chapter  4
24 Pages

Development thinking and the mystical ‘kingdom of abundance’

I N T RO D U C T I O N : K N OW L E D G E A N D T H E E R A O F M O D E R N I T Y

The origins of development theories and ideas about progress and modernity are an important part of understanding the ‘invention’ of development as an arena of enquiry and state practice. For many commentators, this begins with the postwar creation of ideas and discourses about ‘underdeveloped areas’ (e.g. in Truman’s ‘bold new program’) but we can trace this emergence back further still, to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries of European Enlightenment rationality in particular. Development studies itself must be seen as a legacy of the Enlightenment in its rejection of artificial disciplinary boundaries and its search for common and collective approaches to problems and dilemmas of development. What we are interested in here is the extent to which deep-rooted ‘western’ and ‘Eurocentric’ traditions have cast their ‘dominant shadow’ over development thinking. The idea of progress forged in the Enlightenment era remains an article of faith in development thinking, while the idea of development has since taken on a ‘quasimystical connotation’ (Munck, 1999: 198). What emerges therefore is a kind of mystical belief that the project of modernity has not exhausted its

capacity to bring about ‘positive change’. Enlightenment ideals seem to have exerted a powerful influence on postwar conceptions of development and are also related to the wider question of whether modernity is still an unfinished project in the South. To what extent do theorisations of development become caught up in a ‘western’ perception of reality?