Romance of Post-Development Theory


Post-development provides a radical critique to the development theory and practice in general. It is fundamentally different from other critiques of development like neo-liberalism or human development approach which at least recognize development as a conceptual starting-point. Whereas post-development places a question mark  on the very epistemological sense of development.

The roots of post-development theory grow from the ideological export by West and its attempt to extend its hegemony to the Third World, which often resemble prototypes of imperialism (like cultural or economic). Western-Northern development models construct such technocratic and normative grounds which virtually makes it impossible for ‘poorer’ countries to decline such moves (Escobar, 1995).

Critique of Development

Our power to design a world-view of our own is increasingly getting weak. So the education translates to degrees; agriculture development straight away means dams and fertilisers. The ways to acknowledge the value of say, common property resources or cultural education of a child are plugged by proposition of universal, packaged solutions. Our environment is now produced and directed  by our institutions like schools, news-media, industries and democracy which were actually imagined only to be our bioscope to comprehend this world (Illich, 1997; Nandy, 2007).

This stunted world-view has led us to a form of development where one set of actors define their progress through posh indicators like cars as usual way of transport or cosmetic surgeries while on the other hand another set of actors, often in the same country, has to walk miles to get access to even basic needs like water and healthcare.

The products basically designed with cognizance to western sub-cultures and consumer habits are later dumped into Third World markets. Due to the fascinating levels of productivity generated  by these products they easily create a mass market for themselves in the poorer country. However the question remain whether such product is feasible for that particular economy and society ? Due to high population didn’t they needed labour intensive technology and products? Hasn’t such products give a sudden push for vigorous, often unmindful exploitation of limited resources in the country? Such questions are naïvely ignored, or cleverly disguised.

Thus the utopian agencies, through their constant effort homogenise the whole prospect of development. They use simplistic thinking to solve a riddle as complex as development. So Mumbai aims to be like Shanghai, and Jaipur dreams to be Singapore. Here the development of these cities is only a simulation of macro-level, idealised notion of modern city. The ground-facts, the basic geographical, social and economic differences between replica and archetype are of no importance. So the grand-old trees will be chucked to have 6-lane roads,  bullock carts and tongas banned to facilitate mobility, lush central park gets built with vast green patches fed by multiple borewells, power-guzzling shopping malls are enthusiastically allotted lands and at the end of it Jaipur turns into a distorted, mutated version of itself, but nothing Singaporian about it. In the way to development it sadly misplaces its own character. The reservoir that fed water to Jaipur for hundred years is now dry, city suffers power-cuts almost all year, the 6-lane road remain more congested and city has lost its architectural charm.

The critique of development also works-out at another meta-level. It argues that the production system of most modern institutions simply extend greed and materialism/consumerism to ever-increasing levels among those who can afford their products. For instance, the exceptionally fast pace of evolution in technology (phones, software) since 10 years has created a polarizing culture that continuously urge the consumer to upgrade, and the prospect is presented in such an embezzling manner that the factors like cost, durability and the overall marginal utility of such an upgrade gets diminished from the mind of the consumers.

Therefore one is pulled into a vicious chase-game where the ‘golden deer’ always seems to be achievable but never gets achieved. On path to be affluent people continuously upscale their needs and desires which in turn demands their full energies in creating means to achieve so. But one achievement only shows the possibilities of new ones. The need of bicycle grow to motor-bike which goes upto car. Analogously, desire of a Santro rises to Scorpio and then goes to Audi. Such crook has been this paradigm that whatever one accomplish there still remains the possibility of getting more affluent, thus one somehow still feel underdeveloped or destitute.

Taking a quip from here, Nandy reveals the consistent efforts to tag all the low-consuming, sustainable ( ironically another developmental jargon!) life-styles as poorness. This is evident from the high stakes of most developmental policies and efforts put upon either the traditional tribal belts or the villages/low-income regions. These efforts do not account the intrinsic non-monetary wealth in the form of social and cultural capital that has enabled these ‘poor’ societies to thrive for hundreds, if not thousands of years. An indigenously progressive life of tribals turns into what’s called obsolete, or life-of-the-past just as they enter the mainstream poverty alleviation program.

