Post ‐ Development: Decolonial Alternatives to Development


Since the 1990s, the Post-Development critique has sparked debate in development theory and policy. It rejected the entire paradigm of ‘development’ – that there are ‘developed’ and ‘less developed’ countries, thus a universal scale, and that the former can be found in the industrialised West. It furthermore criticised the paradigm’s colonial continuities – a Eurocentric perception of difference as backwardness, legitimising interventions by claiming to ‘develop the underdeveloped’ instead of ‘civilising the uncivilised’, and allowing for the preservation of a colonial division of labour. In the light of these fundamental points of disagreement, Post-Development perspectives declared ‘development’ as beyond reform. Instead of alternative development, they argued, it was necessary to look for alternatives to development. These were to be found in concepts and practices beyond those Western models (to be more precise: those that were hegemonic in the West) which were to be universalized through ‘development’. Concepts and practices arising out of disillusionment with the false promises of ‘development’, inspired by non-Western cultural traditions were presented as potentially bringing forth a Post-Development era.

A quarter of a century later, the idea of ‘development’ still seems as popular as ever, and the hegemony of the models of capitalism, nation state and Western science does not appear to waver. And the processes of economic growth, industrialization and poverty reduction in China and a few other states bear witness to the fact that the promise of ‘development’ was not entirely false – albeit only in some countries, in an autocratic context and with considerable ecological costs, neglecting any alternative ideas of a good society. How can a Post-Development perspective make sense of the markedly changed global order in the 21st century? Does it have to acknowledge that people’s desires for equity are bound to a Western way of life and look for more pragmatic alternatives or would this mean ignoring the manipulative power of discourses of ‘development’? If Post-Development does not want to prescribe how people should live and cherishes the pluriverse of different ideas of a good society, how does it deal with the predicament of ecological destruction and climate change? What is more important: sustainability or self-determination? Or is this a false dichotomy, superseded by conceptions or practices that transcend it?

But is the hegemony really unwavering? The popularity of Buen Vivir/Sumak Kawsay/Suma Qamaña in Latin America, Swaraj in India and Ubuntu in South Africa clearly manifests a desire to transcend the cosmovision of homo oeconomicus, Cartesian rationality and a Baconian, anthropocentric view of nature, in favour of alternatives which see humans as spiritual beings, as embedded in social relations, or as part of nature. Likewise, more and more people marginalised by or fed up with capitalist modernity engage in alternative economic practices inspired by the ideas of commons, reciprocity and solidarity – in the global South and North. Can these be understood as pathways to a Post-Development future or as insufficient steps because they do not confront global capitalism head-on? And what about those few alternatives which do break with the system: can self-organised, democratic alternatives like those in Chiapas or Rojava survive or even grow? Or will they have to compromise their ideals or perish?

There is no doubt that the Post-Development critique has become well-known, perhaps even influential by now – but what happens if the critique reaches the institutions of the development apparatus? Are the institutions being reformed or is the critique being co-opted? Can the structures of development agencies be used for emancipatory purposes, as Enda Graf Sahel is trying to? Or is the World Bank, if it is funding projects with traditional authorities and focused on indigenous knowledge, already depoliticising and incorporating the Post-Development critique? Are there models of global financial redistribution and cooperation which do not reproduce hierarchies?

Project Coordinator

<link mail>Prof. Dr. Aram Ziai 


A Decent work approach to optimize Mango Value chain Governance in Kenya (2017- )

Main Research Questions:Have the needs and governance of the mango value chain operators and how these influence the organizational structures and the performance of the mango industry in Kenya been analyzed?

Project’s aim:

1. To map the pre-investment component (source of planting material, variety, knowledge sharing, cost benefit analysis, and farmer organization and farmer education) of the mango value chain in Makueni and Kwale Counties, Kenya.

2. To characterize the investment options (planting, weeding, crop protection, harvesting- mechanical/manual) available to mango farmers in Kenya.

