50 years of Development

Reflections on 50 years of Development

People of diverse generations, viewpoints and locations who have contributed in important ways to the Society for International Development and to the journal Development over the years, speak about Development, its role in exploring and providing space to different voices and ideas of the development debate and its contribution in responding to 'the power of ideas' and a 'human focused development', central messages of the jorunal itself.  

Juma Mwapachu: SID President 2012-2015, and former Secretary General of the East African Community, Tanzania


Without doubt, the SID Journal Development has throughout its history been at the forefront in placing human security at the heart of the development agenda and process. Development has had an important contribution in debunking the conventional wisdom about the centrality of GDP-linked growth to attacking poverty. It has powerfully advanced an alternative theory of measuring development based on a demonstrable improvement in the quality of life of the poor. First, Development was probably a leading contributor to the birth of the 'UN Human Development Report', a major coup in advancing a new theory of development at the global level. In turn, through the GRIS debate in the 1980s, Development was able to promote the concept of participatory development in the third world, an idea that has come to crystallize into what is now widely described as ownership of the development process. (…) One area of change which Development has played a signal role is on gender relations and, in particular, advancing the centrality of liberation and empowerment of women in the development and decision-making processes at global, regional and local levels. (Photo: The African Executive)

Louis Emmerij: SID Governing Council Member, 1979–1985 and from 1988–1991, United National Intellectual History Project, The Netherlands


The journal Development, like the Society for International Development, particularly in its General Conferences, has been a supermarket for alternative ideas. It has kept the successive orthodoxies on their toes. SID and the journal have been frequently ahead of the curve. Hence, concrete influence was not immediate. But if you look over the last 27 years and observe the changes that have taken place in the orthodoxy of the 1980s, it is clear that the journal Development has played its role in these changes. Obviously, it wants to go much further, but that is the task of the next 50 years! I have been impressed with the journal Development in its present format: choosing a theme and let many authors say their piece in three pages. This allows both an in-depth analysis of the selected themes and a variety of different views, thereby avoiding dogmatism and still remaining constantly on the look out for policies that benefit the great majority of humankind. (...) The question of the journal Development and SID giving priority to northern voices seems rather silly to me. There are northern voices that are more southern than southern voices and vice versa! Development and SID are supermarkets where all ideas find a place, with the goods that are beneficial to all humankind more visibly exposed than the others. I am happy that the number of voices that are now audible in the development debate and have a real influence has increased over the last 50 years. The journal Development in its present incarnation, as I see it, tries to introduce some order in the cacaphony of the many voices.

Arturo Escobar: Associate Editor of Development, Kenan Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, author of Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World (1995), Colombia


A battle over ideas and over languages of development, as we now know, is a battle over cultural understandings of social life, over world views, and, ultimately, over ways of constructing the social and material worlds we inhabit. This is why I see the development movement as a whole – including Development – as crucial in this regard; it is a space for conducting this struggle. (...) But one could say that there is always the need to apply more pressure on development discourses and institutions to see themselves as contributing to cultural-political articulations with popular groups, including project 'beneficiaries', from the perspective of how these groups see it. It seems to me that this is a role Development can continue to embrace and make even more explicit. (...) One of its most distinctive features: establishing conversations between the academy, policy worlds and social movements and civil society more generally – only that the balance among these three actors in the economy of knowledge production has shifted, from being weighted completely towards the first two to having to pay increasing attention to the third one.

Peggy Antrobus: Founding member and former general coordinator of Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN), Barbados


SID and the journal Development have certainly emphasized the importance of human-focused development, even in articles that are in line with 'mainstream' thinking. It has also tried to emphasize the need to explore alternatives, but with less success, given its constituency of largely mainstream thinkers and practitioners. (...) I don't have a sense of the complete range of ideas put forward by the journal over the years, but Development has undoubtedly been on the cutting edge of the most important debates and progressive ideas in this field. However, the best ideas in the world are of no avail if the environment in which they emerge is hostile to the knowledge generated through the journal. The consolidation of power and capital today is such that even the best proposals for change cannot be translated into policies that can bring about social justice. Development has made a critical contribution to disseminating the range of ideas around development. In special issues on Grassroots Initiatives (GRIS), the Politics of Place, women, indigenous people, alternative economics, the movement of movements, citizenship and sexual rights and reproductive rights it has challenged the dominant paradigm. However, something sharper is needed. Perhaps we need dialogues in the journal that expose the fraudulence of the underlying assumptions and the contradictions of today's policy frameworks, including the patriarchal and racist underpinnings of power and privilege. I don't know whether this would work. It would certainly require enormous courage to confront the truly damaging effects of the current policy frameworks. Moreover, if this effort were linked to the mobilizations by feminists and others around the World Social Forum, SID could play a unique role in advancing the search for global justice.

Smitu Kothari: A dear friend of SID and long time collaborator to Development and SID programmes, scholar, author, activist, who has dedicated his entire life to work against elites-driven development models. He was the founder and  director of Intercultural Resources (India) and visiting professor at Princeton and Cornell.


Development is dangerous precisely because it can be used by anyone to justify almost any economic, social or cultural activity. Given the present configuration of political, economic and cultural power in the world, to a very large extent, it has become a tool to legitimize the dominant patterns of economic development or it has been deployed to provide safety nets to those victimized by these dominant patterns. Most development is still top-down. Interventions designed in state capitals or remote offices are sought to be implemented with little or no recognition of the agency of those in whose name it is being done. (...) We are very far from global economic and social justice precisely because we are not individually and collectively addressing the hard issues. (...) If development was working, why has the wealth gap increased? (...) The journal Development has provided a dynamic space in which to engage these questions, to highlight the conceptual debates that diverse actors engage with as they seek to make sense of these troubled waters. What has also been refreshing is that it has provided a remarkable space for those engaged with the evolving mobilizations of women in different parts of the world. To that extent, the issues and voices of other historically discriminated and marginalized peoples – the indigenous, the tribal, the minorities, the culturally and socially victimized – need better representation. In numerous ways, while some of their aspirations and struggles raise profoundly troubling issues, many are providing us with immensely creative ways of rethinking democracy and sustainability on the planet – narratives and visions that the journal must give greater space to.

