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Africa Humiliated? Misrecognition in Development Aid


Critiques of development aid from its recipient’s sometimes draw our attention to the perception of paternalism on the part of ‘development industry’ actors. Even within participatory project designs, critical voices recount experiences of clear power divides and informal hierarchies determining the content and form of ‘cooperation’. While neoliberal as well as neo-Marxist scholars base their critiques on a distributive scheme of global justice, post-development theory emphasizes respect and recognition as the central aspect of justice Indeed, post-development theorists continue to complain of neo-colonial power structures between nations as well as on a micro-level between the ‘experts’ and local people. The latter feel misrecognized in being judged according to the parameters of Western actors within the international community. This article explores how charges of misrecognition within development cooperation challenge the assumption by many liberal political theorists that more global justice could be achieved through more aid.

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  1. The declaration of the ‘Millennium Development Goals’ (2000) by the United Nations put poverty reduction as a central concern of development cooperation back on the agenda. This paradigmatic shift constituted a turn away from questions of global structural policy to a language of technical fixes within a ‘struggle against poverty’; from a politicized debate on issues of global justice to a discourse of social engineering in a rather clinical vocabulary (Rist 2008, pp. 229–239).

  2. Sartre uses his account of the master–slave dialectic, developed in L’Être et le néant: Essai d’ontologie phénoménologique (1943) for his analysis of anti-Semitism in Réflexions sur la question juive (1945/46). Fanon’s interpretation of the colonial master–slave dialectic as objectification and exclusion from the realm of human recognition was also heavily inspired by Kojeve’s reading of the Hegel in Introduction à la lecture de Hegel (1947) (Kleinberg 2003).

  3. In this early stage of Fanon’s writing, he refers mainly to the experiences of racism by a ‘black’ person from the Antilles who arrived in France. In 1953, he moves to Algeria in order to work in a psychiatric hospital. His later work, particularly The Wretched of the Earth (1961), is highly influenced by his experience of the revolutionary struggle in North Africa.

  4. ‘For the Negro who works on a sugar plantation in Le Robert, there is only one solution: to fight’ (Fanon 1967, p. 224).

  5. Epistemic justice comes close to what Fraser designates as ‘cultural injustice’ and it can be categorized as belonging to the axis of ‘recognition’ within her tripartite conception of justice. Justice is defined by her through the principle of participatory parity of all the agents involved (Fraser 2009, p. 58).

  6. In her latest writings, Fraser (2010) addresses also transnational issues like global poverty. However, her theoretical vocabulary of ‘recognition’, ‘representation’ and ‘redistribution’ has been derived from analyzing social struggles within the Northern welfare state. In my opinion, it will need revision in order to be fruitfully applied in the global context.

  7. The first meaning designates what de Sousa Santos (2007) conceptualizes as ‘cognitive justice’, being the ground for global social justice. The second category has been theoretically explored by Miranda Fricker (2007) as ‘testimonial justice’, being a sub-category of ‘epistemic justice’. The third category could be approximately identified with what I. M. Young (1990, pp. 58–61) calls ‘cultural imperialism’ within her theorizing of justice in view of an emerging politics of difference.

  8. Borrowing from Santos' (2007) use of the term, with the term ‘global South’, I designate a structural locus of exploitation, mostly the peripheral and semi-peripheral zones of the global world system. Today, however, it can be situated also within the geographical North through labor migration and rising inequality. Vice versa, there exists also a ‘global North’ in the geographical South.

  9. Diop, Traore and Ndione do not differentiate between ‘development aid’ and ‘humanitarian aid’, and discuss them together as one common field of practices and discourses. Traore mainly speaks of ‘aid’, whereas Diop tends to refer to ‘humanitarism’ and Ndione speaks of ‘cooperation’ and ‘development’. All of them refer to similar practices. Accordingly, my discussion will follow their respective usage.

  10. For a good overview on proponents of post-development theory, see Rahnema and Bawtree (1997) and the previous theoretical explorations in Sachs (1992).

  11. ‘Although development assistance is low compared to other capital flows (a tiny fraction of 1% of global GDP), these funds can be extremely important to particular recipients. For example, according to figures from the mid-1990s, Burkina Faso received 98% of its annual government budget in development assistance, Laos about 80%, Nepal about 50%, Ethiopia about 25%, and Kenya about 15%. Haiti received twice its government’s annual budget in development assistance.’ (Jamieson 2005, p. 160).

  12. Fraser (2009, p. 28) distinguishes between affirmative and transformative remedies for injustice: ‘By affirmative remedies for injustice I mean remedies aimed at correcting inequitable outcomes of social arrangements without disturbing the underlying framework that generates them. By transformative remedies, in contrast, I mean remedies aimed at correcting inequitable outcomes precisely by restructuring the underlying generative framework. The nub of the contrast is end-state outcomes versus the processes that produce them.’ Although she derived her vocabulary from the analysis of the Northern welfare state, this categorical distinction can be a useful tool for analyzing remedies for injustices on a global scale that concern interrelated spheres of production and representation.


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I am grateful to Rainer Forst, John Mage, Nicholas Smith, Sebastian Schindler as well as the editors for helpful comments and criticims. For the generous institutional support I owe special thanks to the Cluster of Excellence “The Formation of Normative Orders” in Frankfurt.

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Correspondence to Franziska Dübgen.

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Dübgen, F. Africa Humiliated? Misrecognition in Development Aid. Res Publica 18, 65–77 (2012).

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  • Epistemic justice
  • Fanon
  • Recognition theory
  • Postcolonial theory
  • Critical development theory
  • Transnational solidarity