Conflated meanings of ‘development’

Inspired by the book’s superb title and Chris Blattman’s post Books development economists and aid workers seldom read but should?, I’ve been reading The Anti-Politics Machine by James Ferguson.

I’m only part of the way through but I felt compelled to share this beautifully cogent explanation of how different meanings of ‘development’ can be conflated and exploited:

“In the first sense, one speaks of “development” as a progression toward a known end point, usually modern industrial capitalism… In the second sense, so much in vogue in the late 1970s, 
development” is taken to mean the improvement in quality of life or standard of living…” (p55)

“The implicit argument is of the sort known to logicians as a fallacy of equivocation, of the form: (1) all banks have money; (2) every river has two banks; therefore, (3) all rivers have money. This fallacy, of course, consists in changing the meaning of one of the terms of the syllogism in the middle of the implication. The “development” version goes as follows: (1) poor countries are (by definition) “less developed”; (2) less developed countries are (by another definition) those which have not yet been fully brought into the modern economy; therefore, (3) poor countries are those which have not yet been fully brought into the modern economy.”  (pp.55-56)

Problematising the term ‘development’ is hardly a new trend (The Anti-Politics Machine was first published in 1990), but this is probably as logically as I’ve seen it framed before. What are your favourite examples that capture the essence of the problem?

Ferguson, J. (1994). The anti-politics machine : “development,” depoliticization, and bureaucratic power in Lesotho. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press.




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