Over my seven years of being involved in development work my thinking and understanding related to development: the action, the term, and the mentality, has evolved, been destroyed, and is more often radically (double meaning) recreated. The growth in my thinking from my youthful naïve, but very open and un-restricted, thinking has been one that has taken me on more than one adventure. While the Capstone course in international development has helped me to build a theoretical framework and apply new buzzwords to my ideas of development, it has not so much changed my thinking in the realm of development. My ideas cannot be narrowed to only five principles, but I will cover those that I have determined to be necessary for a base of effective and responsible development. This will be my attempt to answer Alan Thomas’ question,
The alternative vision, based on the realization of human potential in diverse ways, allows for the immanent development at the level of individuals and communities, which should become ‘empowered’ to develop themselves to their full capacities. However, there is no clear model for how development of this kind might build on itself to create a self-reproducing process of social change […] (36)
The alternatives that many people are working to employ now are often mirrors of original subsistence-living, traditional and indigenous communities. As such my definition of development reflects the ideas of these communities rooted in sustainability.
I am not allowed to define development. It is not my place and it is not my task unless I am part of a community that seeks to take actions on its future. Development, in my opinion, is a very sensitive term and can only be given definition in the community in which it will be implemented. This follows my beliefs of all definitions of words. In this case, the full contextual load associated with the development term requires a departure from even the use of the term and instead an outlining of what a community seeks to accomplish. Development, as a singularly defined term, will only again assert power over people sought to be ‘developed.’ The power of words and their use by people is still a very important concept. So, I cannot give a definition, but I can give principles with their own definitions to allow others agency in their own development. Definition of development: __________________.
I: Small Scale
We have fled the land and crowded into cities leaving the natural (environment) commons to be destroyed and exploited. Alternatives spring up left and right that call for a co-evolution of man and nature, sometimes called ecological development, because it takes into account every aspect of our world system that sustains our lives.
Modern man does not experience himself as a part of nature but as an outside force destined to dominate and conquer it. (Schumacher, 14)
People need to re-situate themselves in a new natural commons where the perpetuation of that natural commons is the number one goal. People and nature can co-evolve, our thinking and structures just need to recognize this and find ways for that idea to work.
Within this principle, localization and relocalization are very important. Means of production and consumption need to be made smaller in scale, into economies of scale.
[…] people who live in highly self-sufficient local communities are less likely to get involved in large-scale violence than people whose existence depends on world-wide systems of trade. (Schumacher, 62)
These localized economies of scale will reduce the need to take extreme measures to provide a commodity half way across the world when a working alternative exists. Take fruit for example, I love mangoes, but it is entirely unnecessary that I eat one at the expense of cheap labor, petro-industry perpetuation, and wasteful delivery systems when I could walk outside into my backyard and eat a beautiful Michigan apple. Developing localization also builds community and cooperation between people who may otherwise believe they are completely disconnected. The values of interdependence and tolerance will be ever more important.
A world of ‘humanized’ production, based on a small scale but modern and scientific technology, a world of co-operation in villages and small towns, a world of enriched social relationships growing out of a process of production and exchange that is under human control rather than ‘alienated’. . . (Kitching, 179 qtd. Thomas)
In a sense, people need to be reintroduced to their world and their neighbors (they live just next door). We need to find a way to live in our natural commons, not on it or just off of it. Our parasitic tendencies need to be reversed and we need to become givers to that which provides us everything. All must worship our mother who art not in heaven (mother nature). This will allow us greater agency in our own development, which is a collective endeavor.
In this localized economy of scale we will return to nature and again understand how to be responsible producers and consumers, we will reorient ourselves with that which has become a commodified human need: food. For this principle step one is starting a farmer’s market in your community or getting involved in local politics.
Cooperation is natural and it works. It is probably the most effective development model in existence. People and creatures work together for mutual benefit more often than they choose the option that only helps themselves. Evidence of this is displayed in symbiotic relationships between disparate life forms.
People have also formed structures that allow for greater cooperation between themselves: cooperatives, collectives, and communes. Even religious societies,
“They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers. […] All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need.” (Acts of the Apostles, 43-47)
All forms focus on a lifestyle that is centered on working for the good of the whole community. Cooperatives often formed in response to practices of monopoly, failures of the free market, exploitation, oppression, and global capitalist destructions.
“[…] in an era of capital concentration and corporate malfeasance, grassroots community responses can make a major contribution to providing a better living environment.” (Merrett & Walzer)
Cooperatives are based on principles of voluntary association, democratic and consensus decision-making by all community members, member participation, autonomy and independence, education, cooperation with other cooperatives, and concern for community. These are principles that are very much related to the five principles I outline here. Cooperatives are important tools for community building and can strengthen localization efforts by allowing everyone to take part in economics and decisions. Cooperatives also foster tolerance and respect.
