Perceptions of International Development

International development, like many disciplines, has evolved as a field throughout the years.  Growing up in the US, many of us probably saw the commercials of children in far off lands starving and heard the pleas about how donating just a few dollars to, such and such, aid program can alleviate the poverty.  We would then applaud the efforts and brave actions of aid workers working to make a difference in countries fraught with poverty, political instability and disease, and to try to develop them into great nations of the “first world”.  All the while, we probably never stopped to think about the culture of the people or what the standard of development actually should be.  I will be honest that, my first perception of international development was that of people who donated their time and means to help those who were considered less fortunate through an act of charity or the introduction of technologies/products.  My idea of developing nations was the images that were created by the development agencies and aid organizations which according to the paper, The Anti-Politics Machine: “Development” and Bureaucratic Power in Lesotho by James Ferguson are images that are created to fit the institutional needs of the agencies.  Nobody would donate to an Agricultural Development Agency in Lesotho if they found out that the majority of the people in Lesotho were not actually sustenance farmers who were poor due failing to adopt the proper farm techniques.  This reading, combined with many other readings in development that I have encountered the past few years, has really helped to grow and transform my understanding of what development actually embodies.  Also it has really led me to consider the different unintentional side effects that development projects can bring about.

I am a proponent that anything done under the name of development should be projects or policies that are chosen by the people who are trying to “develop”.  A major take home message from the reading by Wendy Wolford, From Pangea to Partnership: The Many Fields of Development, was that development is not something that is clear cut and can be pursued through the same ideas and rules but rather something that is multi-dimensional and should always include considerations of the people and the place, itself.  Also both the people and the place should not be defined by a single moment but viewed through the whole history and the political setting should also be taken into consideration.  By this, I mean that when looking at a country, their way of life should not be automatically labeled as traditional but rather the influences of colonialism and the power dynamics stemming from it should also be considered.  Thus, an individual, even a scientist that is top of their field, will never fully understand the need or the development goals of an area without first talking to the people and hearing their histories (as told by them and not from a Eurocentric view as told in history books) and their ideas of  how to best improve themselves.  My current perception of development is that it is not something that can be defined generally but rather something that is defined by the people it will affect and a process that is totally controlled by the people, as well.

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