Sunday, December 07, 2008

Actually existing development

I just finished Mark Duffield's latest excellent book, this one entitled Development, Security, and Unending War, a profound analysis of the recent evolution of the official discourse of development (particularly the British discourse of development). Duffield has an annoying tendency to wallow in unnecessary theoretical disquisitions about Giorgio Agamben and Etienne Balibar, but if you bracket that, he offers some extremely interesting insights that bear very directly on the politics of deviant globalization.

First, the central historical thrust of Duffield's book is the story of how the NGO-led model of development, which emerged in the 1980s and which remains dominant to this day, displaced modernization theory, which was the dominant model of development from the early cold war through the middle 1970s. Unlike modernization theory, which sought a technology that would allow post-colonial states to "close the gap" with the developing world, the NGO-led model of development seeks to "contain" and "stabilize" the poor. Institutionally (as we know from reading James Scott), the high modernist model of development believed that the state should be the instrument that would drive development. By contrast, the NGO-led model believes in working around the state, which is rightly perceived as corrupt and predatory. (Of course, while the NGO-friendly "sustainable development" movement likes to think of itself as politically progressive, its anti-statist bias dovetails very conveniently with neoliberal views of reducing state power--hence the  liberal-conservative "consensus" in the Washington Consensus.) Successful development, in this model, is not about "catching up" but rather about achieving "sustainability" or "self-reliance." Contemporary liberal developmental dogma holds that such "self-reliance" not only provides local dignity and eliminates the need for humanitarian interventions, it also reduces local sympathy for radicalism, jihadism, etc.

Second, analyzing this NGO-led model of development, Duffield points out that the use of NGOs to deliver developmental aid and to perform aid-effectiveness monitoring compromises the sovereignty of the subject state by wresting the biopolitical commanding heights (e.g. population surveilance and monitoring) away from the state, and placing these responsibilities in the hands of non-governmental organizations. With a nod to Judith Butler, Duffield describes this process as a multiplication of "petty sovereignties." His point is that in much of the so-called developing world, "governmental" functions (e.g. the delivery of "political goods" such a social services, health care, education, security, etc.) are being taken over by non-state actors. 

Because he is writing about the official development discourse, Duffield focuses on the role of official (that is, West-approved) NGOs in this process of multiplying petty sovereignties. But he might also have pointed out that there are plenty of other non-state actors that are taking on (or taking back) these "governmental" functions: tribal elders, gangsters, religious leaders, transnational and local corporations, mercenaries, ethnic militias, etc. I would suggest that, rather than refer to non-state actors who deliver political goods generically as "NGOs," we should instead refer to them as "governmental organizations" (not to be confused with "government organizations," which ironically enough are often not performing these "governmental functions").

Third, while most of Duffield's book is an extended analysis of the evolution of the official discourse of development, he also briefly alludes to the danger at the heart of making "self-reliance" the key metric of developmental success, in a passage that resonates with my own work on deviant globalization:
Self-reliance has a dangerous ambiguity in relation to attempts to strengthen state authority. When successfully and innovatively pursued, rather than being a process of governmentalization, self-reliance supports resistance and imparts independence. The "actually existing development" of informal trade, illegal commodity procurement, transborder smuggling networks and diaspora enterprise can encourage centrifugal forces of autonomy and alternative cases of legitimacy (p. 183).
Trying to wrap my head around "actually existing development" is precisely what I've been after ever since I finished my book on modernization theory. Duffield's book offers the beginning of a vocabulary for understanding what is happening on the ground in weak or fragile states. The majority of people in these locales of course merely become victims of the situation into which they are born. But there are some who refuse to be victims, and follow their entrepreneurial instincts (read: risk-willingness and bloody-mindedness) to make the best of their situation, using the channels provided by globalization to free themselves. These are the people who participate in the economy of deviant globalization.

Deviant globalizers know the state is neither going to help them close the gap with the rich world, nor protect them from the buffets of the global market. But for that very same reason, they are also not revolutionaries: they have no interested in seizing the state to enact development (that's so twentieth century). Rather, they seek autonomy from the state, so that they can build their economic empires and establish alternative forms of legitimacy. This analytic applies broadly to groups as otherwise different as the PCC, Laurent Nkunda, Lakshar e Taiba, Viktor Bout, Hamas, Mara Salvatrucha, and the Muslim Brothers. These deviant entrepreneurs aren't waiting for the state -- or for Washington-sanctioned NGOs -- to come to their rescue. They're doing it for themselves.

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