Post-Development as reactionary populism

Full title

Post-Development as reactionary populism? Anti-hegemonic knowledge production in right-wing parties and think tanks in Germany

General Information

Project's Coordinator:
Prof. Dr. Aram Ziai, University of Kassel

Research Fellow:
Sara Madjlessi-Roudi

Main Research Partner:
Prof. Dr. Sally Matthews, Rhodes University

Research Cluster:
Partnership in knowledge production: Eurocentrism & alternative knowledge

Post-Development, nationalism, populism, knowledge production, Eurocentrism

Main Research Question

In what respects is there an overlap between Post-Development theory and the anti-hegemonic knowledge production on North-South relations and development policy by right-wing parties and think tanks in Germany?


Post-Development has usually been understood as a left-wing approach to development theory and policy, condemning Eurocentrism and relations of power between North and South and arguing the promise of ‘development’ has been used to legitimise the reproduction of a colonial division of labour in a capitalist global economy. Some Post-Development authors have been questioning projects of ‘development’ and modernization, stressing the value of indigenous culture, a re-orientation towards local economies and subsistence agriculture. Recently, these Post-Development ideas have been taken up by right-wing parties, think tanks and civil society groups in Germany which are opposing a Western hegemony. The project maps similarities and differences between their knowledge production and Post-Development theories, contributing to lines of demarcation differentiating right-wing from left-wing alternatives.


In global partnerships in knowledge production, Post-Development approaches are often referred to as anti-Western and anti-hegemonic alternatives. Taking issue with alternative, anti-hegemonic knowledge production in the field of ‘development’, the aim of the project is to explore and refine the division between a form of Post-Development which can be appropriated by right-wing forces for nationalist and authoritarian strategies and another form which cannot. This will contribute to preventing global partnerships in knowledge production from being hijacked by right-wing actors.


The project seeks to investigate the research question focusing on the case study of Germany, where right-wing actors have established themselves in recent years as significant actors in the political system. However, in further projects, it would be interesting to develop a comparative perspective and investigate right-wing Post-Developmentapproaches in India, South Africa, or other GPN partner countries.


The project will relate PD concepts and theories to the empirical analysis of documents of right-wing parties, think tanks and civil society organizations concerning North-Southrelations, global inequality and development policy. These documents will be speeches, party platforms, motions, manifestos, and blogs. The actors to be analysed include the AfD, the Institut für Staatspolitik, Ein Prozent, the Identitäre and the NPD. The analysis will be based on critical discourse analysis (Wodak, Jäger).

Literature Review

Nanda (1999) and Brass (2000) have pointed out that in India Post-Development (PD) approaches have been adopted by affluent farmers as a mobilizing ideology to pursue their class interest and distract from conflicts between landowners and landless labourers by focusing on conflicts between Indian farmers (a category comprising both groups) and Western agricultural corporations or in general Western culture and Indian culture. Building on this insight, but also noting that not all of PD falls into this trap, Ziai (2004) has differentiated between neo-populist PD and skeptical PD, leading to reactionary and radical democratic political consequences respectively. The criteria of this distinction have been the romanticisation of traditional cultures and local communities, the total rejection of modernity, the static concept of culture, and the promotion of a return to subsistence agriculture. This differentiation shall be applied, explored, and refined in the project. In the context of the global North (Germany), it needs to be complemented by another important critique of PD articulated by Matthews (2017): that PD’s arguments of Eurocentrism and cultural difference can serve to deny aspirations for material equality, especially on a global scale, which are usually framed in terms of ‘development’.

Works cited:

Brass, Tom 2000: Peasants, Populism and Postmodernism. The Return of the Agrarian Myth. London: Frank Cass.

Matthews, Sally 2017: “Colonised minds? Post-development theory and the desirability of development in Africa.” Third World Quarterly 38 (12), 2650-2663.

Nanda, Meera 1999: “Who Needs Post-Development? Discourses of Difference, Green Revolution and Agrarian Populism in India.” Journal of Developing Societies 15 (1): 5–31.

Ziai, Aram 2004: “The Ambivalence of Post-Development: Between Reactionary Populism and Radical Democracy.” Third World Quarterly 25 (6): 1045–1060.