“Co-ops often played a role in uniting different ethnic groups in their new communities.” (Merrett & Walzer, 29)
Becoming closer to each other as people living in the same world goes along with cooperatives efforts to be ecologically sustainable with minimal impact on the natural commons. Respect for both people and nature will be fostered as more small-scale cooperatives are formed in support of a localized economy of scale. Step one for this principle is joining a cooperative or communal organization.
Anarchy is a philosophy and theory that, “regards the absence of all direct or coercive government as a political ideal and that proposes the cooperative and voluntary association of individuals and groups as the principal mode of organized society (dictionary.com). In practice decentralization is essentially anarchy. A decentralized system is still a system, with its part linked by mutual transactions and interdependence (Kochen, 18). In 1973, E.F. Schumacher wrote that poverty is essentially a problem of two million villages and the solutions to poverty would not come from the cities, but from those villages (204). His idea is often replicated in the work of development projects and NGOs, including Jeffrey Sachs’ work.
Jeffrey Sachs says decentralization is necessary because, “the details will need to be decided at the village level, in the villages and cities themselves” (278). This model is represented in his Millennium Villages Project (MVP), however the extent of decision making at the village level is undetermined, if it exists at all. Sachs’ best known critic, William Easterly, writes his theories of development based on a bottom-up market approach and so it is already decentralized from the start, but unfortunately it works towards an end goal of centralization (Easterly, 100). To join the crew of prominent development economists, Joseph Stiglitz wrote in a World Bank report,
In many cases innovative approaches to service delivery will involve greater participation by local communities and decentralization of decisionmaking. (Stiglitz, 1998)
The model that these top (and top-down) economists should use is best known as “autonomous development.” Development that is defined and controlled by local people is autonomous. This type of development is exemplified by indigenous groups in the Andes, where they define development as “wellbeing not only of the individual, but also of the world around them (Saravia qtd. in Ruonavaara). Related to this, Esteva writes that people sought to liberate themselves from their economic chains and so created new commons in their neighborhoods, barrios, and villages (20). From the ideas of anarchy and decentralization rooted in autonomous development, the possibilities are real to create,
Anarchy works to support cooperative, voluntary mutual aid and association, without the interference of government. It is not a philosophy of violence and chaos as many wrongly believe, it is rather an attempt to embody a society where people have control of their own development which is to occur through cooperation between individuals in cooperative communities. Step one: reject the national government and begin governing your life by your interactions with community members.
“The most effective forms of organization are based on partly autonomous and contextually rooted local units linked by connective structures, and coordinated by formal organizations.” (Tarrow, 137)
There can be no centralized control over anyone or anything. Everything must be related to a common community so that the effects and impacts are known and felt. Successes and failures will reflect on the operation of said community and will allow no one the ability to claim ignorance. Autonomy allows for each person to develop themselves as a separate sovereign unit within the community. As such no external agendas could take over ‘development’ of the community and the people living and working will have complete control over what they need and how they will get it.
The really helpful things will not be done by big organizations; but they can be done by people themselves […] (Schumacher, 205)
The only thing that large organizations can and should facilitate is the dissemination of information, best practices, and means of communicating with distant voices. Large organizations should remain small in structure and focused solely on a goal of educating. Autonomy is essential for small-scale, cooperative, anarchic communities for people to actualize their own power and potential as well as providing everyone agency in their own development. Step one: make sure groups/ companies you associate with are not just power hungry minorities that don’t allow members to participate.
Small-scale + cooperative + autonomous + anarchic = a socialist utopia.
Would Marx be proud? Perhaps, but Robert Owen, founder of the cooperative movement, would be more proud. Marx called Owen’s ideas “utopian socialism.” So the last great evil that I will write about is probably the most formative concept for creating a new definition of ‘development.’ The basic tenet of socialism: ‘from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs’ reflects the ideas of Jesus, cooperation, autonomy, and definitely small-scale structures. The greatest downfalls of socialism have come about as a result of power. The implementation of a socialist system cannot work in a centralized society, just as democracy does not work in large-scale organizational structures.
Each of us puts into the community his person and all his powers under the supreme direction of the general will; and as a body, we incorporate every member of the whole. (Rousseau, Ch. 6, Bk. 1)
Socialism demands a lack of centralized governmental authority over people and decisions. It calls for a reclaiming of the commons for all and the importance of localization. The autonomous work of each decentralized community will benefit society as a greater whole in socialism. It requires cooperation between members of the small community if it is to succeed at all. If the previous principles had been applied in socialism, it would have been a working model for an alternative society. Step one: defend the term of socialism when it is decried as a failure.
Conclusion – The List:
Small scale, localization, economies of scale, sustainability, ecological development, cooperation, mutual aid, anarchy, decentralization, village republic, autonomy, agency in development, bottom-up, socialism, utopia, communal life
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