Jun
30

Critical Development Studies: An Introduction

I try to keep an eye out for useful teaching materials, particularly ones that provide unique perspectives on issues that students may not have encountered in their studies (unfortunately many courses are similar ideas/voice on repeat, in various forms). "Critical Development Studies: In Introduction" (2018) by Veltmeyer and Wise is brief (170 pages), easy to read (lots of lists), and accessible (first year undergrad level). While not a "sharp edge" of critical studies per se, it provides a counter narrative to the dominant discourses. The unique offering is (largely) a vantage point from Latin America.

A couple of quotes for insight into the book:

"There are three fundamentally different ways of understanding 'society': as a collection of individuals, each motivated to better themselves or to seek self-advantage; as a system of institutionalised practices that sets rules and limits to the action of individuals; and as a system of overlapping and interconnected social groups with shared experiences and identify which enable them to act collectively in the struggle for social change. The first way of understanding society is widely shared by economists and political scientists in the liberal tradition. For the sake of analysis they see the individuals as rational calculators of self-interest, or as citizens who are equal in their opportunities for self-advancement, and as the fundamental agents of social change. The second and third ways of understanding society and the development process relate to what could be described as the 'sociological perspective'—the view that the problems, experiences and actions both of individuals and nations can and must be related to the potion that they occupy in the broader system, and understood in terms of the way society or the economy is organised and structured." (p. 54)

"From a critical development perspective (that is to say, one that questions neoliberal institutionality and the structural dynamics of capitalism in order to promote development alternatives that benefit the majority of the population), sustainable human development is understood as a social construction process that starts by creating awareness: the need for change, organization and social participation in order to generate a popular power that can then strive for social emancipation. This involves the eschewal of socially alienating relations that deprive people of their merits, destroy the environment, and damage social coexistence." (p. 118) 

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Jun
26

Claim No Easy Victories

Given how little is available about or on Cabral, the edited collection by Firoze Manji and Bill Fletcher Jr (2013) is a welcome addition. The book is titled "Claim No Easy Victories: The Legacy of Amilcar Cabral", with 38 chapters and seven sections (many chapters are brief), including a chapter by the late Samir Amin. In the notes below I focus on Cabral more than the commentaries and reflections offered in the book.

"To understand the role of culture as a fundamental part of the resistance of the oppressed, it is important to analyse it in relation to the different social categories present at any given time in the society concerned - culture, not as an abstract receptacle, but as a dynamic synthesis of the historical reality (material and spiritual) of a human group at any given time. In Cabral's words: 'Culture, whatever its ideological or idealistic characteristics may be, is an essential part of the historical process. It has the capacity (or responsibility) to develop and nourish those elements that will ensure the continuity of history and at the same time determine how society will progress or regress.'" (p. 70)

"[Cabral:] 'The return to the roots is not and cannot itself signify an act of struggle against foreign domination (colonialist/racist) but neither does it mean a return to tradition. It is a practical response to a concrete and historical need that results from the implacable contradiction between a colonized or (neocolonial) society and the colonial power, between the exploited masses and the foreign classes.' For him the "return to the roots" phenomenon can only be realized if the African petit bourgeoisie get directly involved in the daily struggle of the popular masses. As he said, "the masses reject both the domination of foreign culture and foreign exploitation. The cultural struggle, therefore, also has to be political, with the aim of creating an environment conducive to the free cultural expression of the oppressed. This can only be possible if the people retake control of their own development." (p. 71)

[Cabral] "Always bear in mind that the people are not fighting for ideas, for things in anyone's head. They are fighting to win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, to guarantee the future of their children... We do not fall back on cliches or merely harp on the struggle against imperialism and colonialism in theoretical terms, but rather we point out concrete things... Hide nothing from the masses of our people. Tell them no lies. Expose lies whenever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, or failures. Claim no easy victories..." (p. 109)

"One of the most important points Cabral consistently made is the need for vigorous and bold reappraisal and assessment of the strengths of both the philosophy and political praxis of modern social movements: [Cabral] 'We base our struggle on the concrete realities of our country. We appreciate the experiences and achievements of other peoples and we study them. But revolution or national liberation is like a dress which must fit to each individual's body. Naturally, there are certain general or universal laws, even scientific laws, for any condition, but the liberation struggle has to be developed according to the specific conditions of each country'." (p. 129)

[Cabral] "I vow that I shall give my life, all my energy, all my courage, all the ability that I have as a man to the service of my people in Guinea and Cape Verde until the day I die. I shall make my contribution, as far as possible, to the service of humanity, for the improvement in the lives of people in the world. This is my task." (p. 217)

