Thus, it is time for us to move beyond the critical perspectives which limit the West and international institutions as the primary indicators of development and underdevelopment. The study and incorporation of local agencies in finding development solutions are essential. Only then will we better understand the micro-level practices of development
The contemporary post-development perspective critically analyses the roles of international institutions and the Western development discourses.
According to it, the Western discourse, based on power relations, markets and international aid, is a dominant proposition to emancipate underdeveloped countries towards progress and development.
After the Washington Consensus, which refers to a set of free-market economic policies, liberalism led by capitalism was taken as the root factor for the unequal local-global interaction of knowledge and practices. The promotion was made by the World Bank, World Trade Organisation (WTO), International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other international institutions.
Nevertheless, several questions about development and underdevelopment remain unanswered.
But is the West solely responsible for the development or underdevelopment of the Global South? What were the roles of local agencies? And would the development initiatives of the non-Western world be any different from the West? This article tries to move beyond the critical perspectives that limit the understanding of the non- West and offer an understanding of non-power relations where local agencies play a pivotal role in influencing development discourses.
Prominent post-development scholars like Prebisch, Gunder Frank, Escobar, Sachs, among many others, narrate contemporary development practices, promoted mainly by international institutions, as part of the global homogenisation process of Western knowledge. They stress that the process, dictated by Western countries, primarily the USA and Western Europe, repudiates non-Western values in the name of progress.
Capitalism, markets, commodification and Westernisation are dominant expressions used to define the homogenisation process that the scholars find as the reason for rising inequalities, poverty, conflict and underdevelopment.
They often use the phrase, "There is no universal formula for development."
The perspectives articulated by the scholars of developing countries also carry similar conceptions and beliefs. Is this the only reality? To clear this up, one should study the empirical evidence on the ground.
The study made by widely reputed scholar Anna Tsing in Indonesia, Philip Mc- Michael in Brazil and SasiaSassen in the Global South finds local agencies such as political parties, development organisations and private businesses as being active agents in redefining, reshaping and adjusting the Western development perspective. The local elite, politicians, scholars and businesses are largely responsible for welcoming markets, commodification and industrialisation.
One instance is the New Order Indonesia that started under President Suharto.
Privatisation skyrocketed in Kalimantan, with nature being destroyed. The big and small local agencies, mainly local businesses, political parties and development organisations, which Tsing refers to as the "exuberant agency", were responsible for promoting Western narratives.
Here, the ground reality was that the local conditions and agencies responded to the West's development initiatives and knowledge, resulting in Indonesia's development and underdevelopment. However, local agencies' roles are "airbrushed out", and post-development analysis is biased while studying the development interactions and underdevelopment.
We cannot offer solutions to underdevelopment if we indulge ourselves in biased criticism of the West.
Not surprisingly, the underdevelopment of the non-Western world is accompanied by the Global South's ruling class, which is an accomplice and rivals theprivileged layers in the industrial countries.
The people who never had a chance to understand what capitalism is are mostly poor. They depend on daily labor wages and are least bothered by the Western development narratives or critical perspectives.In contrast, the elite and experts with agency power are highly aware of the Western development narratives, world system and the West. However, the critical perspective narrowly focusses on international institutions as an agency of underdevelopment.
Significant investments have been made by the World Bank, WTO, WHO and the UN in health, education, entrepreneurship, human rights and poverty reduction for billions of poor people worldwide.
One cannot ignore the investment and positive change in the areas mentioned above by international institutions. Even though a critical eye is vital, a prejudiced criticism of Western development conception brings futile results that cannot offer pragmatic solutions.
To look beyond the critical perspectives, it is crucial to understand the local-global/ West-non- West/ South-North interaction as a historical process.
The legitimisation of narratives on the local grounds is enforced by the alliances between insiders and outsiders.
The success of development is attributed to people's active role at the grassroots levels, acting both as an agency and as definers of what is right for them, not merely as recipients of solutions externally and often uniformly provided.
Furthermore, the Global South is not always the passive recipient, who is in the "mercy of political and economic forces beyond their control" but is active in resisting, modifying and outlining development interaction terms.
Thus, it is time for us to move beyond the critical perspectives which limit the West and international institutions as the primary indicators of development and underdevelopment.
The study and incorporation of local agencies in finding development solutions are essential. Only then will we better understand the micro-level practices of development. It is time to enhance our learnings of local actors as "knowledgeable agents" and their strategic engagement in setting development practices.
A version of this article appears in the print on April 21, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.