"Handbook on Development and Social Change" launched

admin • 15 June 2018

The Development Studies Association Ireland (DSAI), and Maynooth University Social Science Institute (MUSSI) jointly launched The Handbook of Development and Social Change edited by G. Honor Fagan and Ronaldo Munck on 1st June 2018. The Launch was preceded by a Roundtable discussion on Gender Justice co-organised by the DSAI Gender Study Group, MUSSI and 3U Global Health.

Professor Honor Fagan of MUSSI and Prof. Ronaldo Munck of DCU were joined by the Director General of Irish Aid, Ruairí de Burca who launched the book at a reception hosted by Vice President of Research and Innovation of Maynooth University, Prof. Ray O Neill. 

From left: Vice President of Research and Innovation, Maynooth University Ray O Neill, Prof. Ronnie Munck DCU, Prof. Honor Fagan MU, Director General of Irish Aid Ruairi de Burca
From left: Vice President of Research and Innovation, Maynooth University
Ray O Neill, Prof. Ronnie Munck DCU, Prof. Honor Fagan MU,
Director General of Irish Aid Ruairi de Burca

The Handbook provides a highly accessible and critical review of the complex issues surrounding development and social change. Chapters address the issue from economic, political and social perspectives, covering a range of topics and developing regions.  Ruairí de Burca gave a powerful introduction to the book which outlines its relevance to key debates and the challenges of our time. His introduction is published in full below.

The book can be ordered here

Ruairi de Burca remarks on 'The Handbook of Development and Social Change'

In bringing together this collection, Honor and Ronnie set us an intellectual quest, a series of questions which need to be navigated, oriented by 22 works of scholarship. 

Ronnie, in his chapter, reminds us that there is an ideological component to development. It is a political course - or a set of political courses. Ordem e Progreso, the phrase on the Brazilian flag, underlying much of the 19th century, western, approach. 

Of course, if we have development, we have under-development. Care needs to be taken to unpack our own preconceptions, to avoid failing into what Edward Said might have termed an Orientalist mind trap. 

There is a danger that we might fall into a development meta-narrative, the search for a silver bullet. Was this the flaw in the Aid effectiveness discourse, the focus on modality over complexity?  A simple approach - the theology of micro-credit for example - which missed the inter-connectedness of human existence. 

A complexity which can capture the desire among small producers for quality of life, which often requires a move to scale and a break with traditional methods. A complexity which must account for this desire in an increasing challenged ecological reality. 

A complexity which is multidisciplinary, which is sociological, economic, moral, legal.  One which must sit happily with our threatened eco-system while also addressing inequalities within the increasing planetary population. 

Reading the Handbook, I was struck by the limitations of our capacity for narrative, which fail to adequately wrap these complexities into adequate manifestos for action. Yet, as the Handbook also makes clear, act we must. 

There are questions to be unpacked - and repackaged - about the relative roles of the state and private sector in development. 

What is the role of finance? Each of those nouns - state, private sector, development, finance  - is itself ideologically loaded, a further complication. How do we ensure a systemic check against all our unconscious biases?  How does capital intensive investment undermine legal, political and social order? 

To what extent are functioning legal, political and social order a precondition for investment? 

Is the link between democracy and development contingent and contested - a subtext, I suggest, of some of the China in Africa discourse, itself a form of Orientalism within development discourse. Does our focus on democratization distort our ability to generate the developmental outcomes we seek? And has the crisis of the last decade damaged the authority of western models - and therefore influence - in the developing world? And if - due to financialisation and technological change - the developmental state paradigm, or Sino-capitalism, which helped propel Asian growth is not appropriate today, what models must be evolved?

The complexity of the modern NGO is explored, notably the tension between transformative impulse and participatory impulse on one hand and the corporate NGO on the other. NGOs can be political: they can be politicized. They may not be.  The space for NGOs in UN and other processes has grown - but, arguably, space is shrinking in many countries due to perceptions by some that authoritarian approaches may lend themselves to better development outcomes. And do official aid agencies distort the NGO marketplace by making them too donor facing, or by prioritizing home NGOs rather than those in developing countries. 

