Maria Cascant
Alex Kelbert

Maria Cascant and Alex Kelbert

Is ‘Global Development’ becoming a new development buzzword? A quick Google search would certainly suggest it could be. The phrase is increasingly popular in describing a global approach to tackling poverty and inequality. Influential blogs such as those by The Guardian and the World Bank talk of ‘Global Development’, while a number of journals and postgraduate courses further explore globalisation and development intersections from varied disciplines. Yet, the term is so broadly defined that it welcomes the most diverse ideological views in it.

Fashionable buzzwords come and go, and while they do, they define the way in which we frame and apply development concepts. It is not the same to say ‘climate change’ (2,080,000 hits on the English version of Google Scholar on 25.09.12) and ‘climate justice’ (881,000 hits), or ‘food security’ and ‘food sovereignty’ (2,180,000 and 211,000 hits) or ‘sustainable growth’ and ‘degrowth’ (1,560,000 and 4,270 hits). Different words bring different worldviews and analytical frameworks, with some being more power-aware than others. It thus becomes important to clarify the words we choose to use and the meaning we give to them.

In our case, we support a critical and bottom-up vision of Global Development – one that puts citizens first and that explores who wins and who loses in globalisation. This requires a multi-levelled analysis of actors, discourses, resources and power relations at the personal, local, state and global levels. It also needs to emphasise that it is people who make globalisation processes happen. To ensure this, globalisation analysis must start at the local level, be ethnographic and place-bound, as it is locally where people’s actions and reactions take place. Some scholars like Michael Burawoy have called this ‘grounded globalisation’ or ‘global ethnography’. Furthermore, any study of the ‘local’ needs to be understood in a ‘global’ context. From there, it is crucial to understand that the ‘local’ and the ‘global’ are not distinctly opposite, and that there are in fact multiple levels relational in nature.

In legal studies, Rodríguez-Garavito’s social minefields explore how UrráIndigenous people in Colombia complement other forms of local struggles (i.e. marches) with the ‘prior consent’ mechanism. This international mechanism requires States to consult indigenous communities before accessing or giving access to land permits. Rodríguez-Garavito’s analysis spans the Urrá dam in the Colombian jungle, the Colombian Constitutional tribunals, Washington’s Human Rights Inter-American Commission and Geneva’s United Nations offices of Indigenous Rights – providing insight into how useful these institutions and processes are to the Urrá people.

In agriculture, the European Union’s influential Common Agricultural Policyis based on a narrative of a developed, mass and intensive ‘North’ model of production that the ‘South’ must follow. This, in turn, creates a reactive narrative revolving around a rich and exploitative ‘North’ and a poor and exploited ‘South’. Such a narrative portrays global farming with bad/good, either/or divisions of the world. Alex’s recent research on French farmers, members of the Confédération Paysanne (CP)trade union, shows a more complex, nuanced story. Indeed, CP farmers have looked beyond their own country and broken the alleged opposition of interests between French farmers (i.e. rejecting their granted subsidies) and other small-scale farmers elsewhere. Yet, these narratives are silenced. This is nowhere more clearly illustrated than in 365 pages of the 2008 World Development Report where Via Campesina – an international farmers union, of which the CP is a member and despite its representing of 200 million farmers – is mentioned only once, in a text-box. Blocking these more nuanced and alternative voices is a form of domination and isolates the complex power interactions taking place between what happens ‘here’ and what happens ‘there’.

In these bottom-up visions of Global Development, additional emphasis must be placed on analysing who the powerful actors are in development processes. At the international level, this includes the role of actors such asthe International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, bilateral aid donors and multinationals. One cannot talk of pro-poor access to medicines without exploring pharmaceutical patents; of quality primary education without IMF conditionalities on teacher recruitment; of food price increases without food commodities speculation.

The scenarios of the Urrá people and the French farmers illustrate how Global Development represents a broader analytical framework that can be used for situations where more established Nation-state and North-South frames do not capture the whole picture. A critical and bottom-up approach to Global Development can be ensured by analysing who the privileged actors are (including the global ones) and by constantly looking with a citizens’ lens at the experiences they have of globalisation and the moves they take to adapt, make use of, contest or re-imagine it.

Maria-Josep Cascant Sempere is a PhD candidate working on the theme of popular education, globalisation and social change within the IDS Participation, Power and Social Change research team.

Alexandra Wanjiku Kelbert is an MA graduate in Development Studies at IDS. Her dissertation has focused on challenging the North-South discourse in agriculture through a case study of the Confédération Paysanne in France.

This article is crossposted to the Participation, Power and Social Change blog