This post provides a brief summary of people centred development approaches to social development, including the work of Vandana Shiva.
Why are developing countries underdeveloped?
People Centered Development Theorists generally agree with Dependency Theory about why some countries are underdeveloped – because of a history of exploitation and extraction by western Nation States and TNCs.
PCD theorists are also very critical of the role of large institutions in development – international institutions such as the World Bank and IMF and both western nation states and developing nation states. They argue that big development projects aimed at macro level goals such as increasing GDP and neoliberal strategies of deregulation often do not improve the lives of people ‘on the ground’. In this sense, as Amartya Sen argues, development needs to be about giving people independence so they have real power and choice over their day to day situations, it shouldn’t be ‘top down’ coming from the west, via governments and then trickling down to the people.
People Centered Development theorists also have a much broader conception of what ‘development’ could actually mean. They don’t believe that development has to mean them becoming more like the West and development shouldn’t be seen in narrow terms such as industrialising and bringing about economic growth, development projects should be much smaller scale, much more diverse, and much more coming from the people living in developing countries.
Finally, PCD theorists reject Western Definitions of ‘underdevelopment’ – just because some cultures are rural, non-industrialised, and not trading, doesn’t mean they are inferior.
Vandana Shiva is a good example of a theorist who comes under the umbrella of a People Centred Development approach to development.
She has spent much of her life in the defence and celebration of biodiversity and indigenous knowledge. Seed freedom is central to the idea of Shiva’s work (the rejection of corporate patents on seeds, and protecting the rights of local peoples to save their own seed).
Vandana Shiva has also played a major role in the global Ecofeminist movement. According to her 2004 article Empowering Women, Shiva suggests that a more sustainable and productive approach to agriculture can be achieved through reinstating a system of farming in India that is more centred on engaging women. She advocates against the prevalent “patriarchal logic of exclusion.”
How should developing countries develop?
People centred development means ‘ground up development’ – empowering local communities. Because of this, there are potentially thousands of pathways to development
The thousands of small scale fair trade and micro finance projects around the world are good examples of PCD style projects embedded in a global network.
Bhutan is a good country level example of PCD principles – globalising on their own terms.
Indigenous peoples living traditional lifestyles, effectively rejecting most of what the west has to offer is another good example.
At a global level, PCD theorists believe that any development projects embarked upon should embody three core principles –
- Social Justice – they shouldn’t be based around exploitation (like tied aid is)
- Inclusivity – they should be democratic, bottom up, not top down – they should be designed with communities living in developing countries, not by western experts.
- Sustainable – Projects shouldn’t degrade local environments
Criticisms of People Centred Development
All the other theories argue that, eventually, if a poor country really wants to improve the lives of its people en masse in the long term, it needs money, this can only come from industrialisation and trade, is it really possible to improve standards of living through small scale projects?
Focussing solely on small scale development projects still leaves local communities in developing countries relatively poor compared to us in the West, is this really social justice?
In a globalising world it simply isn’t realistic to expect developing countries (such as Bhutan or groups living in the Rain Forest) to be able to tackle future problems if they remain underdeveloped – eventually population growth or climate change or refugees or drugs or loggers are going to infiltrate their boarders, and it is much easier to respond to these problems if a country has a lot of money a well functioning state and a high level of technology.
PCD is too relativistic – is it really the case that all cultures have equal value and diverse definitions and paths to development should be accepted? Do we really just accept that patriarchy and FGM are OK in places like Saudi Arabia and Somalia because that’s what their populations have ‘chosen’?