New Publication: The Geography of Development Studies: Leaving No One Behind

Cochrane, L. and Thornton, A. (2017) The Geography of Development Studies. Forum for Development Studies.

Abstract: Whereas the Millennium Development Goals sought reductions, the Sustainable Development Goals have set forth bold new objectives of leaving no one behind. This Commentary explores the continued geographic prioritization and exclusions within development studies research and some of the causes. The status quo is entrenching exclusion. A transformation of research, and the research community, is required to ensure that no one is left behind. Providing the evidence to support decision-making that is equitable and inclusive necessitates critical reflection of the exclusions that exist, along with innovation and creativity in how the research community can address gaps and support the more inclusive SDG agenda. Thought leadership and evidence will be the foundation that transforms our research and practice – if we, as a community of researchers, heed the call.

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Interesting Books (30+ Reviews)

In addition to the "essential" development studies books, some other interesting books include (organized chronologically):


From Dictatorship to Democracy (1993) - Sharp

People of the Plow (1995) - McCann

Envisioning Power (1999) – Wolf


World-systems Analysis (2004) – Wallerstein

The World Bank and Struggles for Social Justice in the Age of Globalization (2005) – Goldman

Polio: An American Story (2005) – Oshinsky

Decent into Chaos (2008) – Rashid

Life After Violence: A People's Story of Burundi (2009) – Uvin


The Politics of Military and Humanitarian Interventions (2010) - Fassin & Pandolfi

Adventures in Aidland (2011) - Mosse (Ed)

Yemen and the Politics of Permanent Crisis (2011) – Phillips

Pox: An American History (2011) – Willrich

How Migration Shaped Our World and Will Define Our Future (2011) - Goldin, Cameron and Balarajan

Seasonality, Rural Livelihoods and Development (2012) - Devereux, Sabates-Wheeler and Longhurst

Re-defining Food Security for the 21st Century (2012) – Gibson

Q-Squared (2013) - Shaffer

Toxic Aid (2014) - Edwards

American Slavery & Capitalism (2014) - Baptist

Capitalism vs the Climate (2014) - Klein (and How Change Happens)

Anatomy of Giving (2015) – Dwyer

Team of Teams (2015) - McChrystal

There is No Such Thing as a Free Gift (2015) – McGoey

Blinded by Humanity (2015) - Barber

Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few (2015) – Reich

Originals: How Non-conformists Move the World (2016) – Grant

Poverty and the Millennium Development Goals (2016) - Cimadamore, Koehler and Pogge

How Philanthropy Fails to Alleviate Poverty (2016) – Kohl-Arenas

Innovation and its Enemies (2016) - Juma

The Politics of Development in Morocco (2017) - Bergh

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Toxic Aid: A Tanzanian Study

Every few months the question is asked: Does aid work? Sebastian Edwards, professor and former World Banker, wrote "Toxic Aid: Economic Collapse and Recovery in Tanzania" (2014) to help wade through the an answer. In short, he concludes "aid affects economic performance in a highly complex way, and through multiple and changing channels. It also underlies the fact that this is a two way relationship: aid agencies influence policies, and the reality in the recipient country affects the actions of aid agencies. This relationship is too intricate and time-dependent that it is not amendable to being captured by simple cross-country regressions; in fact, even sophisticated specifications with multiple breakpoints and nonlinearities are unlikely to explain the inner workings of the aid-performance connection." (p. 261). Success or failure largely depends on the timeframe looked at – Edwards concludes that in the long-term "Tanzania doesn't look quite like a major successful story. It rather looks like a case of a remarkable recovery, but this is not the same as outright success" (p. 254).

Edwards argues that Tanzania is a useful case study because "foreign assistance has been at the center of the country's economic failures and successes" (p. 2). Some suggest that Tanzania is a classic example of "deadly" or "toxic" aid, others argue that it is an example of success. Edwards wades through the different conclusions using a broad, long-term perspective. While the international community, the actions of donors and the impact of aid played an important role, at times Edwards over projects the aid narrative such that national priorities, policies, politics and decision making rationale are secondary, and in some ways subservient to, the donor community. For example, the author states that the "first order of business for the Mkapa administration was, as noted, to put in place a budget process that would be accepted by the donor community" (p. 218). Not one that serves its people, via that acceptance. The Tanzania story shows that this is certainly not the only driving force for decision making – most notably that President Nyerere expelled the International Monetary Fund from the country (which he knew would have negative consequences).

The failures Edwards highlights from the 1970s includes the attempted collectivization of agriculture, a bloated and inefficient parastatal sector, corruption, grandiose industrial projects, and a general collapse of the economy – on the latter he suggests "it is possible to argue that this disintegration happened because aid agencies were heavily involved in supporting (and even helping design) Nyerere's ujamaa policies" (p. 3). Again, in the concluding chapter, he writes: "After analyzing in great depth Tanzania's history during its first two decades as an independent nation, it is clear to me that the official aid community had a major responsibility in one of the most colossal collapses of a poor country in the history of the modern world. When one adds and subtracts everything – the misguided policies, the blunders, the growing corruption, and the socially worthwhile projects – the balance is hugely negative. The inescapable conclusion of that exercise is that during 1961-81 aid was worse than ineffective; it was toxic" (p. 257). Interestingly, however, is that this "responsibility" does not translate into an issue of justice when speaking about aid to Tanzania today, but rather greater "ownership" is merely a better pathway to effectiveness (see long quote below).

