Development Dictionary: Planning

The concept of planning embodies the belief that social change can be engineered and directed, produced at will.

Planning techniques and practices have been central to development since its inception. As the application of scientific and technical knowledge to the public domain, planning lent legitimacy to, and fuelled hopes about, the development enterprise. Generally speaking, the concept of planning embodies the belief that social change can be engineered and directed, produced at will. Thus the idea that poor countries could move more or less smoothly along the path of progress through planning has always been held as an indubitable truth, an axiomatic belief in need of no demonstration, by development experts of most persuasions.

Perhaps no other concept has been so insidious, no other idea gone so unchallenged. This blind acceptance of planning is all the more striking given the pervasive effects it has had historically, not only in the Third World, but also in the West, where it has been linked to fundamental processes of domination and social control. For planning has been inextricably linked to the rise of Western modernity since the end of the 18th century. The planning conceptions and routines introduced in the Third World during the post-World War II period are the result of accumulated scholarly, economic and political action; they are not neutral frameworks through which ‘reality’ innocently shows itself. They thus bear the marks of the history and culture that produced them. When deployed in the Third World, planning not only carried with it this historical baggage, but also contributed greatly to the production of the socio-economic and cultural configuration that we describe today as underdevelopment.

Normalizing People in 19th Century Europe

How did planning arise in the European experience? Very briefly, three major factors were essential to this process, beginning in the 19th century — the development of town planning as a way of dealing with the problems of the growing industrial cities; the rise of social planning, and increased intervention by professionals and the state in society, in the name of promoting people’s welfare; and the invention of the modern economy, which crystallized with the institutionalization of the market and the formulation of classical political economy. These three factors, which today appear to us as normal, as natural parts of our world, have a relatively recent and even precarious history.

In the first half of the 19th century, capitalism and the industrial revolution brought drastic changes in the make-up of cities, especially in Northwestern Europe. Ever more people flooded into old quarters, factories proliferated, and industrial fumes hovered over streets covered with sewage. Overcrowded and disordered, the ‘diseased city’, as the metaphor went, called for a new type of planning which would provide solutions to the rampant urban chaos. Indeed, it was those city officials and reformers who were chiefly concerned with health regulations, public works and sanitary interventions, who first laid down the foundations of comprehensive urban planning. The city began to be conceived of as an object, analysed scientifically, and transformed according to the two major requirements of traffic and hygiene. ‘Respiration’ and ‘circulation’ were supposed to be restored to the city organism, overpowered by sudden pressure. Cities (including the colonial chequerboards outside Europe) were designed or modified to ensure proper circulation of air and traffic, and philanthropists set out to eradicate the appalling slums and to bring the right morals to their inhabitants. The rich traditional meaning of cities and the more intimate relationship between city and dweller were thus eroded as the industrial-hygienic order became dominant. Reifying space and objectifying people, the practice of town planning, along with the science of urbanism, transformed the spatial and social make-up of the city, giving birth in the 20th century to what has been called ‘the Taylorization of architecture’.1

Just like planners in the Third World today, the 19th century European bourgeoisie also had to deal with the question of poverty. The management of poverty actually opened up a whole realm of intervention, which some researchers have termed the social. Poverty, health, education, hygiene, unemployment, etc. were constructed as ‘social problems’, which in turn required detailed scientific knowledge about society and its population, and extensive social planning and intervention in everyday life. As the state emerged as the guarantor of progress, the objective of government became the efficient management and disciplining of the population so as to ensure its welfare and ‘good order’. A body of laws and regulations was produced with the intention to regularize work conditions and deal with accidents, old age, the employment of women, and the protection and education of children. Factories, schools, hospitals, prisons became privileged places to shape experience and modes of thinking in terms of the social order. In sum, the rise of the social made possible the increasing socialization and subjection of people to dominant norms, as well as their insertion into the machinery of capitalist production. The end result of this process in the present day is the welfare state and the new professionalized activity known as social work.

Two points have to be emphasized in relation to this process. One, that these changes did not come about naturally, but required vast ideological and material operations, and often times plain coercion. People did not become accustomed to factory work or to living in crowded and inhospitable cities gladly and of their own volition; they had to be disciplined into it! And two, that those very operations and forms of social planning have produced ‘governable’ subjects. They have shaped not only social structures and institutions, but also the way in which people experience life and construct themselves as subjects. But development experts have been blind to these insidious aspects of planning in their proposals to replicate in the Third World similar forms of social planning. As Foucault said, ‘the “Enlightenment”, which discovered the liberties, also invented the disciplines.’2  One cannot look on the bright side of planning, its modern achievements (if one were to accept them), without looking at the same time on its dark side of domination. The management of the social has produced modern subjects who are not only dependent on professionals for their needs, but also ordered into realities (cities, health and educational systems, economies, etc.) that can be governed by the state through planning. Planning inevitably requires the normalization and standardization of reality, which in turn entails injustice and the erasure of difference and diversity.

