Monday, June 12, 2017

Cooper and Packard (1997)

The following is a summary of “Introduction” in International development and the social sciences: essays on the history and politics of knowledge by Frederick Cooper and Randall Packard, published in 1997. Cooper is also the author of Africa Since 1940: The Past of the Present, a book on the end of the colonial era and the start of independence in Africa.

Main ideas:
  1. Development theories throughout the last half century are varied and diverse, although not all have achieved the same level of acceptance or influence.
  2. Development theories are linked to power. Those who pose theories differ in their level of power to be heard and to have their ideas accepted and disseminated, but also, one can use a theory or paradigm as a means of asserting power.
  3. Cooper and Packard seek to understand why development paradigms changed over time. Why did one become popular, or not; why was it accepted for a long time, or not; and why did another paradigm replace it?
Cooper and Packard introduce the idea of development as an idea relating to European colonies in the 1940s. It was an idea adopted by several different parties with different goals. For Great Britain and France, it was a way to "reinvigorate and relegitimize empire as it was being challenged by nationalist movements, labor militancy, and increased questioning of colonial rule... African political and labor leaders seized the vocabulary of state-directed change to escalate demands for wages like those of European workers, for social services on a higher standard, and for the power to direct change themselves" (p. 7). Cooper's book Africa Since 1940 provides more detail here, and this section also ties in to Mahmood Mamdani's Citizen and Subject (1996). Cooper and Packard add that the idea of development offered imperial powers a way to continue influence over ex-colonies even as they lost power over them.

After World War II, the Cold War began, the U.S. was established as a global superpower, and a number of international organizations were established (the UN, World Bank, IMF). How people lived in the Global South was no longer just a matter for the people themselves to decide (or the colonial power that ruled them), but both an international matter and the responsibility of the newly independent states. Like Rist (2002), Cooper and Packard locate Truman's Four Points speech as the moment when Truman "took development out of the colonial realm and made it a basic part of international politics" (p. 8). The creation of the FAO, WHO, UNICEF, etc, solidified this change.

Cooper and Packard also agree with Rist that the development framework was a way for Europe and the U.S. to serve their own national interests while claiming to be motivated by a desire for a "prosperous, stable world" (p. 9).

Cooper and Packard then detailed the shape this discourse took in different regions. In Latin America, they trace the roots of dependency theory initially to a "structuralist" approach by Argentinian Raul Prebisch defining a "center" of the world market that produces manufactured goods and a "periphery" that supplies raw materials. The world market did not favor the periphery (p. 10).

India "experimented with combinations of Soviet planning models and capitalist production" (p. 11). There, a debate occurred over how to be "modern" while still remaining "Indian." They emphasize that there is a lot of grey areas instead of black and white: "struggles do not neatly line up between the friends and foes of development, between "modernity" and "community," but engage differences in a more nuanced manner and involve people who have been immersed as deeply in international organizations and communication as in local social movements" (p. 12).

Africa, they write, was "least able to generate its own academic knowledge" (p. 12). Still, the continent was not without leaders and intellectuals who "pushed a distinct view of economic development, one less oriented than the conventional view toward a generic "developed economy" and more focused on the communitarian roots of African economies" (p. 12).

Cooper and Packard sum up:
"The heterodoxy of development theory in the last half century implies neither randomness nor equality: certain sets of ideas and theories have gained prominence at particular periods of time, while others have been excluded from international debates... Within particular domains the development construct has become a framework that rationalizes and naturalizes the power of advanced capitalism in progressive terms - as the engine bringing those on the bottom "up" toward those who are already there" (p. 12).

Development theory was preceded by events outside of academia. When the so-called "real world" needed development experts, universities began offering training courses - "even before they had much knowledge to offer" (p. 13). In the mid-1940s, development economists claimed a "big push" was needed to "get poor economies into a position where self-generating growth could begin" (p. 13).

One issue for academics was how to resolve their desire for universal principles and theories with the messy particulars of different parts of the world. Examining the approaches of different fields to development, Cooper and Packard write:
"One can see the tension between the contextualizing fields (history, anthropology) and the universalizing fields (economics), as well as the more profound tension inherent in the relationship of social science and policy and the fact that abstract theory and empirical research both arise in concrete situations, in relation to funding possibilities and distinct knowledge communities with their own prestige systems" (p. 16).
Later, they say of modernization theory:
"The 1950s and 1960s were the heyday of modernization theory, a social science approach that purpported to demonstrate that change in one domain of life implied conprehensive reconfiguration, leading virtually to the creation of a new sort of person - rational instead of superstitious, oriented toward achievement rather than status. Modernization theory has been effectively discredited, but the ethos behind it lies behind less comprehensive approaches to development" (p. 17).
This idea is described well by Nick Cullather in The Hungry World as he writes about how modernization theory led those behind the Green Revolution to believe that Asian peasants were irrational but purchasing seeds for "miracle rice" (and, presumably, the inputs needed to grow it) would be a first rational decision that would transform the peasants into rational economic beings.

