The anti-development guide theory is often criticized for deconstructing the development agenda without proposing a working solution.  Critics argue that anti-development ‘leaves only fragmented remains … an agenda-less program, a full stop, a silence, after the act of deconstruction’ (Blaikie, 2000)  and doesn’t cooperate with the causes of the poor who would bear the brunt of replacing the development with nothing. Critics find it offending that anti-development takes a view that development is making the poor worse rather than helping them. It also questions the judgment of some well-meaning development practitioners. I would present my arguments and examples to support the view that anti-development, in its current form, is gaining momentum and has a practical alternative to development that is becoming increasingly visible.

I have used anti-development and post-development interchangeably across the essay just to keep the content from quotes as it is.

Development’s critique by Anti-Development

‘Anti-development’ displays ‘radical reaction’ to the development theory and is also referred to as ‘Beyond Development’ or ‘Post Development (Referred to as PD going forward)’ (Pieterse, 2000). Historical conditions, which were instrumental in shaping the development agenda and theory, have drastically changed with many believing that development has not worked for most of its intended audience. Much quoted comment by Sachs (1992) that the development is like a ruin in the intellectual landscape, has become synonymous with the Development becoming outdated (Sachs 1992 quoted in Pieterse, 2000). Post World War view of development is that it was mostly ‘uni-dimensional in its perception of progress and ‘technological’ in its enactment. Development lobby approached the third world communities as a homogeneous mass (in terms of their economic backwardness) and suggested a top-down rectification under state control (Schuurman, 2000). Post-development authors believe that the development era discourse has more deterministic attributes than reflective, in its approach to re-construct reality and to portray knowledge as an expression of power.

Escobar (1997, 2000) suggests that it is believed that modernization, in its material and physical sense, brought development and became the source of socio-cultural and political changes which sustained further development. Escobar’s description of development is a critique at two levels. One, the success of the development model was based on ‘industrial modernization’ which had limitations in its understanding of cultural nuances and it (development model) was susceptible to slowdown. Rahnema (1997) suggests that the development is an expression of colonialism in which colonial powers created a myth that the construct of development met the needs of several participants at different positions in the power equation i.e. the deprived masses who are hungry for economic growth, a middle-class workforce with the ideals of socio-economic justice and the colonial powers with an intent of continuing their hegemony. Escobar opined that Post Development was started by deconstructing the development, which many Post Development thinkers argue, is rooted in Western ethnocentrism and colonialism.  While Escobar conceptualized post-development as an alternative to development, Derrida’s (2002) position that ‘deconstruction is justice’ provides another aspect suggesting post-development as a means to achieving justice.

Sachs (1997) viewed the limitation of development in ecological terms of “finiteness of the earth”. Taking this point forward, he propounded that a ‘justice crisis’ will lead to a ‘crisis in nature’. Nustad (2001) presents Development posturing itself in the same way as Judge’s self-proclaimed neutrality in Foucault’s example. It is argued that the development discourse attempts to de-politicize itself by denying alternatives. Nustad’s views (2001) on replacing the local context with a global perspective and Ferguson’s (1990) suggestions on de-politicized outcomes in Anti-Politics Machine indicate development’s apparent effort to place itself as the benchmark of objectivity and justice.

Post Development criticizes the notion of the North-propagated development, emanating from the scientific success and industrial prosperity, and finds North’s push of its development model to the global South as hegemonic and condescending. PD accuses the development that it has given itself the right to approach from a ‘one size fits all’ mind-set and has treated the South as a large industrial unit in its homogeneity and voicelessness. PD continues that the North pre-supposed that its material progress automatically empowers it to impose the agenda and create truths to construct a development supply chain to sustain its supremacy. Post Development thinkers portray North, in the well-being context, as an actor with selfish intent, arrogant style, and exclusivist approach.