However this notion of underdevelopment is far more a mental state than a material one. In other words, it can be seen as a constructed state as oppose to the naturalised physique it seems to be.  Here, Illich gives the example of education where the concept of schooling has become intrinsic to the idea of a progressive society. The economic and social systems born out of development push a man who is illiterate (by definition) to the margins of mainstream society, depriving him forever to even chance upon many opportunities otherwise available to the citizens of a country (like govt. jobs, social status). Similarly, Nandy uncover the connexion between poverty levels and prerequisites of dominant models of political analysis and social intervention.

Therefore one can evidently see a disguised attempt by intelligentsia to hang the problem of poverty to the wall as an outdated concept. They now talk of thinking ahead, pointing to rosy future that generally shows smart cities, glittering towers, high productivity, lethal armaments and happy people. Nowhere does the people seem to be poor. This aspiration to somehow hide the ‘dirty class’ in the developmental chest is what Nandy refer as moral discomfort of the bourgeoisie class.

At this juncture development of underprivileged becomes only an ego-defence for them out of the guilt that they have a higher standard of life than their lesser counterparts.


The post-development theory is often termed as ‘over-romanticism with traditional’, anti-change, unscientific and disorderly (Alvares, 1992; Pieterse, 2000). I’ll not respond to these critiques as enough counter-arguments are anyway available for academia to sink in (Schumacher, 1973; Escobar et al, 1995; Rahnema& Bawtree, 1997).

Instead post-development has more important questions to ask. It urge the development agents to rethink over the fundamental grounds they work upon. It asks them to reconcile on the normative sense of development itself. It is important because evidently development has failed by the logic that large-scale poverty still exists after all these decades of pumping trillions of dollars to the cause. Further one may argue that our world’s future is only getting bleaker and more uncertain with passing time[1].

The present arrangement tries to engineer the life of people as suits to the western priorities. Hence the first logical solution seems to be a new institutional framework of development. But sadly it is quite improbable at this stage [2]. The only avail then is to sustain what we are left with. By this I mean the indigenous wisdom to locate one’s existence in the milieu of delusionary forces. The ability to think and make decisions with independence, whatsoever allowed by superstructure. The development that recognises that each country, each region, each community and each individual has own needs of development, hence they must also have their own definition of development.

Here, I will not prescript a set of solutions or a fresh bunch of techniques to mitigate this crisis of development as that will be in opposition to the essence of post-development theory. At minimum, and to my limited understanding I can only say that neo-liberal participatory approach may one way towards such imagination. The Gandhian idea of Hind Swaraj is another way. Some important ideas emerge from the works of Schumacher, Leopold and Easterly too. The flowering is visible in the cracks. We should only hope to see it bloom before the quake eats the rock.



Alvares, Claude. Science, development and violence. Oxford University Press, 1992

Ashis Nandy, “The Beautiful Expanding Future of Poverty”, Time Treks: The Uncertain Future of Old and New Despotisms, New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2007: pp. 92-110.

Easterly, William. The white man’s burden: why the West’s efforts to aid the rest have done so much ill and so little good. Penguin, 2006.

Escobar, Arturo. Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World, Princeton University Press, 1995.

Gandhi, Mohandas K. Hind Swaraj. “Ahmedabad.” Navjivan Publishers, 1938

Ivan Illich, “Development as Planned Poverty,” The Post-Development Studies Reader (Editors) Majid Rahnema with Victoria Bawtree, New York: Zed Books, 1997, pp. 94-102.

Leopold, Aldo (1949). Sand County almanac: and sketches here and there. Oxford University Press, 1989.

Pieterse, Jan Nederveen. “After post-development.” Third World Quarterly 21.2, 2000: pp.175-191.

Schumacher, E F (1973). Small is beautiful: Economics as if people mattered. Vintage, 1993.

[1] Aggressive arms-race and war-mongering  has led countries to amass huge piles of disastrous weapons including nuclear-abled ones. Also, extortionist development regime has degraded the earth’s eco-system to its limits posing real dangers of apocalypse.

[2] One of the primary assumptions in post-development deems the West as the dictator of the rules. Though I partly differ in a way that western  people are victims of development as well. They are also part of the vicious circle where everyone drives everyone while they think they are in control of their life. West can be accused only upto forming the current institutional development regime, but even they didn’t anticipated the beast or the superstructure that took birth from this complex web. Now the influence of this beast is so deeply imbibed in most societies of the world that it will be unthinkable for them to adopt any other framework outside the current regime.