A Book Review: Arturo Escobar, “Encountering Development: the Making and Unmaking of the Third World” Essay

In Encountering Development, Escobar’s intention is to rethink the entire notion of development by approaching the subject via deconstruction, prejudicial detachment, and the contextualization of development as a hegemonic all-encompassing cultural space. Relying heavily on “Foucault’s work on the dynamics of discourse and power in the representation of social reality,” Escobar compares his conception of development as a historically produced discourse to Edward Said’s groundbreaking work on “Orientalism.

The author proposes that “The West’s” inherently paternalistic and ethnocentric domain of thought and action, a discursive regime, should be defined by the interplay amongst its three axes: “the forms of knowledge that refer to it and through which it comes into being…objects, concepts, theories and the like; the system of power that regulates its practice; and the forms of subjectivity fostered by this discourse.

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Encountering Development seeks to destroy the concept of development as arisen through this regime of order and truth (a quintessential aspect of modernity) and provide a foundational query for the emerging theory of post-development.

This task is begun by attacking the representative traditions of late-modernity, places of encounter where identities are constructed; wherein the “Third World” and its people “exist ‘out there,’ to be known through theories and intervened upon from the outside. Escobar’s book takes on a range of heavily nuanced and often embedded issues.

Broadly speaking, the deployment of a development discourse in a world system in which “The West” has a certain dominance over the Third World is central to understanding the profound political, economic and cultural effects that have to be explored. As the discourse was constructed under this unequal exchange of power, it has come to be seen by Escobar as “the ultimate colonial move. ” Some critics such as Sarden, Moss, Lewis, and Painter have suggested that while the conception of development as a discursive power construction remains valuable, the deconstructive approaches are no less ideological than the populist ones.

Sarden has even asserted that Escobar and others’ post-structuralist analysis should more aptly be deemed ideological deconstructivism; the term itself a direct response to Escobar’s semantic construction of the phrase “developmentalism” (the so called -ism “disease of the field”) Many of Escobar’s critics thus do not abandon deconstructivist perspectives, but endeavor to make them methodological rather than ideological. Methods and data that form the book’s academic grounding come from a range of sources and authorities.

Because the book (as a starting point) rejects the objective truth and order of modernity’s western cultural condition, most of the references come from anthropological and geographic case studies of development’s failures, as they affect real communities and their traditions. These studies explore how the displacement of indigenous communities, disruption of people’s habitats and occupations, and the increase in pressure on natural systems (forced upon rural societies) are all rooted in the development process.

Vandana Shiva, Judith Butler, Manthia Diawara, Wolfgang Sachs, Gustavo Esteva, Immanuel Wallerstein, David Harvey, Ivan Illich, Majid Rahnema, and Anibal Quijano are just a few of the more well known academics supporting and cited in Encountering Development. Escobar juxtaposes these cultural studies/analysis with UN, IMF and World Bank reports, international government agency critiques, and most importantly, critical analysis by professionals who previously worked in the development discourse (i. e. Helena Norberg-Hodge, founder of the International Society for Ecology and Culture). All of these methods serve to inform historical process, understand trends and actions in the paradigm, and ultimately discern their direct connection to the creation of “underdevelopment. ” One of Escobar’s central conclusions is that there is no linear or universal model of economic or social development that can be objectively applied to the diverse local cultures of the societies misleadingly grouped under the “Third World”.

Conceptual understanding of language (the ‘Third’ world denoting a lesser society; or the introduction of ‘poverty’ to people who previously knew nothing else), economics (the development of underdevelopment), etc, must necessarily be explored within the context of institutional knowledge-building hierarchies representative of the global agenda. Furthermore, all of these impetus can be traced back to the mid-20th century realization that growing instability around the world ultimately meant that “the destinies of the rich and poor parts of the world were to be closely linked. (22) The Truman Doctrine is thus understood/interpreted as a carefully constructed tool in the vein of neo-colonial control, one which is still both pervasive and prevailing today. A basic assumption and point of departure for Escobar and other post-development theorist is that the alienated, Western consumer culture (i. e. , Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle) and the social norms that accompany it, may not only be an undesirable goal for the people of the “Third World,” but also an unrealistic one, in light of prevailing ecological and biophysical limits.

This also informs the notion that the perceived fascination of the global south with western lifestyle is directly related to ethnocide via global capitalism, and development’s transformation of perception relating to formerly satisfactory ways of life. Rounding out the question of assumption in a most circuitous manner (as assumptions often do in informing praxis! ), I will posit that Escobar’s most important assumption is the supposition that standard assumptions concerning the notion of general “progress,” and who knows how to best pursue it, can be collectively referred to best by the colloquial phrase “a load of crap. From the perspective of a deconstructive analysis, Escobar’s critique is flawless in its internal consistency. This is partly made possible by using the discursive framework, which helps connect process to theory and on to practice by the reification of modernization and Western biases. By encouraging such prejudicial abstractions to be understood- manifested really- as the produced goods/services and other concrete ways development is carried out, it is easier to make direct connections and linkages to how institutional development actually effects people.

This is a critical point of the analysis that cannot be overlooked. It is the root to understanding both historical and contemporary causation of the role that development has played in the destabilization of the global south and its individual’s basic-needs security. Since its publication in 1995 by Princeton University Press, Encountering Development has sent shockwaves and stirred much controversy both within and outside the international development community.

Although some scholars refuse to identify Escobar’s work as part of a new cannon, herein referred to as “post-development,” they nonetheless agree that it represents a major turning for a set of criticisms that have long been evident in the discourse, although not explained or framed as such. Since encountering Escobar’s now classic text, my own worldview and internationalist perspective has been serendipitously altered by its influence. An influence which I will claim has allowed for an expansion of the mind, the inclusion of global ethnic-diversities, and an experience in critical though-processes concerning all aspects of global hegemony.

Cite this A Book Review: Arturo Escobar, “Encountering Development: the Making and Unmaking of the Third World” Essay

A Book Review: Arturo Escobar, “Encountering Development: the Making and Unmaking of the Third World” Essay. (2017, Feb 25). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/a-book-review-arturo-escobar-encountering-development-the-making-and-unmaking-of-the-third-world/

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