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Unity in Diversity? The Future of Development Studies, 25 June 2024, King's College, London

Workshop for EADI's 50th Anniversary

Register here

12.00-17.30 UK Time


Development Studies (DS) demonstrates maturity as a field of inquiry marked by the half-century anniversaries of journals, institutes, and scholarly associations of DS.The foundational journals of DS such as the Journal of Development Studies, Development and Change, World Development, and Third World Quarterly were all established around a half century ago (respectively in 1964, 1970, 1973, and 1978). Even relatively ‘new’ journals like the European Journal of Development Research (established in 1989) have been in existence for over thirty years. The inception of DS teaching can also be traced back to the 1970s or earlier. Moreover, the largest cross-country association of DS, the European Association of Development Research and Training (EADI), celebrates its fiftieth anniversary in 2024/25.

In short, DS has achieved a certain level of intellectual maturity and at one level—in terms of the longevity of journals, and associations as well as buoyant student numbers—appears to be in good health. Amid the numerous anniversaries, this workshop is a reflection on the current state of DS. It focuses on three broad sub-topics with pieces from across DS range of perspectives. Specifically, framings of development, the universality or not of development and questions of decolonisation.

List of authors/speakers/chairs and topics:

Event convenors: Pritish Behuria (Global Development Institute, Manchester) and Andy Sumner (King's College London)

Set/Panel 1. Development Framings:Should development be transformational or more modest?

Speakers: Arief Anshory Yusuf (Padjadjaran University), Emma Mawdsley (Cambridge), Nita Mishra (University of Limerick), Eyob Balcha Gebramariam (University of Bristol)

Chair: Sam Hickey (Manchester)

Defining development has always contentious. In fact, the concept itself has been defined in so many ways and has become so laden with baggage about what it is and whose interests it reflects that it now may act as a flashpoint for conflict between different schools of thought in development studies. For some, it means raising living standards. But even there, there is debate about how to raise living standards: targeting growth exclusively, focusing on structural transformation or prioritising policies aimed at individual empowerment (through health and education). Others argue that development is associated with the imposition of western oppression in the form of modernity. Some call for socio-economic transformation or even alternatives to development while others a more minimalist better status quo without modernity or major transformations.

This panel asks: Is it possible to agree what is desirable development? What is undesirable? Who decides? Is modernity inherently good or bad? Should/could ‘development’ be de-centred and different concept takes its place in development studies?

Set/Panel 2. Universality and development: what is the focus of Development Studies?

Speakers: David Hulme (Manchester), Pritish Behuria (Manchester), Alessandra Mezzadri (SOAS), Ravi Kanbur (Cornell University)

Chair: Laura Camfield

Development Studies has always been specifically concerned with analysing socio-economic development in what are popularly considered ‘developing countries’. Binary categorisations of developing/developed, Global South/Global North have long been criticised by scholars from neighbouring disciplines and even some working within development studies. Structuralists made the case for distinguish between ‘developing’ and ‘developed’ countries on the basis of the subordinate position of ‘developing’ countries within the global political economy. Very few countries, most of which are in East Asia, have sustained economic transformation over the last 70 years and reduced the gap in income and other indicators with industrialised Western countries. On the other hand, recent ‘global development’ scholarship has made the case for more universalist framings of development, arguing that the differences between countries of the Global South and the Global North have blurred sufficiently far to make the binary meaningless, arguing instead that there are common problems faced across all societies.

The panel asks: What is the case for universalist positions for the study of development or alternatively, what is the salience of continuing to distinguish between the Global South or (late) developing and the Global North or developed countries? Additionally, in what ways should the study of development be focused on universal concerns while also recognising the continued salience of inequalities between the Global North and the Global South?

Panel 3. Decolonisation. Of what and how should it be pursued?

Speakers: Karina Batthyany (CLACSO), Kate Meagher (LSE), Lata Narayanaswamy (Leeds), Devika Dutt (KCL)

Chair: Lyla Mehta (IDS)

Development Studies has a prominent presence in Europe, which has been attributed to colonial history. This version of development, associated with Harry Truman’s post-WWII speech hasbeen closely associated with aid-driven development and has been a target of criticism across thesocial sciences. Paradoxically, there are other Southern-based origin stories of development, most closely associated with Bandung that are as notable. This history is influenced by an antiimperialist agenda and the formal decolonisation process, emphasising emancipation and national development. Calls to decolonise knowledge have grown louder over the last decade though the intellectual decolonisation (of knowledge creation and use) and decolonial theory are not necessarily synonymous for all. Those who emphasize epistemic power contend that the perpetuation of stereotypes, exoticization, and the devaluation of non-Western cultures haveserved as the primary oppressive mechanisms. On the other hand, proponents of material political economy argue that the global South's primary oppressive mechanisms are deeply rooted in history, economic structures, international trade, debt burdens, and unequal access to resources.

This panel asks: What is the primary mechanism of oppression of the global south? Is the core mechanism of oppression structural in the sense of the material global political economy or is it epistemic or what is the interaction between epistemic and material power structures? Are there trade-offs between focusing solely on either epistemic or material hierarchies?