Afaf Mahfouz: Vice President of SID Governing Council Member 1991 to 1994, feminist and psychoanalyst Egypt/USA


I first joined SID in Egypt through my Professor Ismail-Sabri Abdalla. I found SID a very compelling intellectual forum with interesting ideas that as a Pan Africanist and Arab I particularly welcomed. The exchange between first and third worlds I found very exciting, despite I must admit, the exclusivity of the Society, and I would add the 'old boys club' atmosphere. The dialogues, conferences and the journal were dominated by brilliant intellectuals. In some ways I felt just because SID was made up of some of the stars of the development world, it failed to go into depth to examine the roots and the causes of underdevelopment but it was nevertheless a very precious and important forum for me. I can candidly say it was difficult as an Arab woman to enter into the decision-making arenas of SID. (…) Above all, it was ideas, with the journal as one medium that SID gave the development community. It was incidentally also a network that gave professional support and no doubt some plum jobs were decided on the basis of what some saw as the SID 'old boys club'. But for me, the most valuable part of my membership with SID has been the ideas. (...) I think the journal has had a different trajectory from other SID activities. It has managed to bring in a North–South dimension with southern and women's voices leading the debate which for me makes it a more meaningful dialogue than other SID programmes. I do think the journal could improve with more case studies on the ground which could be presented as cases of success or failure of development. Possibly key people could be invited to comment on the cases and diagnose what worked and what did not, that could be a very helpful way to move the development debate forward, perhaps in the local–global encounters section. Most of all I would recommend that the journal and SID try to bring the intellectual leadership of SID together with the on-the-ground networking of activists, to produce different levels of strategies that can move SID and the development project forward.

Khawar Mumtaz: Vice President of SID 2004-2007, Coordinator of Shirkat Gah, Pakistan


The mindless race for economic gains and markets and the emphasis on economic growth has been at the expense of human development. SID has the distinction of championing the importance of human faced development and the search for alternatives. The SID journal Development has been SID's primary vehicle for discussion and discourse and putting forward ideas that have often been ahead of the times ranging from the notion of human-faced development, to South–South interactions, to the definition of sustainable livelihoods, to the politics of place, to name just a few. These ideas have informed policies, triggered the questioning of the dominant development paradigm, and have brought the concept of social justice as an integral element of economic development

Shobha Raghuram: Member of journal advisory committee, writer, feminist activist, international senior advisor, Knowledge for Development Programme, HIVOS, India


I consider Development to be one of the most important platforms to bring public attention to a set of ideas that are pluralistic, diverse and yet similar for one reason – that they echo the desire and the passion for ideas to permeate the social changes that are occurring constantly on a global scale, at the national and at the local level. The power of well thought out actions and interventions far outstrip the reactive nature of actions that have become common place for solution – seeking when we are confronted with social problems. The journal provides that mediating space for dialogue to precede action and for reason to guide and permeate social action and political interventions. (Photo: Sustianable futures Academy)

Wolfgang Sachs: Former editor of Development, writer and ecologist, Wuppertal Institute, Germany


I was always impressed how much the journal Development was able to make out of a zero name. Because 'development' means just about everything, from pulling up skyscrapers to putting in latrines, from drilling for oil to drilling for water, is a concept of monumental emptiness. Therefore, it is easily used as a projection screen for contradictory perspectives. On the one hand, there are the GNP champions who identify development with economic growth per capita, undisturbed by the fact that growth often mines natural and social capital for producing more money capital. On the other hand, there are the champions of justice who identify development with more rights and resources for the poor and powerless, hoping for less profit-driven, more sustainable societies. Putting both perspectives into one conceptual shell is a sure recipe for confusion. (...) I think the conventional distinction between North and South is in any case misleading. 'North' and 'South' are nothing else than 'zombie categories' (...) The journal, it seems to me, was aware that the conventional North–South distinction rather obscures things. 

Robert J. Berg: Vice President of SID 1985–1988, consultant and director of the UNA Graduate Fellows Program, Washington, DC, USA


For many years, we have seen our journal to be highly creative in a number of fields, particularly gender, health and a number of other human issues. That is wonderful. But we as a Society have not very well engaged some wider issues. Our field has become ever so much more complex, but we have not reached out to the branches to be part of us and to become regular parts of our discussions. At the same time, the core fields of the Society (planning and policy) have also become far more decentralized in all kinds of local think tanks and research centres, and seemingly they also are beyond our reach, alas. If we had grown with our field, SID would be many times our current size. And we remain fearful about talking with policy people from the private sector, which denies us a lot of creativity and the ability to influence the most powerful dynamic in today's development. Now we face the first truly global crisis, caused by climate change. From now on humanity will need to manage the environment or be subject to even more severe damage than if we remain helpless to change our economies and our lifestyles. For SID, that's an opportunity, as we will need tremendously creative development solutions and a lot of new thinking to get to those solutions. Our work is far from done.


*These articles were first published in Development Vol. 50.4 'The Power of Ideas', special issue for the SID international Congress in 2007 in The Hague. The full text article is avaialble on the publisher website: Palgrave Macmillan


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