Saturday, December 18, 2010

Global Development and the Idiom of Community: A Collision of Global and Local Discourse

Global development since colonization has been influenced by the idiom of community. The collision of the global and local discourses of development, is impacting the implementation and outcomes of the narrative. This paper will discuss colonization and the invention of modernization and community, and how the assumptions about community, market, tradition and ‘the other’ effect the process of development.

The idea of development through modernization is rooted in European colonialism and would create “direct confrontation of 'civilized' Europe with 'savage' and 'barbaric' peoples”(Asad, 1973:264), in the decades to come. Who they colonized and what those societies adopted can have future implications for international relations (Anderson, 2003: 176). The revolution of modern science and technology in Europe consolidated their hegemony, ensuring their dominance (Asad, 1973:264). As the period of colonial rule ended, the technological and economical gaps continue to widen, making the dichotomy of wealth among nations into a global concern. This encouraged the continuation of colonial structure through agents of development continues since the rise of community development in the 1950s, allowing:“authoritarian intervention which was selective and arbitrary; the neglect of the very poor; a bias against women; the submission of technical expertise to the interests of control; and the difficulty that bureaucrats have in accepting multi-task workers and female authority –have all endured.” (Lewis, 2000:374)

The theory of modernization was solidified by W.W. Rostow’s Five Stages of Growth, in which he technically defines the transition of a nation-state from traditional to modern. Rostow views traditional society as a synonymous starting point for all nations and as a hinderance to modernization; with pre-Newtonian, unenlightened ideals creating a ceiling for development, Rostow believes this explains the current gap between rich and poor nations (Rostow 1971: 9).

Mauss, on the other hand, helped cement the idiom of community, defining “community as the bearer of gift, home to barter, share values and embedded relations” (Hayden 2003: 360). As, “an idealized and necessary source or site of quasi-sovereignty, collective authorship and ethical capacity” (Hayden 2003: 368), the community structure is perceived as no only compatible, but critical for sustainable and successful development. This assumed natural structure continues to play its role in development since the age of European-lead colonization(Mosse 1999): “The task of development doctrine was to provide a foundation for state policy and, in so far as the doctrine was developed from Comte to Mill, the developmental ideal of policy came to be that of developing a community” (Cowen & Shenton 1996: 57).

In rural third world development, these communities are presumed in disjunction with the modern world, confined and bound to their land. Their isolation and separation from the state ensures their traditional, natural lifestyle: they have not been constructed by political and historical forces. To ensure sustainability, these communities were seen as needing a form of self-governance. Initially, government intervention would be available to “support economic and social advancement would underpin the very gradual political maturity of ‘African peoples’”(Lewis, 2000: 302). However, static definition essentializes and homogenizes communities, will hinder the success of development objectives like self-governance: if one cannot recognize diversity, one cannot accurately represent the community.

When community is idealized as natural structure, it ignores stratification, and even conflict, within the target society. In the example of Zimbabwe CAMPFIRE project for wildlife management, a respondent was states: “Politics has affected CAMPFIRE. It would have been better if development projects had nothing to do with the councillor or politics”(Mapedza & Bond 2006). This project could not sustain itself, as the elite minority had would not invest in the regulated commons without reciprocity. It is assumed, that “The political elite represent, to a greater or lesser degree, the interest of the mass of the people” (Asad, 1973: 265). However, as the CAMPFIRE example demonstrated, the presumed transparency and effectiveness of political representation of a community is rendered null through elite capture (Derman 1995, Mapedza & Bond 2006, Matzke). The tyranny of elite capture ensures the benefits received from the state or NGO are not distributed to all facets of the community, ensuring the power and economic dominance remain in few hands. As such, these assumed high levels of consensus within the community, do not recognize how various institutions and idioms have influence. The idea of community, is presented as a simple abstraction (Li 2002), and hence easily entangled with seemingly compatible idioms of the market, tradition and the ‘other’.