The third factor in European history that was of central importance to the development and success of planning was the invention of the ‘economy’. The economy, as we know it today, did not even exist as late as the 18th century in Europe, much less in other parts of the world. The spread and institutionaliza­tion of the market, certain philosophical currents such as utilitarianism and individualism, and the birth of classical political economy at the end of the 18th century provided the elements and cement for the establishment of an independent domain, namely ‘the economy’, apparently separated from morality, politics and culture. Karl Polanyi refers to this process as the ‘disembeddedness’ of the economy for society, a process which was linked to the consolidation of capitalism and which entailed the commodification of land and labour. There were many consequences of this development, besides generalized commodification. Other forms of economic organization, those founded upon reciprocity or redistribution for instance, were disqualified and increasingly marginalized. Subsistence activities became devalued or destroyed. And an instrumental attitude towards nature and people became the order of the day, which in turn led to unprecedented forms of exploitation of people and nature. Although today most of us take for granted the modern market economy, this notion and the reality of how it operates have not always existed. Despite its dominance, even today there persist in many parts of the Third World subsistence societies, ‘informal’ economies, and collective forms of economic organization.

In sum, the period 1800-1950 saw the progressive encroachment of those forms of administration and regulation of society, urban space and the economy that would result in the great edifice of planning in the early post-World War II period. Once normalized regulated and ordered, individuals, societies and economies can be subjected to the scientific gaze and social engineering scalpel of the planner, who, like a surgeon operating on the human body, can then attempt to produce the desired type of social change. If social science and planning have had any success in predicting and engineering social change, it is precisely because certain economic, cultural and social regularities have already been attained which confer some systematic element and consistency with the real world on the planners’ attempts. Once you organize factory work and discipline workers, or once you start growing trees in plantations, then you can predict industrial output or timber production. In the process, the exploitation of workers, the degradation of nature, and the elimination of other forms of knowledge — whether it be the skills of the craftsman or those who live off the forest — are also affected. These are the kind of processes that are at stake in the Third World when planning is introduced as the central technique of development. In short, planning redefines social and economic life in accordance with the criteria of rationality, efficiency and morality which are consonant with the history and needs of capitalist, industrial society, but not those of the Third World.

Dismantling and Reassembling Societies

Scientific planning came of age during the 1920s and ‘30s, when it emerged from rather heterogeneous origins — the mobilization of national production during World War I, Soviet Planning, the scientific management movement in the USA, and Keynesian economic policy. Planning techniques were refined during the Second World War and its aftermath. It was during this period, and in connection with the War, that operations research, systems analysis, human engineering, and views of planning as ‘rational social action’ became widespread. When the era of development in the Third World dawned in the late 1940s, the dream of designing society through planning found an even more fertile ground. In Latin America and Asia, the creation of a ‘developing society’, understood as an urban-based civilization characterized by growth, political stability and increasing standards of living, became an explicit goal, and ambitious plans were designed to bring it about with the eager assistance of international organizations and experts from the ‘developed’ world.

To plan in the Third World, however, certain structural and behavioural conditions had to be laid down, usually at the expense of people’s existing concepts of social action and change. In the face of the imperatives of ‘modern society’, planning involved the overcoming or eradication of ‘traditions’, ‘obstacles’ and ‘irrationalities’, that is, the wholesale modification of existing human and social structures and their replacement with rational new ones. Given the nature of the post-war economic order, this amounted to creating the conditions for capitalist production and reproduction. Economic growth theories, which dominated development at the time, provided the theoretical orientation for the creation of the new order, and national development plans the means to achieve it. The first ‘mission’ — note its colonial, Christian missionary overtones — sent by the World Bank to an ‘underdeveloped’ country in 1949, for instance, had as its goal the formulation of a ‘comprehensive program of development’ for the country in question, Colombia. Staffed by experts in many fields, the mission saw its task as ‘calling for a comprehensive and internally consistent program...  Only through a generalized attack throughout the whole economy on education, health, housing, food and productivity can the vicious circle of poverty, ignorance, ill health and low productivity be decisively broken.’ Moreover, it was clear to the mission that:

