabling Fair Trade beneficiaries to improve their
quality of life and undertake social investment in
their communities. However, despite recent growth,
such alternative mechanisms account for only a
minority of trade in the respective commodity
groups, not least because of the price premium that
many Northern consumers are unwilling or unable
to pay, even if they are aware of the campaigns.
The fundamental challenge to be tackled, therefore,
is how to expand and scale up these initiatives to
the point that they become mainstream a
challenge that may well require the major corporations to buy in (to wit, in late 2005, Nestl
announced its first Fair Trade coffee) and which
has many ethical and dialectical implications.


Separated by common ground?

Thirdly, as demonstrated with respect to the UN

Intellectual History Project and critical assessments
of the Bretton Woods institutions, there is great
potential for new analyses of the agendas and roles
of key institutions. Such studies need to assess not
only the structures of the respective institutions and
their specific practices and devices, but also their
impacts, an undertaking that should highlight
contingencies and complexities of institutional
operations (Bell 2002; Pritchett and Woolcock
2004). Linking up with research within critical
geopolitics and the global environmental change
community on global governance regimes, this
would provide evidence for both intellectual and
political action to effect change in the institutional
architecture, conventions and practices of global
Finally, much is likely to be gained from exploring the potential for integrating political ecology
and multiscale or multilocal sustainable livelihoods
analyses as progressive approaches that recognize
the spatial and politico-economic interdependencies
and interactive landscapes of the contemporary
world (e.g. Peet and Watts 1996 2004; Bebbington
2003; Bebbington and Batterbury 2001; Rigg forthcoming) but avoid the implicit privileging of the
local above the non-local that characterizes some
idealistic ecocentric perspectives. This would also
be a valuable way to bring political economy back
in to social scientific analysis, but in more flexible
and complementary ways than in the past. As
argued above, one of the limitations of participatory and localist work has been the eschewing of
larger scales and of politico-economic forces and
drivers. I am not advocating yet another swing of
the pendulum in the opposite direction, but a
careful synthesis that integrates both the cultural
and social nuances of locally informed research
and the undoubted value of political economy and
political ecology.
Perhaps emblematic of the coming together of
(post)development and postcolonialism are the
numerous complex and locally negotiated syncretic
practices that constitute peoples lived realities
and aspirations (e.g. Ferguson 1999; Moore 2000;
Escobar et al. 2002; Robins 2003). These resonate
well with the tasks of decentring and challenging
Eurocentric constructions of identity, history, moral
community and development aspirations shared
by post-structural development perspectives and
postcolonial modes of enquiry (or problematique),
and now also being invoked in relation to the
abiding Northern-centric orientation of many
academic disciplines, including anthropology (e.g.
Ferguson 1997) and geography (Sidaway 2000;
McEwan 2001 2003; Robinson 2003). Seeking to
move away from the construct of alternative (i.e.

non-western) modernities (see above), which has

attracted considerable anthropological attention,
Karlstrm (2004) posits the essentially complementary rather than contradictory nature of indigenous
cultural and contemporary political institutions as
signifiers of identity and moral community, and as
instruments for their development aspirations. He
provides a richly suggestive exploration of indigenous
rituals of lineage succession, and the restitution in
1993 of indigenous kingship in Buganda, Uganda,
as critical elements of communal survival in the
face of profound periodic existential crises facing
the Baganda for long the countrys dominant
ethnic group as a result of postcolonial state
collapse and moral crisis. This underscores the
dangers of assuming a resultant rejection of
modern development:
If witches are modernitys malcontents or at least
the rapaciously destructive objectification of its
discontents it is moral community and its modes
of reproduction that most consistently sustain its
aspirants. Whereas a world of witchcraft is ultimately
dystopian, a world of workable moral community is
not so much utopian, perhaps as eutopian. [Here he
invokes Thomas Mores use of the term to denote a
place of happiness and order that is not a no-place
or utopia that is, not a phantasmic impossibility but
a realizable ideal.] True, the standardized practices
through which social reproduction takes place tend
to project an idealized world of generative and
harmonious sociality and moral conduct, often in the
face of contrary realities. Yet they also palpably produce
such relationalities and dispositions, if only for the
moment. In fact, one of the things they paradigmatically generate is precisely a sense of emplacement
of the social and geographical topos of moral
personhood and collectivity the very grounds upon
which an aspirational futurity can be constructed.
Karlstrm 2004, 596

While aware that such ritual practices and senses

of moral community can reinforce subordination
and exclusion as identified in the invention
of tradition literature initiated by Hobsbawm and
Ranger (1983) he draws attention to the
(re)making of moral community under conditions
of radical transformation, where the aspirational
edge of culture is most fundamentally generated
(Karlstrm 2004, 597). Contrasting his findings with
those of Chatterjee (1997) regarding the selfconscious generation of alternative, indigenously
grounded modernities in postcolonial India an
important distinction that warns us of the dangers
of generalizing and universalizing he concludes
that the principal concern of the Baganda has

Separated by common ground?

. . . the maintenance of moral communities capable
of productively and collectively appropriating the
resources and technologies made available by a
century of colonial and postcolonial incorporation
into the capitalist world order.
Karlstrm 2004, 608

This resonates with the arguments advanced here

against a deterministic and universalizing poststructuralism, and in favour of a critical, multiscale
livelihoods analysis integrated with political ecology
(and hence political economy) as a practical way
to bring (post)development and postcolonialism
together. As Moores Zimbabwean field research
also highlighted,
Far from arriving fully formed, an artefact dispatched
by the distant West, the disputed formations of
development, in all their malleable guises, are forged
through the crucible of cultural politics, reworked
through livelihood struggles.
Moore 2000, 675


Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the

session on Postcolonialism and development: new
dialogues?, Association of American Geographers
annual conference, Denver, CO, 7 April 2005, at
the session on Power of development revisited,
Canadian Association of Geographers annual
conference, University of Western Ontario, 3 June
2005, and at the annual conference of the Norwegian Association for Development Research,
Agricultural University of Norway, s, on 21 June
2005. Helpful comments from participants in these
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