1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Rethinking Development Economics

  • Project from: 2001 to 2003


This project, initiated in 2001, had for objective the need to rethink development economics after its fall from grace in policy circles. This downfall had reflected itself in the dramatic changes in the teaching of economics, with neoclassical economics extending into all areas of social life, totally oblivious to the structural characteristics and historical origins of the phenomenon under study.

The demise of development economics and its marginalization in economics departments produced a dearth of competence. Much of the funding for the training of economists in the 1980s and 1990s was guided by the need to build “capacity” in the areas that orthodoxy felt were important. These evolved around issues of stabilization and trade liberalization. In Africa, vast amounts of money were spent to produce competence in these two areas. Yet as disillusionment with SAP as a development strategy grew, there was a furtive search for knowledge in producing “comprehensive development frameworks” reminiscent of development planning, of institutional design, of growth economics, poverty reduction, etc. The danger was that much of this knowledge would be produced as an appendage to the corpus of orthodox views of the economy, and without the kind of fundamental questioning of the neoclassical paradigm that Keynesian economics and development economics entails.

If development economics were to be revived, it would have to take on a whole range of issues in a vastly altered global environment: new approaches in the discipline of economics; new views of the state; the new social agenda. Yet a coherent intellectual endeavour in this direction seemed to be lacking. With this project, UNRISD sought to ensure that the many important analytical efforts under way would be more than mere appendages to the orthodox (neoliberal) view of the economy, and would instead constitute the first steps in a thorough rethinking of development economics.

This project was co-ordinated by Thandika Mkandawire.