One cannot escape the conclusion that reliance on natural forces has not produced the most happy results. Equally inescapable is the conclusion that with knowledge of the underlying facts and economic processes, good planning in setting objectives and allocating resources, and determination in carrying out a program for improvement and reforms, a great deal can be done to improve the economic environment by shaping economic policies to meet scientifically ascertained social requirements… In making such an effort, Colombia would not only accomplish its own salvation but would at the same time furnish an inspiring example to all other underdeveloped areas of the world.3

That development was about ‘salvation’ — again the echoes of the colonial civilizing mission — comes out clearly in most of the literature of the period. Countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia were seen as ‘relying on natural forces’, which had not produced the ‘most happy results’. Needless to say, the whole history of colonialism is effaced by this discursive way of putting it. What is emphasized instead is the introduction of poor countries to the ‘enlightened’ world of Western science and modern economics, while the conditions existing in these countries are constructed as being characterized by a ‘vicious circle’ of ‘poverty’, ‘ignorance’ and the like. Science and planning, on the other hand, are seen as neutral, desirable and universally applicable, while, in truth, an entire and particular rationality and civilizational experience was being transferred to the Third World through the process of ‘development’. The Third World thus entered post-World War II Western consciousness as constituting the appropriate social and technical raw material for planning. This status of course depended, and still does, on an extractive neo­colonialism. Epistemologically and politically, the Third World is constructed as a natural-technical object that has to be normalized and moulded through planning to meet the ‘scientifically ascertained’ characteristics of a ‘development society’.

By the end of the 1950s, most countries in the Third World were already engaged in planning activities. Launching the first ‘Development Decade’ at the beginning of the 1960s, the United Nations could thus state that:

The ground has been cleared for a non-doctrinaire consideration of the real problems of development, namely saving, training and planning, and for action on them. In particular, the advantages in dealing with the various problems not piecemeal, but by a comprehensive approach through sound development planning, became more fully apparent. .. . Careful develop­ment planning can be a potent means of mobilizing. . . latent resources for a rational solution of the problems involved.4

The same optimism — and, at the same time, blindness to the parochial and ethnocentric attitudes of the planners — was echoed by the Alliance for Progress. In President Kennedy’s words:

The world is very different now. For man (sic) holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. … To those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery… we offer a special pledge — to convert our good words in good deeds — in a new alliance for progress — to assist free men and free governments in casting off the chains of poverty.5

Statements such as these reduce life in the Third World simply to conditions of ‘misery’, overlooking its rich traditions, different values and life styles, and long historical achievements. In the eyes of planners and developers, people’s dwellings appear as no more than miserable ‘huts’, and their lives — often times, especially at this early point in the development era, still characterized by subsistence and self-sufficiency — as marked by unacceptable ‘poverty’. In short, they are seen as no more than crude matter in urgent need of being transformed by planning. One does not need to romanticize tradition to realize that, what for the economist were indubitable signs of poverty and backwardness, for Third World people were often integral components of viable social and cultural systems, rooted in different, non-modern social relations and systems of knowledge. It was precisely these systems that came under attack first by colonialism and later on by development, although not without much resistance then as today. Even alternative conceptions of economic and social change held by Third World scholars and activists in the 1940s and ‘50s — the most notable being that of Mahatma Gandhi, but also, for instance, those of certain socialists in Latin America — were displaced by the enforced imposition of planning and development. For developers, what was at stake was a transition from a ‘traditional society’ to an ‘economic culture’, that is, the development of a type of society whose goals were linked to future-oriented, scientific-objective rationality and brought into existence through the mastering of certain techniques. ‘So long as everyone played his part well,’ planners believed, ‘the system was fail-safe; the state would plan, the economy would produce, and working people would concentrate on their private agendas: raising families, enriching themselves, and consuming whatever came tumbling out from the cornucopia.’6

As Third World elites appropriated the European ideal of progress — in the form of the construction of a prosperous, modern nation through economic development and planning; as other surviving concepts of change and social action became even more marginalized; finally, as traditional social systems were disrupted and the living conditions of most people worsened, the hold of planning grew ever stronger. Elites and, quite often, radical counter-elites found in planning a tool for social change which was in their eyes not only indispensable, but irrefutable because of its scientific nature. The history of development in the post-World War II period is, in many ways, the history of the institutionalization and ever more pervasive deployment of planning. The process was facilitated time after time by successive development ‘strategies’. From the emphasis on growth and national planning in the 1950s, to the Green Revolution and sectoral and regional planning of the 1960s and ‘70s, including ‘Basic Needs’ and local level planning in the ‘70s and ‘80s, to environmental planning for ‘sustainable development’ and planning to ‘incorporate’ women, or the grassroots, into development in the ‘80s, the scope and vaulting ambitions of planning have not ceased to grow.