3. To determine product handling (cleaning, sorting, grading, packaging, labeling and storage) and transformation (primary/secondary) practices by mango value chain actors in Kenya.

4. To analyze the role of marketing/trading (Power dynamics- promotion, transportation, and commodity exchange) and consumer preferences in the mango value chain in Kenya.

5. To understand the relationships between the mango value chain actors in Kenya.

To identify decent work deficits in the mango sector, diagnose the symptoms and causes, and then suggest measures to enhance labor standards in the sector through dialogue and policy advocacy.

Structural Aspects of the Melon Production Chain Produced in Brazilian Northeastern Semiarid Region (2015 - )

The Açú-Mossoro in Northeast Brazil annually produces 250,000 tons of melons, with approximately 80% of this total is exported to European traders. Production is carried out for about just over 20 producers, who are organized as follows: a cooperative of small producers (COODAP); a cooperative of medium producers (COPYFRUTAS); plus a large company. The private company is considered the largest melons producer in the world, with 20,000 hectares of fruits, employing 6000 workers and contributing for 70% of the region's exports.
The research project: investigates labor relations in melon production of the Açu-Mossoró highlighting the quality of jobs created directly by the company and the family farmers; addresses the value added at each link in the production chain of melon produced in Region, including working information on the cost of labor in the final price of the exported product and the contribution of work in different production models; evaluates the impact of changes in the international conjuncture and the Brazilian  exchange rate in terms of employment, workers' remuneration and its contribution to cost of production.

Pilot Study of Small Tea Growers in India: Issues of the Value Chain and Decent Work (2016 - )

Main Research Questions:How do small tea growers (STGs) organise land, capital, labour and work? Are they following similar or diverse pattern? How are the STGs getting organised in order to promote their interest and address the problems? What factors do STGs consider while setting the price and quantity to be supplied and what role does market play? How and in what ways do the STGs add value in the tea production? What are the working conditions of these small tea growers in different spheres of decent work such as social protection and social dialogue?

Project’s aim: Small growers are more vulnerable as compared to large plantation workers. Their vulnerability persists in terms of organizing and bargaining over price setting. The study aims to look at the various issues within the decent work domain especially in terms of social dialogue, access to social protection and other basic work and employment opportunities. Reducing costs of production for small growers would also lead to increase in productivity. Therefore the study aims to establish the linkages between value chain and decent work.
What is the role of the state and how can small tea growers influence the state to provide for other cost reducing activities such as social protection, health facilities, sanitation and prevention of disease, better housing etc.?
This research will explore the value chain of tea. There have been some studies that have followed the manufacture of tea in the large sector to the markets abroad. We should stress here that though the price of tea in the national market has been rising (India is also the largest consumer of tea) and the export sector too is expanding, tea plantation workers are the lowest paid not just in the plantation sector (tea, coffee, rubber, cinchona, cardamom) but also in the formal sector in general. Processed tea, manufactured in the plantations or local factories are either sent to the auction centers (Guwahati, Siliguri, and Kolkata for Eastern India). The large tea marketing companies buy from there. It is believed that cartelization of buyers in the auctions do not allow tea prices to rise even though there may be high demand. The cartels comprising a handful of big buyers (most are MNCs) thus buy tea at lower prices and sell at much higher prices after packaging the product. We will have study this process in order to understand why the producers get less for their product.
If larger plantations are victims of cartelization, small growers are even more vulnerable. If Bought Leaf Factories, like the other producers, get low prices, they will buy green leaves from small growers at lower rates. The small grower too will cut down on labor costs in order to cut down costs of production. This will have an impact on the living conditions of small growers and the labor engaged in these plantations. We need to look at these issues within the ambit of decent work, not merely in terms of wages and living conditions but in other spheres as well such as social dialogue for easing their tensions (what is the role of the state and how can small growers influence the state to provide for other cost reducing activities such as social protection, health facilities, sanitation and prevention of disease, better housing etc. These would help in reducing costs of production for small growers and would also lead to increase in productivity. We can thus see that the value chain and decent work are closely linked.