(Online Course) Pub Ad for IAS Mains: Development Dynamics - Anti-development Thesis (Paper -1)

(Online Course) Public Administration for IAS Mains Exams

Topic: Development Dynamics: Development Dynamics: Antidevelopment Thesis

Anti-development literally means a model of development antagonized to the mainstream theories of development. It is concerned with developing alternative practices of development- participatory and people-centred and with redefining the goals of development. It is also true that mainstream development has gradually been moving away from the preoccupation with economic growth toward a people-centred definition of development, for instance in human development. This raises the important question, as in what way alternative development remains distinguishable from mainstream development in so far as a development style, a profile of alternative positions regarding development agency, methodology, and epistemology are concerned. Whatever, anti-development is now widely seen as representing an alternative paradigm.

The Development Debate

The entire development discourse could be seen as the debate between three broad schools of thoughts or three standpoints, viz., mainstream, reformist and radical:

1. The conventional development model: Comprising the principles of maximization of macroeconomic growth and trickle-down—has maintained its mainstream status for the last five decades. The mainstream standpoint is shared by early developmentalist, as well as by the advocates of the recent LPG policies.

2. The reformist standpoints: Adopts a moderate theoretical position arguing that certain aspects of the mainstream model, especially its neglect of environmental and equity concerns have hindered the development process.

3. The radical standpoints: Concludes that there are fundamental problems with the mainstream development model and the development practice that emerge from it.

Anti-development Thesis: Framework

The anti-development paradigm tries to focus on the following core areas of theoretical concerns:

1. Whether a paradigm break with conventional models of development is describable.
2. Whether such paradigmatic shift apply to social sciences or not; and
3. The actual divergence in approaches to development is narrowing. All the major theoretical perspectives are now aligned on the same ground which focus on:

  • A more balanced used of the nature and its resources
  • Human development rather than economic development
  • Environmental concerns and ecology protection
  • Egalitarian approach to development
  • The feministic concern

The anti-development brigade tries to create a theoretical framework that encompass some common ethical values, like: Social Justice, Political Freedom and Equity, Primacy to Basic Needs Satisfaction, Ecological Responsibility. Respect for Nature, Solidarity, Cultural Diversity, Non-violence, Truth, Self-reliance, Feminine Principle (relationship of woman to nature which is tender and nurturing), Principle of Cooperation, Sustainability. In addition, the ultra radical environmental groups also profess ethical values like: Biospherical Egalitarianism, Principle of Diversity and Symbiosis, Complexity not Complication, and Local Autonomy and Decentralization. At the face of it, the anti-development brigade looks like developing an Ideal theory that encompasses everything: this is in part mainstream theory, critical theory, feminist theory, environmental theory, and still anti-development theory. It is an approach towards syncretism.


1. The tendency to represent alternative development as a counterpoint that unites all dissident social forces critical of development, which in turn rejects an underlying desire to forge a Grand Coalition of opposition forces.
2. The tendency to equate development with modernisation and alternative development with de-modernisation, premised on the 'incompatibility between modernisation and human development’.
3. The tendency to view and represent alternative development as an alternative external to the mainstream, a counter-utopia carried by different social actors in the interstices of the mainstream and in countries supposedly outside the thrust of western developmentalism; in other words, an enclave or ‘liberated zone’ approach to alternative development.
4. All forms of criticism of mainstream development are arranged together as if they form a cohesive alternative, but all good things put together do not necessarily make a great thing.

Alternative Development Paradigm

Anti-development paradigm can be characterised through the following trends:

1. The enormous growth of NGOs in numbers and influence generates a growing demand for strategy and therefore theory;
2. The importance of environmental concerns and sustainability has weakened the economic growth paradigm and given a boost to alternative and ecological economics;
3. The glaring failures of several development decades contribute to unsettling the mainstream paradigm of growth;
4. The growing challenges to the Bretton Woods institutions lead to the question whether these criticisms are merely procedural and institutional (for more participation and democratization) or whether they involve fundamentally different principles.

Further considerations in relation to an alternative development paradigm are the following:

1. The various elements of the alternative development package are each meaningful but none of them can be turned into a firm principle: it follows that alternative development as a paradigm cannot stand up either. The strength of alternative development positions is critical, rather than programmatic.
3. The elements of the alternative development paradigm are contradictory. If the people are the principal actors in the alternative development paradigm, the relevant reality must be the people’s own, constructed by them only. By this logic, there can only be alternative perspectives at local level rather than a general alternative development theory.
4. The valorisation of indigenous knowledge has similar implications.
5. An institutional dimension is that there are political advantages as well as disadvantages to a sharp break with mainstream development.

Criticism of Anti-Development Thesis

1. A simple dismissal of development as euro-criticism is too simplistic. It is based on assumption that third world countries are passive recipients of western ideas. It is an unfair criticism of capabilities of third world countries.
2. The problems of development notwithstanding, anti-development theorists focused on dark side of development and failed to take into consideration of the fact that for all its faults, development can be empowering too. According to World Bank study the share of house-holders, with access to clean drinking water had increased by half and power production and tele-density had doubled because of the development achieved by the third world countries.
3. Anti-development positions tend to be rather vague about alternatives and romanticized local cultures. The idea that development simply undermines local cultural can itself be considered a form of culture imperialism.
4. Anti-development theories failed to take us beyond the dualisms of modernity and tradition, dominant and the dominated.

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