I’ve been meaning to write a post summarising the key themes that stood out to me during my first year of development studies. Since this post is coming rather late (and that I’m now more than 18 months into my course), I will attempt to amalgamate what should be two posts into one. I’ll try and keep it brief…
Disclaimer: These are my personal thoughts and reflections on my study thus far. This was not intended to be an academic exercise with APA referencing. I’ll try and reference where I can!
I have greatly enjoyed and benefited from the interdisciplinary nature of development studies. It draws on wide variety of disciplines within the social sciences and humanities such as anthropology, sociology, politics, economics and even a bit of history. As a person who is constantly finding dubious linkages across disparate topics, this has been like semi-heaven.
Furthermore, despite my first degree being in finance & economics, I can unequivocally say that the development studies department feels like “home”. It has stoked the fire of my social justice heart, whilst tempering my wild improbable dreaming with some more robust theoretical frameworks. Or in other words – it has helped shape my thinking about human rights and poverty issues.
An over-arching theme that has encapsulated this for me is the notion of power-inequality.
There are a number of concepts and theories in the social sciences which address different symptoms or aspects of power-inequality. I will address three that spoke to me the loudest.
Post-colonialism: As a person hailing from a colonised nation, this is a theory I understood intuitively at the outset. However it is more complex than “colonialism is bad”. It attempts to uncover the wide-reaching effects of the colonial past on cultures and nations. In addition looks at how colonial history plays out today in development work and in the modern “international community”. An eye-opener for me was learning that development studies came about as a way of employing ex-colonial administrators when they returned home. With such “interesting roots” – it’s understandable that some critics of foreign aid label it as neo-colonialism / neo-imperialistic. Post-colonial scholars will also often point out that today’s international trade regime somewhat resembles the colonial period. Whereas in the past imperial governments controlled the colonies, today the new imperial masters are the multinational corporations that wield a considerable amount of power over developing country governments.
Neoliberalism: This could basically be interpreted as “the market will decide… EVERYTHING”. Well, not quite everything, but a lot of things. In a perfect world, where everyone has equal access to life’s necessities and people had “healthy” levels of greed – just enough to inspire innovation, free markets are the best option. Unfortunately, this is not the case, as we see time and time again. Markets fail either because they do or because greed simply runs amok. With the brief study I have done on microfinance, Nigeria’s economic situation and through conversations about New Zealand’s economic history, I have gleaned that the 1980s was a bad time economically for many nations. During this period, the World Bank advised many developing country governments to down-size and give the market (namely financial market) more free reign. The result was skyrocketing unemployment and poverty levels, as well as decreased government spending to off-set the hardship. Needless to say, neoliberalism is a dirty word in the development studies department.
We also must not forget the Global Financial Crisis of 5 years ago, the devastating effects of climate change and the widening gap between the rich and poor between and within countries. Thus, whilst markets themselves are not innately bad, it has made me more appreciative of the need for balance.
Patriarchy: Another reviled concept within development circles. The Oxford Dictionary of English defines it as a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.
Obviously it is more pronounced in some societies than others. It manifests in subtle ways such as men being paid more than women who are equally qualified, performing the same job. Or it could be exploitation of the female body in advertising. Alternatively it can be more extreme such wife-beating being enshrined in law or severely restricting the movement of women. Either way, patriarchal systems effectively say “female perspective is less important and she is subordinate”. Some people reading this blog will probably be thinking “I don’t see a problem here…?” However as someone who believes that all people are equally deserving of dignity, respect and a life free of discrimination, I see a big problem. A problem that I could talk about for a few more thousand words (but not on this post).
It is no surprise then that such a concept led given me the confidence to wear the badge of feminism with pride. Not a man-hating, bra-burning lesbian feminist. Rather a feminist in the theme of Chimamanda Adichie’s “Happy African Feminist”. One that believes domestic violence is never ok; one that believes women have the right to say “no” to unwanted sexual advances whether or not it is from a stranger, boss or spouse; one that believes girls should be allowed to finish school and not be pulled out early to marry an old man she did not choose; one that believes a baby girl has just as much right to life as a baby boy…. And most relevant to my thesis topic – one that believes that widows have the right to remain in their matrimonial property (and inherit their husband’s estate) irrespective of whether or not they have sons or if they have children at all.
These three major themes of Post-colonialism, Neoliberalism and Patriarchy have helped me interpret the world around me – from international political upheavals, to poverty issues I see prevalent within my local community. I can especially see how they interrelate and interact within my thesis topic. However, that will be for another post!
This will be my last “promised” post of 2013, unless I have a sudden burst of enthusiasm to convert my internal rants into text. However, I advise you not to hold your breath.
I wish you all a joyous Christmas and blessed New Year! May you be blessed by the only gift worth having – the promise of the resurrection and perfect reconciliation with our King Yahweh through his Son Jesus.
Thanks for reading my sporadic posts over the past year and being so supportive and encouraging. 🙂