Marx defined the market “as the site of abstraction, commodity transaction, rational actors, and disembedded and disentangled relations” (Hayden 2003: 368). The market, as per Adam Smith, assumes individuals are rational actors who will act in their own best interest causing the market to naturally regulate itself. The ‘village community’ would be considered the best form for regulation with taxation or rent collection (Cowen & Shenton 1996: 51). The market, is assuming the community to be one cohesive unit, and thus benefit as one(Neumann 1997 ). However, like in politics, the market is captured by the elite class. As Malthus puts failures of the market in development on the over-extraction of rent or tax. While social hierarchies may contribute to that, it is clear that community, as a natural entity, cannot be a factor causing negative repercussions.

Heavily influenced by Thomas Malthus’s Tragedy of the commons that hypothesizes, “humans will increase their numbers beyond their means of subsistence until famine, war and disease wipe out the excess”, development seeks to close the commons to ensure sustainability. As, traditional societies are most often associated with being subsistence based, sustainability is often considered natural value and practice (Li 2002). However, communities deemed as ‘traditional’, can also be seen to lack the means and will to ensure the protection of their commons.

Traditional is considered a natural feature of rural developing communities that involves practice as well as values. However, this traditional knowledge has been heavily influenced by development agents who have instilled new practices and values, or conformed them to fit the development model. For example, “The notion of ‘traditional’ land tenure is largely a result of colonial governance, rather than an ancient feature of African property relations”(Neumann, 1991:573). Local communities have also ‘invented tradition’: “set of practices, normally governed by overtly or tacitly accepted rules and of a ritual or symbolic nature, which seek to inculcate certain values and norms of behaviour by repetition, which automatically implies continuity with the past”(Hobsbawm 1983:1-2).

The idea of nationalism, a product of colonialism, also rise to traditional ‘minorities’ and ‘ethnicities, as opposition to the forces that changed society and hence reclaim what was taken in the past (Anderson, 2003). However, as “All communities larger than primordial villages of face- to-face contact (and perhaps even these) are imagined. Communities are to be distinguished, not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined (Anderson, 2006:6).

In the idiom of traditional wrongly lies the idiom of indigenous. Indigenous peoples are ethnic groups that are the earliest known inhabitants of a geographical region. However, as discussed previously, homogenization of communities, does not recognize different ethnic groups and stratification (Derman, 1995). “We can see local indigenous societies as subject to some of same troubling politics of class, ethnicity, and gender that confront us” (Neumann 1991:577): From such a general definition, the ‘indigenous’ is often convoluted within ‘community’(Sylvain 2002). Like the imagined fictitious traditional communities have demonstrated, development agents hold the power to the benefits of trusteeship. The development narrative must recognize this imbalance and seek to minimize its power relationship.

‘Traditional’ and ‘indigenous’ have allowed for the construction of ‘the other’: those inherently different or opposite from the modern west. The idea of the ‘other’ has enabled the west to define their modernity and superiority in contrast with the developing world. In defense, communities have self-orientalized, with the creation of, the preciously discussed, imaginary community (Hobsbawm 1983). The other has been so strongly constructed that people even act in accordance to the illusionary role in order to take advantage of the development programs through legally recognized indigenous status or gaining the attention of development agents (Neuman 1997).

If properly facilitated, it is possible that these contradictions can open up space for debate and reshape the assumptions of the other. Unfortunately, the juxtaposition of the local and global discourses do not turn into realities on the ground(Sylvain 2002). Trustees and NGOs,“seek to introduce long-term conservation directions into societies governed by short-term need fulfillment and development imperatives. This contrast between long-term conservation perspectives and short-term political imperatives is not of course simply a first world/third world contrast; it is an internal political conflict within the societies of the first world themselves” (Derman, 1995:213). Social and historical factors become either secondary or of little relevance to the western idea of development. With little being done to subvert the dominant paradigm (Leach & Fairhead 2000), one can predict development will continue to make changes and create tensions it did not set out to accomplish.

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