For some a human rights based approach offers a frame within which these questions can be addressed. However, this frame is challenged, from within by such debates as the humanitarian/development nexus discussion: from without, as rights approaches can scare governments which have to take tough decisions on allocation of scarce resources - and by fear of lawyers!

Latin America offers other perspectives, mapped in the Handbook, more concerned perhaps with questions of capital, land, and structural economic formation than discourse regarding African development. Concepts such as Vivir Bien or Bolivarian socialism are part of the response and merit more exploration than the Handbook can give space to: we are left with a hanging question, namely how can the development question in Latin America be reframed?

It is suggested that contention in Africa - an uprising against Africa rising - is a product of poverty. A central driver is licit and illicit financial flows, with extractive industries central. I would have liked to have seen more exploration of how weak African institutions at the national level are part of the problem or, potentially, part of the solution. 

I mentioned order and progress earlier: the cultural tensions between western versions of modernity and other forms of organization are explored, with questions asked our, perhaps Eurocentric versions of development - perhaps themselves a cultural construct. 

A key question today, as the EU prepares for two challenging negotiations, the next EU budget, which will include the budget for aid over the period 2020/27, and a new relationship with the ACP states replacing the current Cotonou agreement, will be migration. Given the stances of some Member States, the migration / development nexus issue will be in the room in those negotiations. The Handbook’s reminder of the gendered dimensions of migration - and also that development cooperation does not in itself necessarily reduce migration is timely. 

The chapter on sustainable livelihoods demonstrates a feature of development cooperation, namely the penchant for fashion. Fashionable a decade ago, the livelihoods approach has fallen out of favour - memorably described as a method without a theory. 

Important questions are asked about the nature of inequality. I’d change in the developing world the result of demographics or economic action? Can you have development without inequality? There’s a China effect: Chinese change skews all macro assessments of change, while the Chinese resource boom created specific conditions which affected other countries positively, but only in a time limited way. 

Honor Fagan, in her chapter, looks at water. She questions whether current approaches to water can succeed, highlighting the degradation of water systems before climate change effects are fully manifest. She argues that the MDGs - most distracting gimmick, as Honor recalls - did not adequately address water. The SDGs, she says, are aspirational when it comes to water, trumped (so to speak) by the prioritisation of economic development. 

Questions too are asked whether big NGOs end up reinforcing dominant norms through uniform management approaches, including gender interventions. Is there a bias towards the status quo?

Finally, we are asked if development is ‘an unattainable ghost’? Can we have the order and progress of Brazilian aspiration, or find a state of buen vivir / peaceful coexistence? Can we retreat from the anthropecene?

These questions, and more, are the questions of our age. They are moral questions, they are necessary questions and they set a scene for further inquiry, investigation, and practice. i commend to you the Handbook on Development and Social Change.


Opening comments by Prof. Ray O'Neill

Prof. Ray O'Neill, Vice President of Research and Innovation of Maynooth University, welcomed Ruairí de Burca on behalf of the DSAI. In his introduction he reflected on Maynooth University's history of engagement with development going back many decades and the University's various collaborations with Irish Aid. This engagement includes research projects across sociology, anthropology, adult education and biology amongst others. He commented on Maynooth University's pride in hosting Kimmage Development Studies Centre, Trocaire, and now in supporting the DSAI. 

Prof. O'Neill stressed the importance of engaged research and its relevance for the field of international development. He noted the increased emphasis on engagement between HEIs and wider society in research and innovation by institutions, funders and policy-makers. This development has gained further policy traction, as a range of European, national and institutional policies and funding criteria now promote engaged research to improve the societal impact of research. Finally, Prof O'Neill strongly endorsed DSAI's mission and its focus on engagement with a range of public research stakeholders, including public or professional service and product users, policy makers, civil society and NGOs.