Perhaps no other concept has served so well to recast and spread planning as that of the Basic Human Needs strategy. Recognizing that the goals of reducing poverty and ensuring a decent living standard for most people were ‘as distant as ever’, development theorists — always keen on finding yet another gimmick which they could present as a ‘new’ paradigm or strategy — coined this notion with the aim of providing ‘a coherent framework that can accommodate the increasingly refined sets of development objectives that have evolved over the past thirty years and can systematically relate these objectives to various types of policies’,7 including growth. The key arenas of intervention were primary education, health, nutrition, housing, family planning, and rural development. Most of the interventions themselves were directed at the household. As in the case of the mapping of ‘the social’ in 19th century Europe, where society first became the target of systematic state intervention, Third World people’s health, education, farming and reproduction practices all became the object of a vast array of programmes introduced in the name of increasing these countries’ ‘human capital’ and ensuring a minimum level of welfare for their people.  Once again, the epistemological and political boundaries of this kind of ‘rational’ approach — aimed at the modification of life conditions and inevitably marked by class, race, gender and cultural features — resulted in the construction of an artificially homogeneous monochrome, the ‘Third World’, an entity that was always deficient in relation to the West, and so always in need of imperialist projects of progress and development.

Rural development and health programmes during the l970s and ‘80s can be cited as examples of this type of biopolitics. They also reveal the arbitrary mechanisms and fallacies of planning. Robert McNamara’s famous Nairobi speech, delivered in 1973 before the boards of governors of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, launched the era of ‘poverty-oriented’ programmes in development, which evolved into the Basic Human Needs approach. Central to this conception were so-called national food and nutrition planning and integrated rural development. Most of these schemes were designed in the early I970s at a handful of US and UK universities, at the World Bank, and at United Nations technical agencies, and implemented in many Third World Countries from the mid 1970s until the late l980s.  Comprehensive food and nutrition planning was deemed necessary, given the magnitude and complexity of the problems of malnutrition and hunger. Typically, a national food and nutrition plan included projects in primary health care, nutrition education and food supplementation school and family vegetable gardens, the promotion of the production and consumption of protein-rich foods, and integrated rural development generally. This latter component contemplated measures to increase the production of food crops by small farmers through the supply of credit, technical assistance and agricultural inputs, and basic infrastructure.

How did the World Bank define integrated rural development? ‘Rural development’, the World Bank’s policy dictated:

is a strategy designed to improve the economic and social life of a specific group of people — the rural poor. It involves extending the benefits of development to the poorest among those who seek a livelihood in rural areas. A strategy of rural development must recognize three points. Firstly, the rate of transfer of people. out of low productivity agriculture into more rewarding pursuits has been slow. … Secondly, … their position is likely to get worse if population expands at unprecedented rates. … Thirdly, rural areas have labor, land and at least some capital which, if mobilized, could reduce poverty and improve the quality of life… [Rural development] is clearly designed to increase production and raise productivity. It is concerned with the monetization and modernization of society, and with its transition from traditional isolation to integration with the national economy.’

That most people in the ‘modern’ sector, namely those living under marginal conditions in the cities, did not enjoy ‘the benefits of development’ did not occur to these experts. Peasants — that ‘specific group of people’ which is in reality the majority of the Third World — are seen in purely economic terms, not as trying to make viable a whole way of life. That their ‘rate of transfer into more rewarding pursuits’ had to be accelerated, on the other hand, assumes that their lives are not satisfying — after all, they live in ‘traditional isolation’, even if surrounded by their communities and those they love. The approach also regards peasants as suitable for moving around like cattle or commodities. Since their labour has to be ‘mobilized’, they must surely have just been sitting about idly (subsistence farming does not involve ‘labour’ in this view), or perhaps having too many babies. All of these rhetorical devices that reflect the ‘normal’ perceptions of the planner contribute to obscure the fact that it is precisely the peasants’ increasing integration into the modern economy that is at the root of many of their problems. Even more fundamentally, these statements, which become translated into reality through planning, reproduce the world as the developers know it — a world composed of production and markets, of ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ or developed and underdeveloped sectors, of the need for aid and investment by multinationals, of capitalism versus communism, of material progress as happiness, and so forth. Here we have a prime example of the link between representation and power, and of the violence of seemingly neutral modes of representation.

