The Palgrave Handbook of International Development

pp 77-98


Democracy and Development: A Relationship of Harmony or Tension?

  • Matthew Louis BishopAffiliated withUniversity of the West Indies, Trinidad and Tobago


There is a general acceptance in both popular discourse and the more mainstream parts of political science and international studies that democracy and development are conducive to each other. However, this is an extremely problematic view. Both concepts are often taken at face value and rarely problematised: they remain inadequately understood by policymakers, analysts, and academics. Despite the fact that they reflect but one perspective among many, it is globally hegemonic, liberal understandings of both that have decisively shaped prevailing attitudes. Not only is this questionable intellectually, in that the belief that democracy and development exist in symbiosis rests on deeply political foundations, but the resultant practical attempts to promote them globally also embody a range of value-laden ideological characteristics. The argument advanced in the chapter is not that democracy and development are not, or cannot be, supportive of each other. Rather, I illustrate how, with reference to three distinct contemporary phenomena—ambiguities in the official global democracy and development agendas, new patterns of authoritarian resilience and development, and the emerging democratic and developmental crisis in the West—the relationship between the two is more complex, ambiguous, and contingent than it often appears.