1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Social Policy and Development (2000 - 2009)

Democratizing Development (Draft)

Democratization and development are both forward-looking concepts. That is to say, they refer to processes of cumulative social change that can result in future political and economic outcomes that are qualitatively different from (and superior to) present conditions. As such both concepts are necessarily long-term, dynamic, and macro-historical in scope. They also both express a normative standpoint. (It would not make sense to classify as “development” a transformation to a state of affairs that was judged qualitatively inferior to its starting point). Indeed, from a genealogical perspective they are both offshoots of the Western/enlightenment ideal of progress. In an earlier phase of social science theorizing they were both subsumed under the umbrella discourse of “modernization”. But as political science and economics subsequently became more professionalized and differentiated democratization and development were isolated in separate analytical compartments, and efforts were made to strip both of them of their historical and subjective connotations. They were both isolated, objectified, dissolved into measurable proxies and separated from their ethical foundations. Such analytical procedures were initially a healthy antidote to the ideological distortions and teleological biases implicit in much classical discussion of “progress” and more recently of “modernization”, but the antidote produced its own harmful “side effects”.

Since the end of the Cold War efforts have been made by the UNDP and others to reconcile the requirements of contemporary social science methodology with the holistic characteristics of these concepts, and to bring the discourses of democracy and development back into contact with each other, while restoring their energizing value commitments. This paper is a further effort in that direction. But the key assumption here is that there is no easy reconciliation of theoretically incompatible positions, and that a successful approach involves a return to first principles. So the thrust of this paper is to “reculer pour mieux sauter”.

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