In short, planning ensures a functioning of power that relies on, and helps to produce, a type of reality which is certainly not that of the peasants, while peasant cultures and struggles are rendered invisible. Indeed the peasants are rendered irrelevant even to their own rural communities. In its rural development discourse, the World Bank represents the lives of peasants in such a way that awareness of the mediation and history inevitably implicated in this construction is excluded from the consciousness of its economists and from that of many important actors — planners, Western readers, Third World elites, scientists, etc. This particular narrative of planning and development, deeply grounded in the post-World War II global political economy and cultural order, becomes essential to those actors. It actually becomes an important element in their insular construction as a developed, modern, civilized ‘we’, the ‘we’ of Western man. In this narrative, too, peasants, and Third World people generally, appear as the half-human, half-cultured benchmark against which the Euro-American world measures its own achievements.

Knowledge as Power

As a system of representation, planning thus depends on making people forget the origins of its historical mediation.  This invisibility of history and mediation is accomplished through a series of particular practices. Planning relies upon and proceeds through, various practices regarded as rational or objective, but which are in fact highly ideological and political. First of all, as with other development domains, knowledge produced in the First World about the Third gives a certain visibility to specific realities in the latter, thus making them the targets of power. Programmes such as integrated rural development have to be seen in this light. Through these programmes, ‘small farmers’, ‘landless peasants’ and the like achieve a certain visibility, albeit only as a development ‘problem’, which makes them the object of powerful even violent, bureaucratic interventions. And there are other important hidden or unproblematized mechanisms of planning; for instance, the demarcation of new fields and their assignment to experts, sometimes even the creation of a new sub-discipline (like food and nutrition planning). These operations not only assume the prior existence of discrete ‘compartments’ such as ‘health’, ‘agriculture’ and ‘economy’ — which in truth are no more than fictions created by the scientist — but impose this fragmentation on cultures which do not experience life in the same compartmentalized manner. And, of course, states, dominant institutions, and mainstream views are strengthened along the way as the domain of their action is inevitably multiplied.

Institutional practices such as project planning and implementation, on the other hand, give the impression that policy is the result of discrete, rational acts and not the process of coming to terms with conflicting interests, a process in which choices are made, exclusions effected, and worldviews imposed. There is an apparent neutrality in identifying people as ‘problems’ until one realizes first, that this definition of ‘the problem’ has already been put together in Washington or some capital city of the Third World, and second, that problems are presented in such a way that some kind of development programme has to be accepted as the legitimate solution.  It is professional discourses which provide the categories in terms of which ‘facts’ can be identified and analysed. This effect is reinforced by the use of labels such as ‘small farmer’ or ‘pregnant women’, which reduces a person’s life to a single trait and makes him/her into a ‘case’ to be treated or reformed. The use of labels also allows experts and elites to delink explanations of ‘the problem’ from themselves as the non-poor, and assign them purely to factors internal to the poor.  Inevitably, people’s lives at the local level are transcended and objectified when they are translated into the professional categories used by institutions. In short, local realities came to be greatly determined by these non-local institutional practices, which thus have to be seen as inherently political.

The results of this type of planning have been, for the most part, deleterious to Third World people and economies alike.  In the case of rural development, for instance, the outcome was seen by experts in terms of two possibilities: ‘(a) the small producer may be able to technify his productive process, which entails his becoming an agrarian entrepreneur; and (b) the small producer is not prepared to assume such level of competitiveness, in which case he will be displaced from the market and perhaps even from production in that area altogether.’9  In other words, ‘produce (for the market) or perish’. Even in terms of increased production, rural development programmes have had dubious results at best. Most of the increase in food production in the Third World has taken place in the commercial capitalist sector, while a good part of the increase has been in cash or export crops. In fact, as has been amply shown, rural development programmes and development planning in general have contributed not only to growing pauperization of rural people, but also to aggravated problems of malnutrition and hunger. Planners thought that the agricultural economies of the Third World could be mechanically restructured to resemble the ‘modernized’ agriculture of the United States, overlooking completely not only the desires and aspirations of people, but the whole dynamics of economy, culture and society that circumscribe farming practices in the Third World. This type of management of life actually became a theatre of death (most strikingly in the case of the African famine), as increased production of food resulted, through a perverse shift, in more hunger.

