Postdevelopment Theory
Postdevelopment theory (also post-development, or anti-development) holds that the whole concept and practice of development
Regional development
Regional development is the provision of aid and other assistance to regions which are less economically developed. Regional development may be domestic or international in nature...

 is a reflection of Western-Northern hegemony over the rest of the world. Postdevelopment thought arose in the 1980s out of criticisms being voiced against development projects and the development theory
Development theory
Development theory is a conglomeration of theories about how desirable change in society is best to be achieved. Such theories draw on a variety of social scientific disciplines and approaches.-Modernization theory:...

 used to justify them.

Development as ideology

The postdevelopment critique holds that modern development theory
Development theory
Development theory is a conglomeration of theories about how desirable change in society is best to be achieved. Such theories draw on a variety of social scientific disciplines and approaches.-Modernization theory:...

 is a creation of academia in tandem with an underlying political ideology. The academic-political nature of development means it tends to be policy oriented, problem driven, and therefore only effective in terms of and in relation to a particular, pre-existing social theory.

The actual development projects thus initiated, by both governments and NGOs, are directed in accordance with this development theory. But the development theory itself assumes a framework already set in place by government and political culture in order to implement it. There is therefore a strong socially constructed aspect to development, whereby Western interests are guiding its direction and outcome, thus implying that development itself fundamentally reflects the pattern of Western hegemony.

Leading critics of development

Influenced by Ivan Illich
Ivan Illich
Ivan Illich was an Austrian philosopher, Roman Catholic priest, and "maverick social critic" of the institutions of contemporary western culture and their effects on the provenance and practice of education, medicine, work, energy use, transportation, and economic development.- Personal life...

 and other critics of colonialism and postcolonialism, a number of theorists like Arturo Escobar and Gustavo Esteva
Gustavo Esteva
Gustavo Esteva is a Mexican activist, "deprofessionalized intellectual" and founder of the Universidad de la Tierra in the Mexican city of Oaxaca. He is one of the best known advocates of Post-Development.-Life:...

 have challenged the very meaning of development. According to them, the way we understand development is rooted in the earlier colonial discourse that depicts the North as "advanced" and "progressive", and the South as "backward", "degenerate" and "primitive".

They point out that a new way of thinking about development began in 1949 when President Harry Truman declared: “The old imperialism—exploitation for foreign profit—has no place in our plans. What we envisage is a program of development based on the concepts of democratic fair dealings.”

While claiming that the "era of development" began at this point, postdevelopment theorists do not suggest that the concept of development was new. What was new was to define development in terms of escaping from underdevelopment
Underdevelopment is a term often used to refer to economic underdevelopment, symptoms of which include lack of access to job opportunities, health care, drinkable water, food, education and housing...

. Since the latter referred to two-thirds of the world, this meant that most societies were made to see themselves as having fallen into the undignified condition of "underdevelopment", and thus to look outside of their own cultures for salvation.

Development, according to these critics, was now a euphemism used to refer to post-war American hegemony; and it was the ideals and development programs of the United States and its (Western) European allies that would form the basis of development everywhere else.

Postdevelopment theory

Leading members of the postdevelopment school argue that development was always unjust, never worked, and has now clearly failed. According to Wolfgang Sachs
Wolfgang Sachs
-Wolfgang Sachs:Wolfgang Sachs is a researcher, writer and university teacher in the field of environment, development, and globalization.He studied sociology and Catholic theology in Munich, Tübingen and Berkeley...

, a leading member of the postdevelopment school, "the idea of development stands like a ruin in the intellectual landscape" and "it is time to dismantle this mental structure."

To cite an example of this "mental structure", they would point out how the concept of Global "poverty
Poverty is the lack of a certain amount of material possessions or money. Absolute poverty or destitution is inability to afford basic human needs, which commonly includes clean and fresh water, nutrition, health care, education, clothing and shelter. About 1.7 billion people are estimated to live...

