What is development?

Is it possible to compare different cultures’ levels of development? 

Development: is it a “buzzword”, as Rist suggests? Is it a way to aid countries with a weaker economic system, pay reparations for our history of colonialism, or could it be a continuation of our imperialism?

I try to maintain faith that in many cases the intention behind development is good. Governments pouring aid into less developed countries may have more overt purposes, but many people still enter the industry with the genuine desire to help improve the lives of people living in poverty. However, whether this is merely a projection of the quality of life we believe people in other countries should have based on our own values is a matter for discussion.

Studying Anthropology alongside International Development is allowing me to interpret the industry differently. Many anthropologists feel disdain at the way Development still views different cultures through the perspective of prominent figures in the early 20th century; the idea that development is a linear line and some cultures are further behind than others is a concept conventionally dismissed in Anthropology since Boas’ theory of cultural relativism. For centuries this interpretation of development validated racism and justified the colonisation of indigenous peoples; if we are still prescribing to this through the development industry today we are arguably still pursuing Western imperialism. Continue reading