The impact of many development programmes has been particularly negative on women and indigenous peoples, as development projects appropriate or destroy their basis for sustenance and survival. Historically, Western discourse has refused to recognize the productive and creative role of women and this refusal has contributed to propagating divisions of labour that keep women in positions of subordination. For planners and economists, women were not, until recently, ‘economically active’, despite the fact that a great share of the food consumed in the Third World is grown by women. Moreover, women’s economic and gender position frequently deteriorated in the 1970s as a result of the participation in rural development programmes by male heads of household.  It is not surprising that women have opposed much more actively than men these rural development programmes. With the ‘technological packages’, specialization in the production of certain crops, rigid lay-out of fields, pre-set cultivation routines, production for the market, and so forth, they contrast sharply with the more ecological and varied peasant farming defended by women in many parts of the Third World — in which production for subsistence and for the market are carefully balanced. Unfortunately, the recent trend towards incorporating women into development has resulted for the most part in their being targeted for what in all other respects remain conventional programmes. ‘Target group categories are constructed to further development agency procedures to organize, manage, regulate, enumerate and rule the lives of ordinary women.’10  Thus the development industry’s clientele has been conveniently doubled by this shift in representation.

Another important recent instance of planned development is the industrialization schemes in so-called free trade zones in the Third World, where multinational corporations are brought in under very favourable conditions (e.g., tax breaks, assurances of cheap, docile labour and a ‘stable’ political climate, lower pollution standards, etc). Like all other forms of planning, these industrialization projects involve much more than an economic transformation, and on an ever larger scale. What is at stake here is the rapid transformation of rural society and culture into the world of factory discipline and modern (Western) society. Brought into Third World countries in the name of development, and actively promoted and mediated by Third World states, the free trade zones represent a microcosm in which households, villages, traditions, modern factories, governments and the world economy are all brought together in unequal relations of knowledge and power. It is no accident that most of the workers in the new factories are young women. The electronics industries in South East Asia, for instance, rely heavily on gender forms of subordination. The production of young women factory workers as ‘docile bodies’ through systematic forms of discipline in the factory and outside it, does not go, however, without resistance, as Aihwa Ong shows in her excellent study of Malaysian women factory workers. Women’s forms of resistance in the factory (destruction of microchips, spirit possession, slow­downs etc.) have to be seen as idioms of protest against labour discipline and male control in the new industrial situation. Moreover, they remind us that, if it is true that ‘new forms of domination are increasingly embodied in the social relations of science and technology which organize knowledge and production systems’, it is equally true that ‘the divergent voices and innovative practices of subjected peoples disrupt such cultural reconstructions of non-Western societies.’11

Knowledge in Opposition

Feminist critics of development and critics of development as discourse have begun to join forces, precisely through their examination of the dynamics of domination, creativity and resistance that circumscribe development. This hopeful trend is most visible in a type of grassroots activism and theorizing that is sensitive to the role of knowledge, culture and gender in supporting the enterprise of development and, conversely, in bringing about more pluralistic and egalitarian practices. As the links between development, which articulates the state with profits, patriarchy and objectivizing science and technology on the one hand, and the marginalization of people’s lives and knowledge on the other, become more evident, the search for alternatives also deepens. The imaginary ideas of development and ‘catching up’ with the West are drained of their appeal as violence and recurrent crises — economic, ecological, political — become the order of the day. In sum, the attempt by states to set up totalizing systems of socio-economic and cultural engineering through development is running into a dead end. Practices and new spaces for thinking and acting are being created or reconstituted, most notably at the grassroots, in the vacuum left by the crisis of the colonizing mechanisms of development.