Post-Development in brief

Post-development rejects the notion, construct, and discourse of development and advocates imagery of alternatives to development. Post-development’s denial of the development discourse shows their contrarian ideological position on one hand and their existential dilemma on the other.

Pieterse (2011) suggests that discourse analysis is at the core of post-development. It “examines dynamics of power through the study of speech, text, and images” and acts like an analytical and interpretive tool on one hand and ideological platform on the other. Analyzing from a Foucauldian standpoint, it is not about development discourse itself is true or not but what effect the projected truths have produced without it being either true or false (Storey, 2000). In the same vein, PD views Development’s failure not so much in reducing the poverty but in its purpose to demarcate the underdeveloped and dominate the Third World (Storey, 2000; Pieterse 2011)

Critique of Post-Development

Post-development critics argue that it views development as a monolithic structure (Ziai, 2004), associates it with westernization, and ignores the heterogeneity of the West (Pieterse, 2000). It builds its own identity from ‘what development is not’ and positions itself beyond development. Kiely (1999) notes that post-development romanticizes non-western subaltern in their local cultures without rejecting oppressive practices such as female genital mutilation (Ziai, 2004), and ignores many powerful social interventions i.e. human rights (Rahnema, 1997, Esteva and Prakash, 1998a) because they exemplify universalism which, in terms of construct, aligns with the development discourse.

Pieterse (2000) critiques the post-development school of thought that it rejects the ‘business as usual’ position of development practice and attempts to go beyond the ‘Alternative development’ to secure a new theoretical position which is ‘Alternative to development’. In doing that, it is argued that PD ignores evolving and accommodative nature of post-war development and does not take its positive achievements into account i.e. spread of medicine use increasing the life expectancy (Ziai, 2004, Storey 2000) and technology-led progress in India and Latin America (Pieterse, 2000). Mckinnon (2008) presents another argument that PD uses the same power lexicon and dynamics as presented in the development discourse e.g. ‘the poor’, ‘the needy’ and the ‘First World, and tends to over-generalize the modernization-as-development premise.

While de-politicization, emancipation, and a reset are needed in the state’s development agenda, PD needs to recognize the transformed roles of development institutions as they have provided a starting platform. PD also needs to evaluate what it stands to provide ‘alternative’ of – is it the global-ness of development, nexus of the state and development institutions, or inequitable participation by the local communities. The emergence of the BRIC development bank in response to an IMF or World Social Forum (WSF) in response to the World Economic Forum (WEF) is a potentially relevant example but they seem to be gaining global characters as opposed to the local-ness which PD advocates.

PD provides a practical alternative

PD dismisses Post World War development paradigm altogether and distinguishes itself in proposing ‘Alternative to Development’ rather than ‘Alternative Development’. Thinkers have found PD’s critique of development reasonable but it lacks to provide alternatives (Pieterse 1998, Schuurman 2000) and instrumentality for the future (Nustad 2007). 

Ziai (2004) contests this position and suggests that PD offers alternatives to development by conceptualizing and applying the constructs of social movements, localized knowledge, and grass-root democracy. She, however, agrees that PD occasionally romanticizes tradition and suggests that there is more than one variant of PD i.e. neo-populist and the skeptical (Ziai, 2004). Brigg (2002) concurs with Ziai’s position and suggests that dismissal of PD, for not providing an alternative, is ignoring an opportunity to understand why development models did not work.

