The Global Economic Crisis and Beyond: What Possible Future(s) for Development Studies?

Abstract

The context for ‘development’ – however defined – is changing, not only because of the global economic crisis, but also in light of broader changes. If the context for development is changing, then the study of this ‘development’ will also need to adapt to these changing circumstances. This article seeks to contribute to debates on the future of development studies (DS), and consider what the changing context for ‘development’ might mean for a new ‘operating system’ within DS. The article outlines two possible stylised futures to trigger debate, respectively based on a widening or a narrowing of the scope of DS: A future DS with a broader scope via global perspectives on inter-connected development (a ‘one-world’ DS); and a future DS with a narrower scope via attention to the needs of the poorest countries or the poorest people (a ‘bottom billion’ DS).

Le contexte du ‘développement’ – quelqu′en soit la définition – est actuellement en mutation. Ceci est vrai non seulement à la lumière de la crise économique mondiale, mais aussi à cause d’autres changements plus généraux de grande envergure. Si le contexte du développement évolue, il est clair que l’étude de ce ‘développement’ devra, d′une manière ou d′une autre, s′adapter à ces changements. Cet article cherche à contribuer à la réflexion sur l′avenir des études du développement et à examiner les implications des évolutions du contexte du développement pour l′émergence d′un nouveau ‘système d′exploitation’ pour la recherche sur le développement. Nous présentons deux possibles scénarios stylisés afin de provoquer un débat, basé respectivement sur un élargissement et un rétrécissement du champ de la recherche sur le développement : Une recherche dont le champ d′analyse est élargi à travers des perspectives globales sur un développement interdépendant (une recherche sur le développement d’un monde ‘dans son ensemble’) vis-à-vis d′une recherche dont le champ est plus étroit, davantage centrée sur les besoins des pays ou populations les plus pauvres (les études du développement focalisées sur ‘le milliard du bas’).

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Notes

  1. 1.

    See also the EADI Development Studies Dossier at www.eadi.org/programmes/dossiers/dossier-on-development-studies.html.

  2. 2.

    For example, the Institute of Development Studies at the Nairobi University, Kenya and the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies in Dhaka, the Institute of Social Studies in the Hague, and Institute of Development Studies at Sussex University, all date to this time period as do the Journal of Development Studies – 1965; Development and Change – 1970; World Development – 1973.

  3. 3.

    Noting, for example, the IMF's recent spat with Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) and claim and counter claim on both organisations’ homepages as to the content of IMF programmes: Weisbrot et al (2009, p. 4) argue that in 31 of 41 countries, the IMF's crisis agreements contain pro-cyclical fiscal or monetary macro-economic policies (and both in 15 countries) that might be expected to worsen recessions. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa although IMF crisis agreements have included expansionary fiscal policy in 4 countries (Zambia, Tanzania, Mozambique and Niger), there has been contractionary fiscal policy in a further 9 (Burkino Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Congo, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Mali and Senegal – ibid, p. 9).

  4. 4.

    One might also note the 5-year, multi-country research of both the Wellbeing in Developing Countries network as well as the Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative that have stimulated academic debate.

  5. 5.

    There are various ongoing projects seeking to make sense of such ‘meta-trends’ and their complex interactions. Take, for example, the US National Intelligence Council's (US NIC) 2020 Project and related Global Trends 2010, 2015 and 2025 and the EADI European Development Co-operation 2010 and 2020 projects (see, respectively, www.dni.gov/nic/NIC_2020_project.html and www.edc2020.eu). For those who like a long-term view, the University of Denver's Pardee Centre for International Futures may be of interest. Available via their website is a long-term integrated modelling system covering demographic, economic, energy, agricultural, socio-political and environmental subsystems for 182 countries interacting in the global system. One can download the software and explore alternative future scenarios oneself. The centre conducts work for the US NIC, EC and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). It is currently estimating development in the mid-twenty-first century and beyond (see www.ifs.du.edu/).

  6. 6.

    One might note as evidence, although from a UK-lens, the recent review of UK university research in development studies which noted many of the themes commented on above as emerging areas of enquiry: ‘Emerging fields [in development studies] include identity (notably religion); conflict and security; migration and refugees; the specialist study of children; the Asian drivers of development (notably China); value chains, corporate enterprises and CSR; new problems of urban development – together with new kinds of comparative research across regions, new applications of methods from developing countries to advanced ones (e.g. participation, and development ethnography) and work focusing on change in advanced countries of relevance to developing ones’ (Research Assessment Exercise Development Studies Panel, 2008, p. 7).

  7. 7.

    The Group of 77 has since grown to 131 countries but retains its original name.

  8. 8.

    For Collier, the foci and purpose would be to prioritise growth and governance. Collier (2007, p. 11) does ‘not share the discomfort about growth’ felt by many people caring about development, he argues that the problem of the Bottom Billion is that ‘they have not had any growth’, rather than the ‘wrong type of growth’ and he claims that ‘growth usually does benefit ordinary people’. His diagnosis is clear: ‘the failure of the growth process in these societies simply has to be our core concern, and curing it the core challenge of development’ (Collier, 2007, p. 11).

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Acknowledgements

The author acknowledges three anonymous referees who contributed to the shaping of this article via their comments. Parts of this article draw on and develop discussions of Sumner and Tribe (2009; Chapter 2).

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Sumner, A. The Global Economic Crisis and Beyond: What Possible Future(s) for Development Studies?. Eur J Dev Res 23, 43–58 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1057/ejdr.2010.56

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Keywords

  • crisis
  • futures
  • poverty
  • development studies