Cooper and Packard add that "the idea of creating a new person... goes back to missionaries" (p. 17). Such an idea was "downplayed" by colonial governments in the 1920s, but the "development drive of the 1940s brought to the fore once again the possibility of reconstructing Africans or Asians in all aspects of their beings, this time in a way that was attractive to leaders of newly independent countries as it was to social scientists eager to chart the movement from tradition to modernity" (pp. 17-18). (Cullather adds that this change was also attractive to the U.S. during the Cold War, particularly after 1949 when China fell to the Communists and the USSR got the bomb. Millions of Asian peasants who could potentially turn Communist scared them.)

Cooper and Packard go on to describe a further implication - categorization of people who did not make the desired transition. Generic categories ("traditional," "indigenous," etc) "collapsed the variety and complexity of life in particular locations into a single word (p. 18). Critics as well as proponents of development interventions are guilty of this too, only they attach a positive instead of a negative connotation to words like "indigenous" or "community." Cooper and Packard write "Historically... the two sides [modern vs. traditional] are more imbricated in each other than such a dichotomous suggestion implies" (p. 18) because development projects will fail if they do not "resonate in a local context."

The restate the notion that at the end of the colonial era, development was used by both sides for their own ends - by the colonial regime to "reassert control and legitimacy" (p. 18) and by the colonized for other reasons (not stated by Cooper and Packard).

Cooper and Packard say "development is fundamentally about changing how people conduct their lives, and the very claim to technical knowledge is itself a political act" (p. 19).

The question Cooper and Packard ask is: Why do some development theories or paradigms catch on (and sometimes stick around) and not others? Or, as they put it "Complex questions arise about the ways in which economic problems are conceptualized at the interface of social science and policy and the responsiveness of leaders of states or international institutions to counterhegemonic claims" (pp. 19-20). On p. 19 they outline a number of potential explanations and why each does not work. Ultimately, they conclude "paradigm shifts... occur through complex, historically specific interactions" (p. 20).

They provide a few examples of how institutions such as the World Bank adopted development paradigms, without really explaining why they did so. They go on to say that the adoption of a paradigm by an institution does not explain why it is accepted outside the institution. "In part the ability of powerful institutions to disseminate ideas arises from their place at the center of development finance. Money talks. Yet this materialist explanation overlooks the specific networks of communications through which ideas circulate internationally" (p. 21). They add that the power of institutions changes over time. When few alternatives are available, their ideas gain power. Here, Cooper and Packard discuss alternatives not in terms of ideas but financial possibilities. That is, when countries could afford to do something else, some did. But during the credit crunch of the 1980s when that was not possible, they had little choice in what to do. "Much of the current rhetoric about structural adjustment programs is about the absence of alternatives, while critics of such policies try to get the idea of alternatives back in" (p. 22). This might be a reference to TINA: There Is No Alternative (to neoliberalism).

Another potential reason for paradigm shifts was changing politics: "The end of the Cold War narrowed development options by discrediting socialist alternatives" (p. 22). They note that both prior to and after the Cold War, developed nations pushed for "market-led development," compared to during the Cold War, when they sought more intervention due to fear of Communist expansion.

Cooper and Packard see the push for neoliberalism as running counter to the push for democratization: "Compelling as many of the critiques of government corruption, clientalism, and incompetence are, it is not clear that imposed austerity helps to build political capacity" (p. 22). They add that the Washington Consensus pushes for "good governance" and "good economy" are "a bland assertion that the West has defined objective standards for others to meet, a generalized set of categories (elections, multiple parties) that define those standards, irrespective of the actual debates that might be going on in specific contexts over how more people might acquire meaningful voice in their own lives" (p. 23).

The next section deals with how ideas might not simply disseminate from institutions but be appropriated and even changed.

They go on to suggest that language can be even "stickier" than policies, saying: "Concepts like sustainability and participation become a kind of shorthand, distilling complex and in many cases highly problematic processes" (p. 24). They constitute "template mechanisms:" "preconstructed frameworks which are used to simplify and control complex environments" (p. 24). Template mechanisms "structure options, define relevant data, and rule out alternatives" (p. 24).

Cooper and Packard are sympathetic to development efforts. They write:
"Templates, cultural paradigms, and generic representations of the "indigenous" are not about to disappear. Large-scale organizations need to simplify; funding cycles demand replicable project designs. When USAID and other organizations tried to focus on small projects to avoid the problems of giganticism for which past development efforts were rightly criticized, they needed approaches that did not demand deep situational analysis for each project. Academic social scientists should not be dismissive of such difficulties" (p. 26).
Surely, such difficulties exist for USAID in the work they do, but extending understanding to them as advocated above implies approval of both their mission and their methods. That is, it assumes that the Global South must change, that nations like the US and the development agents should change it, and that the projects of USAID are good and necessary. Surely all of the above should be questioned and not taken for granted by social scientists.

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