what i'm on about

so this blog is ostensibly about post-development, critical development theory, or what i would prefer to call critical theory as applied to this thing we call "development". i guess now is as good a time as any to explain what the hell that is (because i've been struggling with a literature review on critical development theory). i guess that's two things to talk about--critical theory and "development"--but they slot together nicely.

critical theory first: it all started (as things often do) with foucault. the historian/philosopher, not the professional dominatrix, not that he would have been bothered by BDSM. anyways, the point is, that between his 1961 publication of Madness and Civilization and his death from AIDS in 1984 he basically turned the philosophical world upside-down. his basic insights were on the productive (and re-productive) capacities of power, not the sovereign "i'll kill you if you don't do as i say power", but the subtler power of knowledge and discourse. he saw in the increasingly complex "panopticism" (see: Jeremy Bentham, but really its just a metaphor) of society a form of social control in which the subject is interpellated (here he's/i'm drawing heavily on his mentor, Louis Althusser) to understand him/herself as an active subject in her/his own life, and society is increasingly structured to produce such subjects. in Discipline and Punish, he goes on for quite a while detailing how the modern punitive system, the most obvious form of societal control, has evolved, from a reliance upon punishment and spectacle to a use of "discipline" and surveillance to keep us in line. the thing is, society is structured to produce us not as objects of power to afraid to step out of line, but as subjects of power who understand our need to stay in line, constantly monitoring, evaluating, ranking and re-ordering subjects as a mechanism of social engineering (though i don't think he would have expressed it as such). this runs from prisons (obviously) through social institutions such as education, welfare, social services, etc. the knowledge generated by constant surveillance (and evaluation--tests) fixes us in the gaze, creating us as useful subjects for this new disciplinary power. The Birth of the Clinic, an earlier book, writes on this knowledge-power production in the terms of medical perception, and later works go on to explain governmentality (literally, government and mentality--we are mentally prepared to govern ourselves and are thus governed), the creation of sexuality, etc.

ok, so this is where it gets interesting. i know not all "critical theory", an ambiguous and nebulous term if ever there was one, is based on the work of foucault, but i know him best and its a convenient starting point. critical theory later was taken up by people in diverse fields: Nikolas Rose (governmentality and neo-liberalism or "advanced liberalism"), Judith Butler (often credited with starting gender theory), AIDS activists (see How to Have Theory in an Epidemic by Paula Treichler) and basically anyone else in anything related to a social science or a humanity. what i'm specifically interested in, i suppose, is how this plays out related to "development".

so, development is: a transition from one (lower) state to another (higher) state; its a state of being developed; its a uniquely apolitical political project of "helping"/"modernizing"/"civilizing" the third world/the poor countries/the south/the not-western europe and north america. but i'm getting ahead of myself. the term development's been around for quite a while, being used synonymously with "evolution" basically since the term "evolution" was coined, but after world war II, when everyone in the world except the US was in a shambles, it took on its modern form. people will refer to Truman's inauguration speech (and the famous Point 4) for first using the term "underdevelopment", but it was around for a while before, being bandied about in various early UN documents etc. but basically, the important thing was, "underdevelopment", suddenly, when it was "up to" the US to put the world back together, became a measure of what you were not: the underdeveloped are not developed; they are not modern, they are backwards; they are not healthy, they are sick; they are not rich, they are poor; they are not powerful (even enough to assert their own agency effectively), they are weak; they are not educated, they are illiterated and mired in "tradition" and superstition. Esteva does a great job of saying all of this and more in his chapter in The Development Dictionary (ed. Wolfgang Sachs). The point is that now the norm that foucault talked about in education, in mental illness, in medicine, was now being applied to entire countries and populations, erasing heterogeneity, disavowing agency (in some cases), ascribing agency (in others), basically making a mess of things. not that development is all bad, but i'll get to that later.

so there are all these theorists and academics (who aren't necessarily so interested in the theory) that have taken what foucault have said and run with it. Arturo Escobar (best resource: Encountering Development: the making and unmaking of the Third World) sees the knowledge production of and around development as fundamentally subjugating (ironic how i say this and actually mean "objectifying", but still) the third world, and, what's worse, the development project as only being a tool for further increasing northern capitalist access to southern markets. James Ferguson makes a better foucauldian critique of development (power, bureaucratization, depoliticization, etc.) in Lesotho in The Anti-Politics Machine (1994). others have criticized development as a whole (most notably for the blatant parallels between development discourse and the justification of the "civilizing mission" of colonialism, but i don't have good citations for this because i haven't kept up well enough with stuff i did in past classes) and generally (though this is coming from a lot of people (Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and Edward Said, notably) who wouldn't call themselves foucauldians i would imagine) for being too wrapped up in problematizing (and even perpetuating) Otherness or (sub)alterity.

so yeah, "development" is this loaded word that it's probably just best to avoid, or at least to put inside as many "scare quotes" as possible (i found that funny). it implies all sorts of dichotomies/binaries between the high/low, good/bad, light/dark, knowable/unknowable, rational/irrational, modern/backwards, educated/simple, powerful/powerless, etc, that basically serves to construct poor (dark) people in poor (non-western) people as objects of knowledge (to white "experts" from europe and north america), all the while protecting the Norm of the rich west, leaving its hegemony uncriticized and unscrutinized. so in fact, while telling us that africa, asia and latin america are "opaque" and "unknown" (and thus something that we must study), it really is protecting the opacity of the west and masking the systems of power and the "representational economies" that have produced such inequality and power relations. i know thats not very clear and actually fairly recursive and self-referential, but the fact is that that's what i'm getting at: things are produced by power and thus produce power (or perpetuate this productive power) which then re-produces them as objects of power, etc. and so forth and so on. Haraway calls this the "God-trick", purporting to see everything from nowhere, denying the subjectivity of perception by "experts" (in biomedicine, development, economics, whatever) while emphasizing the partiality of the knowledge the objects of knowledge: in calling for "indigenous knowledges", "empowerment", "community participation", really what people are doing is acknowledging that these situated knowledges (ie, stemming from a particular source and thus subjective, not whole, not omniscient) exist and are valuable, but it ignores the fact that all knowledge is situated--historically, racially, geographically--letting us let ourselves believe that we really can know everything. this privileging of western knowledges is what at the root is producing the unequal power relationships, is what makes us think that "Western" is synonymous with "developed" and what allows us to problematize and even pathologize conditions of life in other parts of the world.

but, i don't agree with all of this, most notably what escobar has to say about the integration of the third world into international capital markets. this isn't some giant conspiracy to just fuck people over for the sake of it, its more about power relations being created to structure our world as we perceive it which necessarily subjugate, objectify and degrade some people to further exalt the position of others. and then our attempts to help further legitimate and harden these power relations, whenever we assume the agency "on the behalf of" others. i once asked a teacher "so what's all this development activity do, if its not eventually working to eliminate inequality?" and he said "to perpetuate itself, to create more developers". which is probably true.

anyways, that was a hasty conclusion to all that writing, and anyway the paper is over and done with, and i'm in madrid, so i'm not gonna worry about it much anymore. hopefully a post will come soon that explains a little better what i was talking about in the last paragraph. hasta luego.