"Cabral was very exercised by the matter of culture. Colonialism did a lot of damage to the culture of the colonised. Indeed, part of the strategy of the coloniser to ensure the subjugation of the colonised was to deny the humanity of the latter. And given that one of the singular manifestations of our humanity is the culture that we create and transmit through successive generations to our progeny, it is obvious that to deny our humanity is to deny that Africans have any legacy of monuments, ideological and physical institutions, processes and practices that can justifiably be regarded as our contribution to the world's summit of civilization. To our colonisers, our music was noise, our dance was obscenity, our religion was fetish, we did not have literature, philosophy was beyond our ken, and, most of all, we were a people without history." (p. 355-356)

"We can all use a reminder of this dimension of Cabral's humanism. [Cabral] 'We talk a lot about Africa, but we in our Party must remember that before being Africans we are men, human beings, who belong to the world. We cannot therefore allow any interest of our people to be restricted or thwarted because of our condition as Africans. We must put the interests of our people higher, in the context of the interests of mankind in general, and then we can put them in the context of the interests of Africa in general.'" (p. 358)

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Jun
21

Moving the Centre: The Struggle for Cultural Freedoms

Ngugi wa Thiongo is a giant in the decolonization community, in 1986 he wrote Decolonizing the Mind, he also wrote Theory and the Politics of Knowing, Secure the Base, Something Torn and New, amongst many others (including a list of fiction works). This post shares some notes from his 1993 book Moving the Centre: The Struggle for Cultural Freedoms. Several notes from this excellent book:

"I am concerned with moving the centre in two senses at least. One is the need to move the centre from its assumed location in the West to a multiplicity of spheres in all the cultures of the world... The second sense is even more important although it is not explored extensively in these essays. Within nearly all nations today the centre is located in the dominant social stratum, a male bourgeois minority. But since many of the male bourgeois minorities in the world are still dominated by the West we are talking about the domination of the world, including the West, by a Eurocentric bourgeois, male and racial minority. Hence the need to move the centre from all minority class establishments within nations to the real creative centres among the working people in condition of gender, racial and religious equality." (p. xvi-xvii)

"The political struggles to move the centre, the vast decolonisation process changing the political map of the post-war world, had also a radicalising effect in the West particularly among the young and this was best symbolised by the support the Vietnamese struggle was enjoying among the youth of the sixties. This radical tradition had in turn an impact on the African students at Leeds making them look even more critically at the content rather than the form of the decolonisation process... In the area of culture, the struggle to move the centre was reflected in the tri-continental literature of Asia, Africa and South America. It was more dramatic in the case of Africa and the Caribbean countries where the post-war world saw a new literature in English and French consolidating itself into a tradition." (p. 3)

"Hegelian Africa was a European myth. The literature was challenging the Eurocentric basis of the vision of other worlds even when this was of writers who were not necessarily in agreement with what Europe was doing to the rest of the world. It was not a question of substituting one centre for the other. The problem arose only when people tried to use the vision from any one centre and generalise it as the universal reality." (p. 4)

"I have noted from a spell of teaching in the USA that Third World literatures tend to be treated as something outside the mainstream. Many epithets and labels ranging from 'ethnic studies' to 'minority discourses' are often used to legitimate their claims to academic attention.. It is therefore not really a question of studying that which is removed from ourselves wherever we are located in the twentieth century but rather one of understanding all the voices coming from what is essentially a plurality of centres all over the world." (p. 10-11)

"The wealth of a common global culture will then be expressed in the particularities of our different languages and cultures very much like a universal garden of many-coloured flowers. The 'flowerness' of the different flowers is expressed in their very diversity. But there is cross-fertilisation between them. And what is more they all contain in themselves the seeds of a new tomorrow." (p. 24)

"Scandinavians know English. But they do not learn English in order for it to become the means of communication among themselves in their own countries, or for it to become the carrier of their own national cultures, or for it to become the means by which foreign culture is imposed on them. They learn English to help them in their interactions with English people, or with speakers of English, to facilitate commerce, trade, tourism, and other links with foreign nations. For them English is only a means of communication with the outside world. The Japanese, the West Germans, and a good number of other peoples fall in the same category as the Scandinavians: English is not a substitute for their own languages." (p. 30-31)