" is entirely a modern construct. The idea that we can measure poverty at the level of entire nations and hence label certain countries as "poor" on basis of their GNP (Gross National Product) per capita is quite new. While in non-industrial societies, poverty applies to certain individuals and generally does not carry any implications of personal inadequacy, with the advent of modernity (i.e. global consumer society) entire nations and continents were led to believe that they were now poor and in need of assistance, on the grounds that their per capita income was below a universally established minimum.

Critique of Ethnocentrism

Among the starting points and basic assumptions of postdevelopment thought is the idea that a middle-class, Western lifestyle and all that goes with it (which might include the nuclear family, mass consumption, living in suburbia and extensive private space), may neither be a realistic nor a desirable goal for the majority of the world’s population. In this sense, development is seen as requiring the loss, or indeed the deliberate extermination (ethnocide) of indigenous culture or other psychologically and environmentally rich and rewarding modes of life. As a result, formerly satisfactory ways of life become dissatisfying because development changes people's perception of themselves.

Majid Rahnema cites Helena Norberg-Hodge: "To take an example, Helena Norberg-Hodge
Helena Norberg-Hodge
Helena Norberg-Hodge is an analyst of the impact of the global economy on cultures and agriculture worldwide, a pioneer of the localisation movement, and the articulator of the core ideas of Counter-development...

 mentions how the notion of poverty hardly existed in Ladakh
Ladakh is a region of Jammu and Kashmir, the northernmost state of the Republic of India. It lies between the Kunlun mountain range in the north and the main Great Himalayas to the south, inhabited by people of Indo-Aryan and Tibetan descent...

 when she visited that country for the first time in 1975. Today she says, it has become part of the language. When visiting an outlying village some eight years ago, Helena asked a young Ladakhi where were the poorest houses. 'We have no poor houses in our village,' was the proud reply. Recently Helena saw the same Ladakhi talking to an American tourist and overheard him say, 'if only you could do something for us, we are so poor.'"

Development is seen as a set of knowledges, interventions and worldviews (in short, discourses) which are also powers—to intervene, transform and to rule—to which postdevelopment critiques challenge the notion of a single path to development and demands acknowledgment of diversity of cultural perspectives and priorities.

For example, the politics of defining and satisfying needs is a crucial dimension of development thought, to which the concept of agency is central. But, who voices development concerns, what power relations are played out, how do the interests of development "experts" (the World Bank
World Bank
The World Bank is an international financial institution that provides loans to developing countries for capital programmes.The World Bank's official goal is the reduction of poverty...

, IMF officials, and so on) rule the development priorities, and which voices are excluded as a result? The postdevelopment approach attempts to overcome this inequality by opening up spaces for non-Western peoples and their concerns.

It is, above all, a critique of the standard assumption about progress as to who possesses the key to it and how it may be implemented.

Arturo Escobar

Critics of development do not deny the need for change. What they argue is that in order for change to be undertaken properly, it needs to be conceived in different terms. Arturo Escobar, another leading member of the postdevelopment school, argues:

"While social change has probably always been part of the human experience, it was only within the European modernity that 'society', i.e. the whole way of life of a people, was open to empirical analysis and made the subject of planned change. And while communities in the Third World may find that there is a need for some sort of organised or directed change—in part to reverse the damage done by development—this undoubtedly will not take the form of 'designing life' or social engineering. In this long run, this means that categories and meanings have to be redefined; through their innovative political practice, new social movements of various kinds are already embarked on this process of redefining the social, and knowledge itself."

Majid Rahnema

Majid Rahnema
Majid Rahnema
Majid Rahnema is a diplomat and former Minister of Iran, born in 1924 in Tehran. He represented Iran at the UN from 1957 to 1971. He works on problems of poverty and production processes of poverty by the market economy.-Biography:...

 addresses the question of what is to be done directly in his conclusion to the Post-Development Reader. He admits that it may be true that majority of people whose life has in fact greatly deteriorated do want change. But the answer he suggests is not development but the "end of development". He says that the end of development is not "An end to the search for new possibilities of change, for a relational world of friendship, or for genuine processes of regeneration able to give birth to new forms of solidarity” . It should mean that the "inhumane and the ultimately destructive approach to change is over. It should resemble a call to the 'good people' everywhere to think and work together."


