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A Critique of Neo-Liberal Development
Sunday 15 June 2008, by Jajati K Pattnaik
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Neither has the neo-liberal model attained prosperity nor has it guaranteed security and
stability. The critics are right in denouncing the Western countries being hypocrites in
their entire approach towards the poor countries. Even if one dissents with this, it is sure
that the West seeks to follow its globalisation agenda to grab the excessive share of benefits
at the cost of the developing world.6 It poses a challenge to local cultures, augments global
inequalities and aggravates the conditions of the destitute. In the process, it creates a
‘world of winners and losers’—a few blooming with prosperity and many sunk in a life of
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RESPONDING to the drawbacks of neo-liberal development, alternatives emerged in the
discourse of development. The post-development theory, one of those alternatives, is an
intellectual offshoot of the Foucauldian intellectual traditions. Drawing its principles from
the works of French philosopher Michel Foucault, the post-development theory mirrors
development in the prism of a discourse.
This theory argues that development constitutes a specific way of thinking about the world,
a particular form of knowledge. Development is, in the Foucauldian sense, a particular
discourse which does not reflect but actually constructs reality. In doing so, it closes off
alternative ways of thinking and so constitutes a form of power.8
This theory holds that the objective of discourse is to legitimise and transpose the Western
model over the Third World. The Third World is not only predisposed to the economic
power, but it is also constrained by the ‘definitional power of the West’.9 Development is a
benchmark through which the West gauges the non-West. It disciplines differences and
establishes the standard norms for the society. The measures of development become the
devices for the exercise of power over others.10 The post-development thinkers view that
the Third World is categorically objectified and the requirements of the people are
externally decided. To find a solution, the post-development scholar, A. Escobar, stresses
on defining the term underdevelopment to displace the discourse of development.11
THE Marxian theory in the contemporary perspective is another alternative response to
the failures of development. It points out that the Western project of development is based
on polarisation, unequal relations, and subordination of industries of the peripheries.12
Samir Amin, a leading scholar of this school, views that the global expansion of capitalism
has created unequal income distribution ‘between and within the societies on the periphery
of the system’.13 It has resulted in the marginalisation of the disadvantaged groups and
their further impoverishment in the social structures. He mentions that the present crisis
can be resolved in reconstructing the social power of the popular classes as a counter-
hegemonic force in collaboration with the intelligentsia to confront the functionaries of the
The human development paradigm based on Amartya Sen’s capability approach is another
alternative to the neo-liberal development. Sen in his work on ‘Development as Freedom’
interprets development ‘as a process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy’.15
Growth of gross national product, technological progress and industrialisa-tion etc. may be
important denominators for realising freedom in a society, but they are not the end of
development. The realisation of freedom hinges upon the other determinants such as
freedom for participation in public discussion, political and civil rights, provision for
educational and health facilities, elimination of poverty, tyranny, social deprivation,
intolerance and unrestrained power of the repressive states.16 Sen holds that expansion of
freedom is viewed as both the means and end of development which can be called the
constitutive as well as instrumental role of freedom in development. The constitutive role
is substantive freedom which pertains to the enrichment of human life. The instrumental
role deals with the presence of civil and political rights, economic and social opportunities
and protective securities.17 This contributes to the expansion of human freedom and
development. Mahbub Ul Haq, who has developed this paradigm, interprets development
in the context of expanding people’s choices.18 He finds that growth deals with the rise in
individual income whereas development induces political, social and cultural aspects. He
further observes that a link between growth and human lives is to be established through
public policy. This can be achieved by restructuring the economic as well as political power
and having sweeping land reforms, progressive tax system, provision of basic social
services to the deprived sections, removing hindrances in economic and political spheres,
equality of opportunity and political and cultural freedom.19
The analysis of this discourse connotes that the neo-liberal paradigm may not be a panacea
to the crisis-ridden societies of the developing world. Taking a clue from the development
alternatives, the parameters of development could be constructed on the following lines.
A people-centric development paradigm is to be structured basing on universal human
values such as democratic legitimacy, transparency, justice and equity for its sustainability.
Development is not to be measured solely in terms of growth of gross national product but
must be assessed in t
forces and thus help percolate the benefits of development to the lowest strata of society
for inclusive development.
The institutional machinery is to be based on the rule of law that reflects transparency and
accountability for effective governance.
Institutions of governance are to be democratised and decentralised in order to ensure the
participatory approach in the political process and endow the citizens with the
responsibility of managing their own affairs at the grassroot level through people’s
planning and initiatives.
Public deliberation through civil society engagement is to check the authoritarian attitude
of the state and strengthen the process of democratic machinery from the perspective of
development. This is to be sustained through social capital in the form of civic networks
based on cooperation and reciprocity that helps the institutions for better deliverance. The
citizens should play an active conscientious and non-partisan role in championing the
common interests of the people.
Minor ethnic as well as religious groups are to be accommodated in the true sprit of
multicul-turalism to thwart the challenges of cultural monism. Inter-cultural dialogue
should pave the way for cultural diversity and pluralism. The principles of trust, tolerance
and fellow-feeling should guide the actions of the human beings for their peaceful coexistence.
Nonetheless, the discourse on development is a never-ending subject. So, more
development alternatives could be framed through comparative studies for addressing the
problems of the developing world in the days ahead.
1. Joachim Heidrich, “On Transnationalisation and the Strategy of Globalisation”, The
Indian Journal of Political science, Vol. 62, No. 3, September 2001, p. 378.
2. Atul Bharadwaj, “Understanding the Globalisation Mind Game”, Strategic Analysis, Vol.
27, No. 3, July-September 2003, p. 321.
3. Cited in John Baylis and Steve Smith, The Globalisation of World Politics: An
Introduction to International Relations, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 542.
5. Arie de Ruijter, “Globalisation: A challenge to the Social Sciences” in Frans J.
Schuurman (ed.), Globalisation and Development Studies: Challenges for the 21st Century,
New Delhi: Vistaar Publications, 2001, p. 36.
6. Joseph E. Stiglitz, Globalisation and its Discontents, New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2003,
7. Anthony Giddens, Runaway World: How Globalisaiton is Reshaping our Lives, London:
Profile Books, 2004, p. 15.
8. Cited in Andy Storey, “Measuring Development” in Gerard McCann and Stephen
McCloskey, From the Local to the Global: Key Issues in Development Studies, London,
Sterling, Virgnia: Plato Press, 2003, p. 35.
11. Ibid., p. 37. See, A. Ecobar, “The Making and Unmaking of the Third World through
Development” in M. Rahnema and V. Bawtree (eds.), The Post-Development Reader,
London and New Jersey: Zed Books, 1997, p. 92.
12. Mohit Bhattacharya, “Globalisation, Governance and Development”, The Indian
Journal of Political Science, Vol. 62, No. 3, September 2001, p. 355.
15. Amartya Sen, Development as Freedom, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 3.
17. Ibid., pp. 36-37.
18. Mahbub Ul Haq, “Human Development Paradigm in South Asia”, Mainstream,
February 24, 1996, p. 17. See Des Gasper, The Ethics of Development: From Economism to
Human Development, New Delhi: Vistaar Publicaitons, 2005, pp. 164-167.
19. Ibid., p. 18.
The author is on the Faculty of the Department of Political Science, Indira Gandhi
Government College, Tezu, Arunachal Pradesh. He was a Visiting Scholar at the Gulf
Studies Programme, Centre of West Asian and African Studies, School of International
Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.