chapter  1
19 Pages

Introduction: what is ‘development’? People, places and progress: thinking spatially about development Mental maps and imagined geographies of difference Development and the geography of power Re/thinking geographies of development: a guide to what follows

One of the major difficulties in finding common approaches, policies and solutions to these challenges is that the idea of ‘development’ is difficult to define, since the term has a whole variety of meanings in different times and places. In Malaysia, for example, debates about the nature of development and its importance to national ‘progress’ and social change have taken on a very different complexion when compared to a country such as South Africa or Sri Lanka. Even within such countries, the meanings and definitions of ‘development’ vary substantially across national territory and between different social groups or are, in a way, ‘place-specific’. As if to complicate our study of ‘development’ and its geographies even further, it might be said that the term actually has no clear and unequivocal meaning and is in a sense truly the stuff of myth, mystique and mirage. Little consensus exists around the meaning of this heavily contested term yet most if not all leaders of the world’s many nation-states and international organisations claim to be pursuing this objective in some way. This book seeks to show that, by contrast, the strength of the term comes directly from its power to seduce, to please, to fascinate, to set dreaming, but also from its power to deceive and to turn away from the truth (Rist, 1997: 1). Development is nearly always seen as something

that is possible, if only people or countries follow through a series of stages or prescribed instructions. It is also often assumed that an organic and inherently ‘natural’ process of evolution is somehow at work, one that is both progressive and forwardmoving. The assumption here is that from little acorns do giant oaks grow. Development also often means simply ‘more’: whatever we might have some of today we might or should have more of tomor-

row (Wallerstein, 1994). In this book we will be delving further beneath the surface of these different definitions in an attempt to show how they have often been ‘normative’ (saying what should be done) or instrumental (serving as an instrument or means), usually pointing to things that are lacking or deficient (e.g. knowledge) or things that need to be intensified (e.g. democracy). As we shall see, at the core of development studies and also development geography there has been this very normative preoccupation with the poor and with what are often referred to as the ‘marginalized and exploited people of the South’ (Schuurman, 2001: 9).