Critics have complained that postdevelopment theory is not really beyond, outside or subsequent to development discourse. According to Ray Kiely for example, postdevelopment theory is merely the latest version of a set of criticisms that have long been evident within writing and thinking about development. Development has always been about choices, with losers, and winners, dilemmas and destruction as well as creative possibility.

There are a number of more fundamental objections to the postdevelopment school. The first is that it overstates its case. For, to reject all development is also seen as rejection of the possibility for material advancement and transformation. Or, it is to ignore the tangible transformations in life opportunities and health and material well-being that has been evident in parts of the Third World. Moreover, development itself is so varied and carries so many meanings that critiques need to be specific about what they mean when they claim to be "post development".

Notable development critics

  • Edward Abbey
    Edward Abbey
    Edward Paul Abbey was an American author and essayist noted for his advocacy of environmental issues, criticism of public land policies, and anarchist political views. His best-known works include the novel The Monkey Wrench Gang, which has been cited as an inspiration by radical environmental...

  • John Africa
    John Africa
    John Africa , was a founder of MOVE, a Philadelphia-based black liberation group prominent in the United States in the early 1970s...

  • Stafford Beer (Viable System Model
    Viable System Model
    The viable systems model, or VSM is a model of the organisational structure of any viable or autonomous system. A viable system is any system organised in such a way as to meet the demands of surviving in the changing environment. One of the prime features of systems that survive is that they are...

  • Charles A. Coulombe
    Charles A. Coulombe
    Charles A. Coulombe is a prominent American Catholic historian, author, journalist, lecturer, and occasional researcher into the supernatural.- Life :...

  • Stanley Diamond
    Stanley Diamond
    Stanley Diamond was an American poet and anthropologist. As a young man, he identified as a poet, and his disdain for the fascism of the 1930s greatly influenced his thinking....

  • Jacques Ellul
    Jacques Ellul
    Jacques Ellul was a French philosopher, law professor, sociologist, lay theologian, and Christian anarchist. He wrote several books about the "technological society" and the interaction between Christianity and politics....

  • Arturo Escobar (anthropologist)
  • Gustavo Esteva
    Gustavo Esteva
    Gustavo Esteva is a Mexican activist, "deprofessionalized intellectual" and founder of the Universidad de la Tierra in the Mexican city of Oaxaca. He is one of the best known advocates of Post-Development.-Life:...

  • Julius Evola
    Julius Evola
    Barone Giulio Cesare Andrea Evola also known as Julius Evola, was an Italian philosopher and esotericist...

  • James Ferguson (anthropologist)
    James Ferguson (anthropologist)
    James Ferguson is an American born Anthropologist. He is known for his work on the politics and anthropology of international development, specifically his critical stance . He is currently chair of the Anthropology Department at Stanford University...

  • Massimo Fini
  • Masanobu Fukuoka
    Masanobu Fukuoka
    was a Japanese farmer and philosopher celebrated for his natural farming and re-vegetation of desertified lands. He was a proponent of no-till, no-herbicide grain cultivation farming methods traditional to many indigenous cultures, from which he created a particular method of farming, commonly...

  • Mohandas Gandhi
  • Edward Goldsmith
    Edward Goldsmith
    Edward René David Goldsmith , widely known as Teddy Goldsmith, was an Anglo-French environmentalist, writer and philosopher....

  • David Graeber
    David Graeber
    David Rolfe Graeber is an American anthropologist and anarchist who currently holds the position of Reader in Social Anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London. He was an associate professor of anthropology at Yale University, although Yale controversially declined to rehire him, and his...

  • René Guénon
    René Guénon
    René Guénon , also known as Shaykh `Abd al-Wahid Yahya was a French author and intellectual who remains an influential figure in the domain of metaphysics, having written on topics ranging from metaphysics, sacred science and traditional studies to symbolism and initiation.In his writings, he...

  • Martin Heidegger
    Martin Heidegger
    Martin Heidegger was a German philosopher known for his existential and phenomenological explorations of the "question of Being."...

  • Ivan Illich
    Ivan Illich
    Ivan Illich was an Austrian philosopher, Roman Catholic priest, and "maverick social critic" of the institutions of contemporary western culture and their effects on the provenance and practice of education, medicine, work, energy use, transportation, and economic development.- Personal life...

