Development discourse refers to the process of articulating knowledge and power through which particular concepts, theories, and practices for social change are created and reproduced (Escobar 1995; 1999; 2000; Crush 1996). Historically, the approach to development in terms of discourse has evolved out of debates on modernization and Marxist dependency theory rooted in social evolutionism. Departing from the linear models of social progress, this approach to development seeks to articulate the processes and meanings of more nuanced social control and challenges. Epistemological premises are grounded in poststructuralist concepts asserting language and discourse of development as systematically organizing power through the subjectivity of social actors and their actions.
Attention to development discourse emerged in the 1990s, building upon critical approaches to development communication studies. Development discourse studies tend to view dominant models of development as a highly contested domain in which dominant groups attempt to assert control over marginalized groups of people. Studies of development discourse tend to examine strategic communicative intervention of development institutions for social change in terms of the constructed problems and solutions designated toward concerned communities. The issues of the exploitation of the rainforest region of Colombia in the Pacific coast, for example, are formulated around the discourse of “biodiversity” insuring manageable generic resources and effective controls of intellectual property of genes. Systematically organized “facts” were created, mostly through the networks of experts associated with international agencies and the northern environmental NGOs supported by G-7 countries, to provide scientific prescriptions for the defined goals. The created knowledge carefully submerges the identities and cultures of the Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities in the region.
Discussions of development discourse often parallel the concept of postdevelopment (Escobar 1995), because they attempt to shift the analytical frame of discourse analysis to envision the popular resistance of local communities. Instead of rein scribing dominant development projects, they intend to critique the logics and devices constructed by and for development industries. Thus, they value the knowledge and experiences of local, self-reliant participatory, and collective actions as the fundamental sources for alternative social change, both at local and global levels.
Some critics question the feasibility of dominant development discourse to envision an alternative approach to social change (Pieterse 1998; 2000; 2001). Dominant development discourse fails to offer a venue for restructuring processes of social change, instead providing an “ideological platform” that benefits the work of the development industry and the logic of the global capitalist system. Critics of dominant development discourse stress the importance of community media and alternative media in promoting collective and resistant approaches to social change.
- Crush, J. (1996). Introduction: Imaging development. In J. Crush (ed.), The power of development. New York: Routledge.
- Escobar, A. (1995). Encountering development: The making and unmaking of the third world. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
- Escobar, A. (1999). Discourse and power in development: Michel Foucault and the relevance of his work to the third world. In T. L. Jacobson & Jan Servaes (eds.), Theoretical approaches to participatory communication. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.
- Escobar, A. (2000). Place, power, and networks in globalization and post development. In K. G. Wilkins (ed.), Redeveloping communication for social change: Theory, practice, and power. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
- Pieterse, J. N. (1998). My paradigm or yours? Alternative development, post-development, reflexive development. Development and Change, 29, 343 –373.
- Pieterse, J. N. (2000). After post-development. Third World Quarterly, 21(2), 175 –191.
- Pieterse, J. N. (2001). Development theory: Deconstructions/reconstructions. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
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