Post-De­ve­lop­ment in Prac­tice

Full Tit­le

Post-Development in Practice – Empirical evidence from India, Iran, South Africa and Germany

Ge­ne­ral In­for­ma­ti­on

Project's Coordinators:
Prof. Dr. Aram Ziai (University of Kassel)

Main Research Partner:
Prof. Dr. Sally Matthews (Rhodes University)
Ashish Kothari (Kalpavriksh Environment Action Group)
Prof. Dr. Pooya Alaedini (University of Teheran)

Research Collaborator:
Julia Schöneberg (University of Kassel)

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

Post-development, pluriverse, knowledge production, alternatives, living well

Main Re­se­arch Ques­ti­ons

  • What can be considered an 'alternative to development' in the contexts of India, Iran, South Africa and Germany?
  • What do alternative concepts and practices look like, do they lead to sustainable livelihoods, and (how) are they in danger of being instrumentalised as an ideology by elites?
  • What can be learned from a comparative view?


‘Development’ theory and practice remains attached and confined to a narrow modernist conception of how a ‘good’ society should look like (Ziai 2016). As a counter, the proposed project asserts the imperative of ‘development’ pluralism (Nederveen Pieterse 2010) and the urgent need to consider and valorize non-Western, non-hegemonic alternatives of structuring politics, society and the economy: Post-Development alternatives. The GPN project serves to prepare a larger study on non-Western alternatives to ‘development’ departing from Santos’ claim that “the immensity of alternatives of life, conviviality and interaction with the world is largely wasted because the theories and concepts developed in the Global North [...] do not valorize them as being valid contributions towards constructing a better society” (Santos 2014:20). The core of the project is a closer and comparative view on non-western concepts and knowledges, as well as non-western economic, social and political practices India, Iran, South Africa. In light of Agenda 2030 ambitions to include the North and go beyond the “colonial gaze” (Bendix 2017) the project will also seek to uncover non-hegemonic practices in Germany.


The aim of the project is the preparation of a larger proposal to be submitted in January 2022 to the German Research Foundation (DFG). The envisaged DFG-funded project will pursue the agenda collectively elaborated within the next months with the help of empirical components in four countries. Research results concerning non-Western/non-hegemonic concepts and practices will be fed back into the GPN network, thereby contributing to building sustainable research relationships among the collaborators as well as delivering substantive research insights towards partnership in knowledge production and alternative, i.e. non-hegemonic, knowledges.


The envisaged DFG project will investigate Ubuntu, Gharbzadegi, Eco-Swaraj and Degrowth as examples for alternatives to ‘development’. It will identify and analyse these as sets of theories, strategies and visions that all depart from a similar critique of ‘development’ as an imperial and hegemonic construct based on a firm logic of coloniality, but that take different shapes and are practiced in different governmental and societal arenas according to various epistemological and ontological underpinnings. The project seeks to advance the state of the art of ‘development’ theory in two respects: 1) It includes empirical observations from geographical areas hitherto neglected such as South Africa, and Iran, 2) In line with the Agenda 2030 it shifts the ‘development’ focus as to include the Global North, both in terms of colonial legacies and root causes of inequality and poverty, as well as in terms of German/European social and political activism. The insights drawn from this research will support comparative theory building and lay a basis for further theorization of transitional discourses and practices more generally as envisaged by Kothari et al. (2019).

Li­te­ra­tu­re Re­view

Departing from the body of critical development theory, postdevelopment and decolonial literature (Sachs 1992, Escobar 1995, 2020; Rahnema 1997, Gudynas 2018; Quijano 2017; Santos 2014; Ziai 2004, 2018, among many others), the project contributes to the discussion most recently shaped by two-edited volumes: “Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary” (Kothari et al 2019) and “Postdevelopment in Practice” (Klein and Morreo 2018). “Pluriverse” offers a wealth of concepts, cosmovisions and practices showcasing the utopia of a “world in which many worlds fit” in contrast to western-propagated universalism. The editors make a distinction between “reformist solutions”, merely aiming at universal models and concepts, and what they frame as “transformative initiatives”, seeking to unfold a pluriverse of alternatives. While the alternatives described source from all parts of the world, they share fundamental commonalities as to what a good life and well-being entails: unity of human and non-human, community and interdependence, sovereignty and self-government. All of them critique the logic and impact of the anthropocene, (neo)-extractivism and uncritical belief in euro-modernist ideologies of progress and growth. The other volume, “Postdevelopment in Practice”, aims to critically engage and offer a review of present postdevelopment activities. The editors assert that postdevelopment in practice “begins with the insistence that an enduring diversity of socialities, a multiplicity of southern knowledges and nature/culture assemblages and postcolonial political economies reveals already existing alternatives” (Klein Morreo 2018: 8). The preparatory study and the ensuing larger DFG projects builds on these attempts and contributes empirical evidence as to what extent alternative practices have led to feasible sustainable livelihoods and/or continue to do so. Both volumes point out that there are transformative initiatives to be researched beyond the classical cases of Latin America (Buen Vivir, Zapatistas, Afrocolumbian communities) – which is what the project sets out to do.


Each empirical case study will be carried out by a local researcher. The preparatory study serves to identify further relevant actors/activists/movements that should be involved in further research. The fundamental outset of both the preparatory study as well as the ensuing DFG-project is to ensure and practice a decolonial, collaborative and horizontal research ethics that is non-extractive and accommodating of non-academic collaborators. The main methods used will be document analysis (for strategies and programmes of governmental and non-governmental actors), qualitative interviews with representatives of these actors and participant observations to evaluate whether the alternatives practices lead to sustainable livelihoods.

Suc­cess Cri­te­ri­ons

Submission of DFG application for a research project “Towards a reinvention of development theory: comparing Post-Development concepts and practices” in January 2022.