Speaking about ecology movements in India, many of them started by women at the grassroots level, Vandana Shiva, for instance, sees the emerging process as:

a redefinition of growth and productivity as categories linked to the production, not the destruction, of life. It is thus simultaneously an ecological and a feminist political project that legitimizes the ways of knowing and being that create wealth by enhancing life and diversity, and which delegitimizes the knowledge and practice of a culture of death as the basis for capital accumulation. … In contemporary times, Third World women, whose minds have not yet been dispossessed or colonized, are in a privileged position to make visible the invisible oppositional categories that they are custodians of.12

One does not need to impute to Third World women, indigenous people, peasants and others a purity they do not have, to realize that important forms of resistance to the colonization of their life world have been maintained and even nurtured among them. And one does not need to be overly optimistic about the potential of grassroots movements to transform the development order to visualize the promise that these movements hold, and the challenge they increasingly pose to conventional top-down, centralized approaches or even to those apparently decentralized, participatory strategies which are geared for the most part towards economic ends. (‘Participatory’ or local level planning, indeed, is most often conceived not in terms of a popular power that people could exercise, but as a bureaucratic problem that the development institution has to solve.)  Shiva’s argument that many groups of Third World people, especially rural women and indigenous peoples, possess knowledge and practices opposite to those that define the dominant nexus between reductionist science, patriarchy, violence and profits — forms of relating to people, knowledge and nature which are less exploitative and reifying, more localized, decentred and in harmony with the ecosystem — is echoed by observers in many parts of the world.  These alternative forms, which are neither traditional nor modern, provide the basis for a slow but steady process of construction of different ways of thinking and acting, of conceiving of social change, of organizing economies and societies, of living and healing.

Thus Western rationality has to open up to the plurality of forms of knowledge and conceptions of change that exist in the world and recognize that objective, detached scientific knowledge is just one possible form among many. This much can be gleaned from an anthropology of Reason that looks critically at the basic discourses and practices of modern Western societies, and discovers in Reason and its key practices — such as planning — not universal truths but rather very specific, and even somewhat strange or at least peculiar, ways of being. This also entails, for those working within the Western tradition, recognizing — without overlooking the cultural content of science and technology — that:

(1) The production of universal, totalizing theory is a major mistake that misses most of reality, probably always, but certainly now; (2) taking responsibility for the social relations of science and technology means refusing an anti-science metaphysics, a demonology of technology, and so means embracing the skilful task of reconstructing the boundaries of daily life, in partial connection with others, in communication with all of our parts.13

As we have shown, planning has been one of those totalizing universals. While social change has probably always been part of the human experience, it was only within European modernity that ‘society’, i.e. the whole way of life of a people, was open to empirical analysis and made the object of planned change. And while communities in the Third World may find that there is a need for some sort of organized or directed social change — in part to reverse the damage caused by development — this undoubtedly will not take the form of ‘designing life’ or social engineering. In the 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.

The practices that still survive in the Third World despite development thus point the way to moving beyond social change and, in the long run, to entering a post-development, post-economic era. In the process, the plurality of meanings and practices that make up human history will again be made apparent, while planning itself will fade away from concern.


1. M. McLeod, “Architecture or Revolution”: Taylorism, Democracy, and Social Change’, Art Journal, Summer 1983, pp. 132-47.

2. M. Foucault, Discipline and Punish, New York: Pantheon Books, 1979, p. 222.

3. International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, The Basis of a Development Program for Colombia, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1950, pp. xv and 615.

4. United Nations, Dept. of Economic and Social Affairs, The United Nations Development Decade: Proposals for Action, New York: United Nations, 1962, pp.2, 10.

5. Presidential Address, January 20, 1961.

6. J. Friedmann, Venezuela From Doctrine to Dialogue, Syracuse: Syracuse University Press,

1965, pp. 8,9.

7. M. J. Cromwell, ‘Basic Human Needs: A Development Planning Approach’, in D. M. Leipziger and P. Streeten (eds), Basic Needs and Development, Cambridge, Mass:

Oelgeschlager, Gunn and Ham Publishers Inc., 1981, p. 2.

8. The World Bank, Assault on World Poverty, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press,

1975, pp. 90,91, 16.

9. Depto. Nacional De Planeaciôn de Colombia, Programa de Desarrollo Rural Integrado, El Subsector de Pequena Produccion y el Progrania DRI, Bogota: DNP, July 1979, p. 47.

10. A. Mueller, ‘Power and Naming in the Development Institution: The “Discovery” of “Women in Peru” presented at the 14th Annual Third World Conference, Chicago, April 1987, p. 4.

11. A. Ong, Spirits of Resislance and Capitalisi Discipline, Albany, New York: SUNY Press,

1987, p. 221.

12. V. Shiva, Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development, London: Zed Books, 1989, pp. 13,46.

13. D. Haraway, ‘A Manifesto for Cyborgs’: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s’, Socialist Review, 15(2), 1985, p. 100.