The core premise of PD is social movements that have become the key force to enact change in the social order by launching emancipatory campaigns (Parfitt 2002). Esteva and Prakash (1998) write about grassroots revolutions that create the ‘autonomous spaces’ by separating themselves from ‘global projects’ of development. Social movements, in PD schema, challenge the act of defining and controlling the ‘needs’ of local people by state apparatus. Movements support local action (Blaney, 1996) and revitalize the local communities (Sachs, 2002). The transition of power away from those who engineer the ‘third world’ reflects an effort by the ‘voiceless’ to define the social order and political structure for themselves. Nakano (2007) suggests that some thinkers place emancipatory politics at the core of PD. Using the post-Heideggerian philosophy of emancipatory politics (Kippler, 2010), it is suggested that PD presents ‘plural possibilities of the politics beyond the grammar of development’ (Nakano, 2007). Emancipation and exercise of the political plurality are outcomes of social movements. These grassroots initiatives, although still limited in occurrence, are gaining momentum. To maintain legitimacy and bear transformational outcomes, social movements must remain ‘exterior’ to the state despite being loosely connected. An alternative interpretation of social movements is that they level up inequality of relationship for politically marginalized who don’t feature in the policymaking (Polet 2007).

Example of Niger (Alou, 2007) reflects grassroots movement promoting the well-being view in their ‘Quality of Life coalition’ campaign to protest against the ‘cost of living’ development scheme implemented by the state in collaboration with its global development partners e.g. IMF. Alou (2007) argues that civil society movements re-politicized the development themes, encouraged the ‘dead town’ to re-negotiate their role and space in political structure. The fundamental point which we are examining here is about the freedom of communities from the state’s director covert control in their political decisions and cultural choices during the colonial and post-colonial eras. As Kippler (2010) quotes ‘existing actors and institutions must be transformed to work for different purposes: i.e. if states and markets are to remain relevant, they must support rather than direct social needs’ (Andreasson, 2010). McGregor (2007) quotes a World Bank report about Timor Leste.

“The main development objective of the Community Empowerment Project is to let villagers make their own choices about the kinds of projects they need and want, and thus the main purpose of the grants is to support development proposals produced by the communities”

This statement highlights a growing recognition that development programs should be indigenously defined and driven, small-scale and people-centric. It is a matter of debate whether development theory has transitioned to a point where it looks like an ‘alternative to itself’ in PD mold or looking for a middle ground and converging with contrasting theories.

In some other examples of post-development, Gibson-Graham (2005) engaged himself, along with local NGOs, on the island of Bohol in the Philippines to encourage alternative community imagery. Despite having tremendous community-focused outcomes on the post-development lines, critics noted that the research was funded by Aus Aid (Australian aid agency) and doubted if the outcomes were objective. Curry (2003), in his research in Papua, stated ‘the issue, I believe, is not to reject the development, but to make it better serve place-based indigenous socioeconomic practices’ (see also Rapley, 2004 as stated in McGregor 2007). These research outcomes align with Escobar and Esteva’s notion of post-development that it can leverage development infrastructure for less conventional outcomes. McGregor (2007) suggests that development structures can be used to propagate post-development objectives if ‘imaginaries of the users’ were reinvented. World Social Forum and Degrowth conferences are bringing the post-development proponents and critics together to build a sustainable alternate model of inclusive development.

Criticism of PD’s over-reliance on social movement: Does it necessarily build a post-development construct?

Critics of the PD approach argue that it is not certain that social-movement-triggered political change will be necessarily progressive (Storey 2000). Also, the judge what is emancipatory and what is not, and distinguishing social movements on PD premises has the risk of falling into cultural relativism (Storey 2000). PD does not have a theoretical framework to explain why some social movements e.g. Zapatistas in Mexico are viewed as authentic PD movements and why some others e.g. Islamic fundamentalist movements and recurring caste-based movements in India are not viewed as social movements. In my view, PD stays clear of cultural expressions of society that do not gravitate around the ‘core theme of the south i.e. poverty.’ I see PD’s essentialism not only in its starting with rejecting the development but also in ‘economic poverty’ being the common subject matter with development. Both PD and Development differ in the way economic poverty should be addressed and where the solution should originate from. I would argue that the PD framework will apply to the economic poverty theme only because there isn’t a thing such as the global south in its social or cultural poverty.