"The encounter between English and most so-called Third World languages did not occur under conditions of independence and equality. English, French, and Portuguese came to the Third World to announce the arrival of the Bible and the sword. They came clamouring for gold, black gold-in chains, or gold that shines as sweat in factories and plantations. If it was the gun which made possible the mining of this gold and which effected the political captivity of their owners, it was language which held captive their cultures, their values, and hence their minds. The latter was attempted in two ways, both of which are part of the same process. The first was to suppress the languages of the captive nations. The culture and the history carried by these languages were thereby thrown onto the rubbish heap and left there to perish. These languages were experienced as incomprehensible noise from the dark Tower of Babel. In the secondary school that I went to in Kenya, one of the hymns we were taught to sing was a desperate cry for deliverance from that darkness. Every morning, after we paraded our physical cleanliness for inspection in front of the Union Jack, the whole school would troop down to the chapel to sing: `Lead kindly light amidst the encircling gloom, lead thou me on.' Our languages were part of that gloom. Our languages were suppressed so that we, the captives, would not have our own mirrors in which to observe ourselves and our enemies. The second mode of captivation was that of elevating the language of the conqueror. It became the language of the elect. Those inducted into the school system, after having been sifted from the masses of the people, were furnished with new mirrors in which to see themselves and their people as well as those who had provided the new mirrors. In short, they were given a language called English or French or Portuguese. Thus equipped with the linguistic means of escape from the dark Tower of Babel, the newly ordained, or those ready to be ordained as servants of the new order, had their minds systematically removed from the world and the history carried by their original languages. They looked, or were made to look, to a distant neon light on a faraway hill flashing out the word EUROPE. Henceforth Europe and its languages would be the centre of the universe." (p. 31-32)

"Fortunately things will never go the way intended by the oppressor for the simple reason that the dominated have always resisted and will always resist. In fact imperialism would never have taken so much trouble to invest so heavily in its repressive machinery or in cultural engineering if the exploited and the oppressed had themselves merely succumbed to their economic fate of fforever being the unquestioning drawers and hewers of wood" (p. 54)

"Culture carries the values, ethical, moral and aesthetic by which people conceptualise or see themselves and their place in history and the universe. These values are the basis of a society's consciousness and outlook, the whole area of a society's make-up, its identity. A sense of belonging, a sense of identity is part of our psychological survival. Colonialism through racism tried to turn us into societies without heads. Racism, whose highest institutionalised form is apartheid, is not an accident. It is an ideology of control through divide and rule, obscurantism, a weakening of resistance through a weakening of a sense of who we are. Thus psychological survival is necessary. We need values that do not distort our identity, our conception of our rightful place in history, in the universe of the natural and human." (p. 77) 

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Jun
16

China's Gilded Age

China's Gilded Age (2020) by Yuen Yuen Ang is an accessible read that is well worth reading for multiple reasons. The book advances theoretical understandings on corruption and poverty, it presents creative methodologies that could inspire all sorts of new research, and presents unique findings that explain how China sustained high levels of economic growth alongside pervasive corruption. Ang also wrote the excellent book How China Escaped the Poverty Trap (2016).

A few notes (three long quotes, key arguments from the book):

"The durability and gigantic scale of Chinese economic expansion, juxtaposed with reports of "rising"and "explosive"corruption, cannot simply be brushed away by assertions of imminent collapse, even amid the current slowdown. How China has come this far –from an impoverished communist regime to a capitalist superpower rivaling the United States, despite a crisis of corruption that its leadership sees as "grave"and "shocking"–must be explained. This is the task of my book." (p. 5)

"Through an "unbundled"approach, my study draws a clear distinction between the quantity and quality of corruption. Wealthy economies may have low quantities of aggregate corruption, as measured by standard cross-national indices, but it doesn't mean that they have no corruption; rather, their corruption may be of a different quality –concentrated in access money, which is difficult to capture and not immediately growth-retarding. Contrary to popular beliefs, the rise of capitalism was not accompanied by the eradication of corruption, but rather by the evolution of the quality of corruption from thuggery and theft toward sophisticated exchanges of power and profit. Compared with countries that prospered earlier, China is still a relative newcomer on this evolutionary path... Why has China prospered alongside vast corruption? I offer a four-part explanation. First, the dominant type of corruption in China is access money –elite exchanges of power and wealth –rather than petty bribery or outright theft... access money may actually raise private investment –and even spur over-investment, as seen in China's real estate sector –thereby increasing growth, at least until the onset of a crisis." (p. 14)

"One of the most intractable problems of development is the trap of "corruption-causing-poverty-causing-corruption." In other words, countries are poor because they are corrupt, and they are corrupt because they are poor... The scholarly literature poses two solutions to this problem. The first is to "skip straight to Weber" by replicating the best practices of first-world public administration in developing countries. Pay is too low? Raise it. Bureaucracy is overstaffed? Slash it. Petty corruption is rampant? Vow to punish it. Although these measures appear correct in principle, in practice they routinely fail and may even backfire, raising administrative costs and undermining public sector morale. The second solution, as Fisman and Golden underscore, is to "trigger a change in social norms." Social norms are important, and muck-raking journalism and public protests can help citizens hold corrupt elites accountable. But norms cannot fill empty stomachs. Poorly paid bureaucrats often steal, extort, or moonlight in order to subsist. Reform-era China charted an unusual pathway out of this vicious cycle. Its solution was to allow street-level bureaucrats to extract some payments to top up their paltry formal salaries, while also aligning their financial incentives with long-term economic development objectives. Essentially, the state applied a profit-sharing model to the communist bureaucracy." (p. 85-86) 


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