For the 1961-81 period, Edwards grades the aid agencies performance as a failure, and not "a run-of-the-mill "F"; it would be a failing grade with a strong worded reprimand. I would use words such as "irresponsible," "arrogant," "misguided," gullible," "ineffective" (p. 259). For 1981-94, he give a passing grade of B- and after 1996 a B+ (p. 260). The ways forward, Edwards concludes with, include: (1) ending support for grandiose, costly projects with limited impact, (2) increasing engagement with civil society, (3) strengthening institutions, (4) reducing corruption, (5) relying more on RCTs to guide development choices, and (6) beginning thinking about "the end game" for reducing aid.

The book offers interesting perspectives, such as this (long quote) on "ownership":

  • "From a conceptual point of view, an intriguing question is why would donors give up their control over how funds are allocated? After all, according to theoretical models of international aid, donors provide assistance – and allocate is across alternative uses – in a way that maximizes their ow utility function. This requires that, at the aggregate level, aid is provided to the point where its marginal benefit (including non-pecuniary effects, altruistic goals, and possible externalities) equals its marginal cost. At the same time, the marginal benefit to marginal cost ratio should be equalized across alternative uses of the aid funds. Donors' utility functions are highly complex, and include the wellbeing of the population in the recipient country as well as the level of activities in specific areas supported by taxpayers and bureaucrats in the donor nations (i.e. literacy, women's health, protecting the environment, improving governance, and so on). These utility functions also include distributional weights, and political considerations both in the donor and recipient nations. A direct way to incorporate into the analysis the ownership issue is by assuming that the "productivity" of aid depends on the level of "effort" exerted by the local government and community. Effort, in turn, will depend on a number of factors, including how well the donors' intentions and goals are understood, the beliefs of the recipient community, and the degree of participation of the local population in the design and formulation of aid programs. Greater ownership may reduce the volume of resources devoted to some of the donors' favorite projects, but it is likely to increase effort, and, thus, the effectiveness of those resources. By eliciting an increase in effort, a higher degree of "ownership" may generate Pareto superior outcomes, where utility increase for both donors and recipients." (p. 186-187)
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The Politics of Development in Morocco

'Doing development differently' can be interpreted as redistributing power in a decentralized way, and ensuring broad participation. How do we move these ideas from paper to practice? And, are these two objectives (not explicit in the DDD manifesto, but common in the discourse) compatible? Third, are these approaches to 'doing development differently' effective pathways to arrive at the desired objectives of the DDD agenda? A useful book to engage these questions is "The Politics of Development in Morocco: Local Governance and Participation in North Africa" (2017) by Sylvia Bergh. The book is based on data collection that occurred in the mid-2000s, and could have been updated for this publication. Nonetheless, it offers useful insight into the questions of decentralization and participation.

The author sets out to "assess the actual record and scope for state-society synergies in Morocco in the context of decentralization reforms and participatory development policies, particularly at the local (rural) level" (p. 18). Bergh argues that civil society, as manifested through community based organizations (CBOs), does not necessarily support decentralization, and is not necessarily supported by decentralized governance. Why? One reason is that "membership of these two spheres overlaps to a great extent. Local government councilors tend to use their simultaneous positions in CBOs to enhance their status as local patrons and increase their chances of re-election" (p. xxii). While the author does not view this conclusion as a novel one, Bergh believes the "main value lies in documenting how this phenomenon comes about, the extent to which it is happening, and the implications it has for the emergence of a strong local democracy" (p. xxii).

In many instances, the book highlights how power plays out in both the implementation of participatory policies and decentralization efforts. This included existing elite capturing resources, and/or utilizing the processes to further entrench their power (p. 19). In addition to the local level implementation problems, government officials viewed these processes as "instruments for implementing programs more cost-effectively and delegating responsibility for success or failure to the beneficiaries themselves, rather than as a vehicle to strengthen political capabilities that might, in the longer term, challenge existing power structures and thus bring about lasting change." (p. 20; also ps. 68, 79, 126 and 163 for more examples). In fact, Bergh argues, "the simultaneous implementation of decentralization reforms and "participatory" development programs may lead to increased elite capture and fewer, rather than more, spaces for transformative participation by ordinary citizens" (p. 228).

I believe one of the most interesting contributions of this book is not the processes of how, but unique insight into the challenges and limitations of civil society organizations. While these organizations are tasked with large responsibilities, their capacity is low and their resources limited to absent. Without providing support and capacity building (common in these Moroccan study areas), international organizations are setting community based organizations up for failure. Bergh concludes "the growth of CBOs following "participatory" development projects does not equate with the expansion of a "civil society" that could engage in partnerships with local governments, either for service provision or co-governance. Rather, I find that a high proportion of these CBOs lack the capacities and/or incentives to do so due to their instrumentalization by actors in "political society" for clientelist purposes." (p. 228).

As it relates to the 'good governance' agenda, and its emphasis upon decentralization and participation, this book challenges the "assumptions that citizen participation consists exclusively of involvement in NGOs and local associations, that this "civil society" can exert organized pressure on autocratic and unresponsive states, and that this is enough to bring about a democracy with substance and depth" (p. 232). In many ways, the case studies from Morocco demonstrate the opposite. As the DDD manifesto argues, altering these power structures requires a radically different approach to 'doing development', one that more often has to do with process (how), than the objective (such as decentralization). 

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Logan Cochrane

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