Closing Remarks

There is a widely held belief that Anti-development is more of a critique than a construction. While development’s protagonists don’t necessarily disagree with Anti Development’s critique about North’s characterization of the south, they have a development scorecard to show and that’s where the contention stems from. Looking at the arguments, it seems that it is less about the shortcomings of the development model and more about Anti-development having almost nothing to offer to build its critique on. Development, as viewed from the colonial historical setting, enlightenment-led social re-structuring, neo-liberal economic principles, and the federal democratic format of the state was an undeniable break away from its preceding era which happened over more than a century. Standalone development events took place across the spaces of polity, society, economy, human psychology, etc. Global incidents i.e. world war, global trade, colonialism galvanized underlying local forces manifested as events and brought them together to construct a wave which we call Development. Development apparatus, in its current form, has taken decades, if not centuries, to be noticeable. It has created agenda and the stakeholders to sustain it. I see history repeating itself with Anti-Development in its growth phase where many standalone events are taking place almost as a trend. I would present the argument that comparing the Development and Anti-Development in their current state is unfair as both are in totally different stages of the maturity life cycle. As far as the practicality and the alternatives are concerned, I would present that AD is emerging as an alternative to development. Practicality as a state of possibility to occur and sustain in the current eco-system depends upon the bias of the viewer’s position. I agree that AD has critiqued the development more than it has created alternatives but standing in time and place where we are, this is how it should be. I would not expect AD to critique the development with a ready-to-offer solution because if it does so, it will be self-defeating as AD stands for local solutions by those who are at the grassroots level, and any outside and pre-fabricated alternative will only reinforce the development agenda.


Alou, T.M. 2007. Niger: civil society activists reinject politics into public life. In: F.

Andreasson, S. 2010. Africa’s Development Impasse: Rethinking the Political Economy of Transformation. London. Zed Books.

Blaikie, P. 2000. Development, post-, anti-, and populist: a review. Environment and Planning A 32, 1033–50.

Blaney, D. 1996. Reconceptualizing autonomy: the difference dependency theory makes. Review of International Political Economy. 3(3), pp 459-497.

Brigg, M. 2002. Post-Development, Foucault and the colonization metaphor. Third World Quarterly. 23(3), pp. 421-436.

Caroline, K. 2010. Exploring Post Development: Politics, the State and Emancipation. The question of alternatives. POLIS Journal Vol.3, Winter 2010 pp. 34.

Derrida, J. 2002. ‘Force of Law: The Mystical Foundation of Authority’, in Acts of Religion, ed. Gil Anidjar, New York: Routledge.

Escobar, A. 2000. Beyond the Search for a Paradigm? Post-Development and Beyond. Development. 43(4), pp. 11-14.

Escobar, A. 1992b. Imagining a Post-Development Era? Critical Thought, Development, and Social Movements. Social Text. 31(32), pp. 20-56.

Esteva, G. and Prakash, M.S. 1998a. Beyond Development, what? Development in Practice. 8(3), pp. 280-296.

Esteva, G. and Prakash M.S. 1998b. Grassroots Post-Modernism: Remaking the Soil of Cultures. London. Zed Books Ltd.

Ferguson, J. 1990. The Anti-Politics Machine: ‘Development’, De-politicisation, and Bureaucratic Power in Lesotho. London. University of Minnesota Press.

Kiely, R. 1999. The last refuge of the noble savage: A critical assessment of post-development theory,

European Journal of Development Studies, 11 (1), pp 30–55

Mckinnon, K. 2008. Taking post-development theory to the field: Issues in development research, Northern Thailand. Asia Pacific Viewpoint. Volume 49, Issue 3. pp 281–293

Matthews, S. 2004. Post-development theory and the question of alternatives: a view from Africa. Third World Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 2, pp. 373–384.

McGregor, A. 2007. Development, Foreign Aid and Post-Development in Timor-Leste. Third World Quarterly. 28(1), pp.155-170.

Munck, R. 1999. Deconstructing Development Discourses: of Impasses, Alternatives, and Politics.