Edward Said’s Orientalism, New York: Vintage Books, l979, still constitutes the point of departure for examining European or Euro-American representations of non-Western peoples. The general orientation for the discursive critique of representations is provided by Foucault, especially in The History of Sexuality, Vol. I, New York: Vintage Books, 1980, and Power/Knowledge, New York: Pantheon Books, 1981. These works provide the general framework for analysing development as a discourse, i.e. as a Western form of social description. Extensions of these works in connection with development are I. Gendzier, Managing Political Change: Social Scientists and the Third World, Boulder: Westview Press, 1985; P. Morandé, Cultura y Modernizaciôn en America Latina, Santiago: Pontificia Universidad Catôlica de Chile, 1984; V. Y. Mudimbe, The Invention of Africa, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988; and A. Escobar, ‘Power and Visibility: Development and the Invention and Management of the Third World’, Cultural Anthropology, 3(4), November1988.

On the origins of town planning, see L. Benevolo, History of Modern Architecture, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1971; and F. Choay, The Modern City: Planning in the Nineteenth Century, New York: George Bazillier, 1969. The rise of the social is documented in J. Donzelot, The Policing of Families, New York: Pantheon Books, 1979, and L’Invention du Social, Paris: Fayard, 1984. I. Illich discusses the professionalization of needs in Toward a History of Needs, Berkeley: Heyday Books, 1977. More recently, P. Rabinow has tackled the management of space and the normalization of the population in the context of French Colonial North Africa in French Modern. Norms and Forms of the Social Environment, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1989. The role of bio-politics and the narratives of science in the articulation of nature, gender and culture is examined in D. Haraway’s Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science, New York: Routledge, 1989. The two most insightful books on the origins of the modern economy, on the other hand, are K. Polanyi, The Great Transformation, Boston: Beacon Press, 1957 and L. Dumont, From Mandeville to Marr The Genesis and Triumph of Economic Ideology, Chicago The University of Chicago Press, 1977.

Perhaps the most comprehensive (retrospective and prospective) look at planning is J. Friedmann’s Planning in the Public Domain, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987. The critical analysis of institutional practices has been pioneered by D. Smith, The Everyday World as Problematic: A Feminist Sociology, Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1987, and extended by A. Mueller in her doctoral dissertation, The Bureaucratization of Development Knowledge: The Case of Women in Development, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, 1987. E. J. Clay and B. B. Schaffer provide a thorough analysis of the ‘hidden’ practices of development planning in Room for Manoeuvre: An Exploration of Public Policy Planning in Agriculture and Rural Development, Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1984, while G. Wood focuses on the relation between labels and power in his article, ‘The Politics of Development Policy Labeling’, Development and Change, Vol. 16, 1985. A. Ong provides a complex view of the manifold practices and effects of development as biopolitics in Spirits of Resistance and Capitalist Discipline: Factory Women in Malaysia, Albany SUNY Press, 1987. An insightful general treatise on practices of domination and resistance is M. de Certau’s The Practice of Everyday Life, BerkeIey: University of California Press, 1984.

Important elements for redefining development, especially from the vantage point of grassroots alternatives, are found in D. L. Shet, ‘Alternative Development as Political Practice’, Alternatives, XII(2), 1987; V. Shiva, Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development, London: Zed Books, 1989; 0. Fals Borda Knowledge and People’s Power, Delhi: Indian Social Institute, 1988; R. Kothari, ‘Masses, Classes, and the State’, Alternatives, XI(2), 1986; A. Nandy, The Intimate Enemy, Bombay: Oxford University Press, and Traditions, Tyranny and Utopias, Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1987; G. Esteva, ‘Regenerating People’s Space’, Alternatives, XXI(1); and M. Rahnema, ‘A New Variety of AIDS and Its Pathogens: Homo Economicus, Development and Aid’, Alternatives, XIH(l), 1988. The role of social movements in articulating alternative visions of social and political change is explored in A. Escobar and S. Alvarez (eds), New Social Movements In Latin America: Identity, Strategy, and Democracy, Boulder: Westview Press, 1991.  1





Share this page

Facebook icon
Google icon
StumbleUpon icon
Pinterest icon
Reddit icon

The Indian Multiversities Alliance aims to generate meaningful responses to the deep crisis of relevance facing the Indian education system.

At the Swapathgami Film Making Workshop this August, you will get the opportunity to:

· Learn basics of shooting and working with camera

· Make a film with a team

I am 44 years old. I live in Pune with my daughter, Gourika, and son, Ishaan, my parents and our dog, Goldy.

Bollywood loves that particular phase when a man and a woman are falling in love.