Post-colonial analyses examine the historical effects of colonialism and the persistence of colonial forms of power and knowledge into the present. In exposing colonial discourses and practices, post-colonialists attempt to reveal how contemporary global inequalities between rich and poor countries have been, and continue to be, shaped by colonial power relations. Through problematizing, deconstructing and decentring the supposed universality of Western knowledge, post-colonial perspectives critically engage with and resist the variety of ways in which the West produces knowledge about other people in other places and interrogate hegemonic histories that often obscure the continuing effects of colonialism (see Kothari 2005).
Much of this type of interrogation, however, has taken place outside of development studies.
A discursive analysis of development began in the 1980s with the emergence, and increasing prominence, of so-called ‘alternative’ approaches to development, such as gender and development, environmental and sustainable development and participation and empowerment, as well as alternatives to development advocated by post-development theorists such as Escobar (1995). Investigations of the links between colonialism and contemporary international development have, however, emerged only recently (see Sylvester 1999).
Influenced by the types of analyses that underpinned dependency and world systems theories in the 1970s, much critical literature from the 1980s that emerged out of post-colonial and post-development critiques focused on how the development project creates and perpetuates uneven and unequal development between First and Third World countries. These approaches centre on an analysis of development discourse and how it shapes and defines different realities. Post-development theorists attempt to deconstruct the idea of post-war development and some call for a total abandonment of the project. They argue that development discourse is ahistorical and obscures the political realities of the development industry. Further, they suggest that it is hegemonic in its construction and regulation of Third World identities and limits the adoption of alternative ways of organizing and achieving social progress.
Some of these critics have argued that development is a ‘neo-colonial’ project that reproduces global inequalities and maintains the dominance of the South, through global capitalist expansion, by the North. In questioning the history, objectives and means of development, some of these critics have argued for the recognition that the current economic, social and political situation in developing countries, and the continuing interest of the West in the Third World, cannot be properly understood without an adequate understanding of their historical, and particularly colonial, background (Chandra 1992; Crush 1995; Cowen and Shenton 1996).
Others have specifically traced the origins of the field of development studies in order to explore how development mediates, extends, entrenches or counters colonial legacies (Pieterse and Parekh 1995; Rahnema and Bawtree 1997). There is ample evidence that colonialism survives the post-independence period in the form of economic and political relations and social and cultural representations. There are, however, a number of different perspectives and emphases that have emerged to account for these ongoing relationships and their contemporary articulations and consequences. Said (1989), for example, is clear that ‘to have been colonised was a fate with lasting, indeed grotesquely unfair results’ (207; see also Miege 1980).
Goldsmith (1997) develops this idea when he claims that development reproduces a form of unequal trade that is reminiscent of colonial forms of economic control and exploitation. Others such as Mamdani (1996) have located continuities and divergences in institutional and administrative structures while Cooke (2003) provides evidence for the continuities between contemporary development management and colonial administration, arguing that these reveal colonialist power relations. The colonial legacy of other fields of contemporary development practice has also been explored through, for example, genealogies of participatory approaches (Cooke and Kothari 2001), gender and development (Radcliffe 1994; Parpart 1995; McEwan 2001), community development, and conservation and development (Adams and Mulligan 2003).
The historical continuum can also be understood in terms of how colonialism and international development articulate similar notions of modernity and progress. For example, Dirks (1992) suggests that colonialism can be seen as a cultural, not just an economic, project which created and maintained classifications and hierarchies between groups of people. Consequently, dichotomies of, for example, the ‘modern’ and the ‘traditional’ and the ‘West’ and the ‘rest’ are embedded within development discourse, and this reassertion of colonial classifications of difference is often invoked to justify development interventions. The representation of peoples in and of the ‘Third World’ as ‘backward’, ‘traditional’ and incapable of self-government further embeds global distinctions developed during the colonial period.
Despite this evidence of colonial continuities into the present day, it would be a mistake to suggest that present-day development discourse is simply a reworking of a (neo-)colonial one since development is not always and inevitably an extension of colonialism. Brigg (2002) has suggested that critiques of development need to take into account issues such as moral responsibility and humanitarianism and not focus solely on the perpetuation of colonial forms of authority and rule. While this is valid, it assumes that colonialism was not concerned with these issues but more problematically, by implication, that development necessarily is. An apt quote from Cecil Rhodes interestingly put these sorts of assumptions in perspective: ‘imperialism was philanthropy plus a 5 per cent dividend on investment’ (Rhodes, quoted in Lawlor 2000: 63). We need to be wary of histories of development that deny this colonial genealogy and attempt to create distinct and artificial boundaries between the exploitation of empire and the humanitarianism of development.
This is an extract from A Radical History of Development by Uma Kothari.