  • Derrick Jensen
    Derrick Jensen
    Derrick Jensen is an American author and environmental activist living in Crescent City, California. Jensen has published several books questioning and critiquing modern civilization and its values, including A Language Older Than Words, The Culture of Make Believe, and Endgame. He holds a B.S...

  • Theodore Kaczynski
    Theodore Kaczynski
    Theodore John "Ted" Kaczynski , also known as the "Unabomber" , is an American mathematician, social critic, anarcho-primitivist, and Neo-Luddite who engaged in a mail bombing campaign that spanned nearly 20 years, killing three people and injuring 23 others.Kaczynski was born in Chicago, Illinois,...

  • Ruhollah Khomeini
    Ruhollah Khomeini
    Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini was an Iranian religious leader and politician, and leader of the 1979 Iranian Revolution which saw the overthrow of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran...

  • Philip Larkin
    Philip Larkin
    Philip Arthur Larkin, CH, CBE, FRSL is widely regarded as one of the great English poets of the latter half of the twentieth century...

  • Pentti Linkola
    Pentti Linkola
    Kaarlo Pentti Linkola is a radical Finnish deep ecologist, polemicist, and fisherman. He has written widely about his ideas and is a prominent thinker in Finland, but, at the same time, is also an extremely controversial figure. He lives a simple and austere life. Linkola was occupitional...

  • Ned Ludd
    Ned Ludd
    Ned Ludd or Ned Lud, possibly born Ned Ludlam or Edward Ludlam, is the person from whom the Luddites took their name. His actions inspirated the folkloric character of Captain Ludd, also known as King Ludd or General Ludd, who became the Luddites' alleged leader and founder.It is believed that Ned...

  • Maria Mies
    Maria Mies
    Maria Mies is a professor of sociology and author of several influential feminist books, including Indian Women and Patriarchy , Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale , and Women: The Last Colony .She is Professor of Sociology at the Cologne University of Applied Sciences, which is a...

  • Yukio Mishima
    Yukio Mishima
    was the pen name of , a Japanese author, poet, playwright, actor and film director, also remembered for his ritual suicide by seppuku after a failed coup d'état...

  • MOVE
    MOVE or the MOVE Organization is a Philadelphia-based black liberation group founded by John Africa. MOVE was described by CNN as "a loose-knit, mostly black group whose members all adopted the surname Africa, advocated a "back-to-nature" lifestyle and preached against technology." The group...

  • Movimento Zero (Italian movement)
  • François Partant
  • Fredy Perlman
    Fredy Perlman
    Fredy Perlman was an author, publisher and activist. His most popular work, the book Against His-Story, Against Leviathan!, details the rise of state domination with a retelling of history through the Hobbesian metaphor of the Leviathan. The book remains a major source of inspiration for...

  • Daniel Quinn
    Daniel Quinn
    Daniel Quinn is an American writer described as an environmentalist. He is best known for his book Ishmael , which won the Turner Tomorrow Fellowship Award in 1991....

  • Majid Rahnema
    Majid Rahnema
    Majid Rahnema is a diplomat and former Minister of Iran, born in 1924 in Tehran. He represented Iran at the UN from 1957 to 1971. He works on problems of poverty and production processes of poverty by the market economy.-Biography:...

  • Gilbert Rist
    Gilbert Rist
    Gilbert Rist was a professor at the institut universitaire d'études du développement in Geneva. He is best known for his ground-breaking study of the concept and practice of development.-Writings:English...

  • Vandana Shiva
    Vandana Shiva
    Vandana Shiva , is a philosopher, environmental activist, and eco feminist. Shiva, currently based in Delhi, has authored more than 20 books and over 500 papers in leading scientific and technical journals. She was trained as a physicist and received her Ph.D...

  • Henry David Thoreau
    Henry David Thoreau
    Henry David Thoreau was an American author, poet, philosopher, abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister, development critic, surveyor, historian, and leading transcendentalist...

