The Postcolonial Politics of Development
By Ilan Kapoor
Routledge – 2008 – 184 pages
Series: Postcolonial Politics
This book uses a postcolonial lens to question development’s dominant cultural representations and institutional practices, investigating the possibilities for a transformatory postcolonial politics.
Ilan Kapoor examines recent development policy initiatives in such areas as ‘governance,’ ‘human rights’ and ‘participation’ to better understand and contest the production of knowledge in development - its cultural assumptions, power implications, and hegemonic politics. The volume shows how development practitioners and westernized elites/intellectuals are often complicit in this neo-colonial knowledge production. Noble gestures such as giving foreign aid or promoting participation and democracy frequently mask their institutional biases and economic and geopolitical interests, while silencing the subaltern (marginalized groups), on whose behalf they purportedly work. In response, the book argues for a radical ethical and political self-reflexivity that is vigilant to our reproduction of neo-colonialisms and amenable to public contestation of development priorities. It also underlines subaltern political strategies that can (and do) lead to greater democratic dialogue.
'Kapoor forces development theory and practice to face an unlikely combination of critical traditions: European social theory, postcolonial analysis, and dependencia thinking. In relatively few words, he hits the missing notes in standard and critical scores of foreign aid, democratization, local participation, liberal modernity, basic needs, structural adjustment, good governance, and human rights. Then he serves up Homi Bhabha as antidote. Terrific --and very stylish.'
Christine Sylvester, Lancaster University, UK
'Development studies are usually long on policy and short on theory. By juxtaposing postcolonial theory and development studies, this book offers a social theory perspective on development and does so in a lucid manner that gives both postcolonial theory and development new depth. It presents a 'self-reflexive and democratic postcolonial politics' as a tool to make development more just.'
Jan Nederveen Pieterse, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, USA
'This excellent book translates postcolonial theory into existing discourses of Development Studies. It is done through an extraordinary capacity to combine complex political problems with abstract philosophical ideas … Kapoor thereby joins the efforts of authors like Edward Said, Partha Chatterjee, Phillip Darby and Vivienne Jabri to redefine global politics in postcolonial terms. The Postcolonial Politics of Development can be strongly recommended to scholars engaged in politics in ‘the developing countries’. However, it is even more recommendable to theorists concerned with global politics at a more general level, as it challenges the very conceptual premises of the fields of International Relations and Development Studies … this book represents a small theoretical revolution that will hopefully make academia better prepared to grasp the meanings of politics in the postcolonial world.'
Kristoffer Lidén, Journal of Peace Research
'Kapoor’s work is … particularly useful in offering powerful, perceptive and well-written illustrations of the ways in which postcolonial theory offers practical political agendas for development studies … [This is a] compact, accessible and authoritative volume on the postcolonial politics of development … [Kapoor presents] an outstanding piece of work that has the potential to enable a range of people who are interested in postcolonial theory and in development to enter into both discussion and action for change together.'
Pat Noxolo, Political Geography
'Kapoor brings postcolonial theory and development together, offering a complex and subtle reading of the possibilities of subaltern agency and change from below… [He] has a well-developed understanding of the unequal power relations embedded in the development industry … [At the same time, drawing] particularly on the work of Gayatri Spivak and Homi Bhabha, he argues that the subaltern can act and that their actions/agency, while emerging from within dominant discourses, have the potential to destabilize hegemonic practices.'
Jane Parpart, Topia: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies
'Kapoor’s work does a very useful job in uniting social (and cultural) theory with development … This is done through an impressive critical interrogation of some of the key issues in the study of development (and indeed, international politics) today, such as governance, human rights and participation. Kapoor convincingly shows how much of the discourse of mainstream development is complicit with a neo-colonialism based on knowledge and power … But what separates this book from so much of the literature on post-colonial and postdevelopment approaches is the attempt to move the debate forward. Here Kapoor’s focus is on the promotion of a radical ‘self-reflexivity’ which does not silence the subaltern … [Kapoor] is to be commended … [This is] a very important contribution to the literature on post-colonial theory and development.'
Ray Kiely, Journal of Development Studies
'[Kapoor] highlights the dangers of development … but also shows us some ways in which [development policies and programming] could be extended and perhaps become useful for a re-versioned development practice. In a rare move in development theory, Kapoor skilfully uses insights from social theorists to think about development practice…. The postcolonial politics of development offers an extensive critique of existing development practice. Kapoor walks with social theorists to make insightful interventions into the instabilities of power but also takes them forward to theorize the agency that such instabilities make possible. It is thus an excellent intervention into development theory, but it also makes the works of these theorists, as well as his analysis and extensions of their writings, accessible to his target audience – development theorists, researchers and students. This volume is, as a result, both a novel intervention and an advanced critical introduction to development studies. A rare feat!'
Parvati Raghuram, Progress in Human Geography
Introduction Part 1: Postcolonial Insights? 1. Capitalism, culture, agency: dependency versus postcolonial theory 2. The culture of development policy: basic needs, structural adjustment, good governance and human rights Part 2: Postcolonial Complicity and Self-reflexivity? 3. Hyper-self-reflexive development? Spivak on representing the Third World ‘Other’ 4. Participatory development, complicity and desire 5. Foreign aid as g(r)ift Part 3: Postcolonial Politics? 6. Deliberative democracy or agonistic pluralism? The relevance of the Habermas-Mouffe debate for Third World politics 7. Acting in a tight spot: Homi Bhabha’s postcolonial politics 8. Bend it like Bhabha: hybridity and political strategy Conclusion Notes Bibliography
Ilan Kapoor is Associate Professor at the Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University, Toronto. His research focuses on postcolonial theory, participatory development, and democracy, and has been published in several academic journals, including Third World Quarterly and Alternatives. He has worked with many development organizations, including the Canadian International Development Agency.