  • John Zerzan
    John Zerzan
    John Zerzan is an American anarchist and primitivist philosopher and author. His works criticize agricultural civilization as inherently oppressive, and advocate drawing upon the ways of life of prehistoric humans as an inspiration for what a free society should look like...

See also

  • Degrowth
  • Development criticism
    Development criticism
    Development criticism refers to criticisms of technological development.-Notable development critics:*Edward Abbey*John Africa*Stafford Beer *Charles A...

  • Myth of Progress
  • Postdevelopment Theory
    Postdevelopment Theory
    Postdevelopment theory holds that the whole concept and practice of development is a reflection of Western-Northern hegemony over the rest of the world...

  • Critique of technology
    Critique of technology
    Critique of technology is an analysis of the negative impacts of technologies. It is argued that, in all advanced industrial societies , technology becomes a means of domination, control and exploitation, or more generally something which threatens the survival of humanity.Prominent authors...

  • Deep ecology
    Deep ecology
    Deep ecology is a contemporary ecological philosophy that recognizes an inherent worth of all living beings, regardless of their instrumental utility to human needs. The philosophy emphasizes the interdependence of organisms within ecosystems and that of ecosystems with each other within the...

  • Anarcho-primitivism
    Anarcho-primitivism is an anarchist critique of the origins and progress of civilization. According to anarcho-primitivism, the shift from hunter-gatherer to agricultural subsistence gave rise to social stratification, coercion, and alienation...

  • Eco-anarchism
  • Radical Traditionalism
    Traditionalist School
    The term Traditionalist School is used by Mark Sedgwick and other authors to denote a school of thought, also known as Integral Traditionalism or Perennialism to denote an esoteric movement developed by authors such as French metaphysician René Guénon, German-Swiss...

  • Neo-Tribalism
    Neotribalism or modern tribalism is the ideology that human beings have evolved to live in tribal society, as opposed to mass society, and thus will naturally form social networks constituting new "tribes."-Sociological theory:...

  • Eco-feminism

  • Simple living
    Simple living
    Simple living encompasses a number of different voluntary practices to simplify one's lifestyle. These may include reducing one's possessions or increasing self-sufficiency, for example. Simple living may be characterized by individuals being satisfied with what they need rather than want...

  • Neo-Luddism
    Neo-Luddism is a personal world view opposing any modern technology. Its name is based on the historical legacy of the British Luddites which were active between 1811 and 1816...

  • Modernist Crisis
  • Critical theory
    Critical theory
    Critical theory is an examination and critique of society and culture, drawing from knowledge across the social sciences and humanities. The term has two different meanings with different origins and histories: one originating in sociology and the other in literary criticism...

  • Social criticism
    Social criticism
    The term social criticism locates the reasons for malicious conditions of the society in flawed social structures. People adhering to a social critics aim at practical solutions by specific measures, often consensual reform but sometimes also by powerful revolution.- European roots :Religious...

  • Human history
  • Industrialization
  • High modernism
    High modernism
    High modernism is a particular instance of modernism, coined towards the end of modernism. "High modernism", like similar names designating intellectual and artistic eras such as "the high Middle Ages" or "the high Baroque", presumably is meant to specify the most characteristic, developed,...

  • Modernization
    In the social sciences, modernization or modernisation refers to a model of an evolutionary transition from a 'pre-modern' or 'traditional' to a 'modern' society. The teleology of modernization is described in social evolutionism theories, existing as a template that has been generally followed by...

  • Paradigm shift
    Paradigm shift
    A Paradigm shift is, according to Thomas Kuhn in his influential book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions , a change in the basic assumptions, or paradigms, within the ruling theory of science...


Opposing theories:
  • Modernization Theory
    Modernization theory
    Modernization theory is a theory used to explain the process of modernization within societies. The theory looks at the internal factors of a country while assuming that, with assistance, "traditional" countries can be brought to development in the same manner more developed countries have...

  • Neoliberalism
    Neoliberalism is a market-driven approach to economic and social policy based on neoclassical theories of economics that emphasizes the efficiency of private enterprise, liberalized trade and relatively open markets, and therefore seeks to maximize the role of the private sector in determining the...

External links

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