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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2001, Vol. 4 No. 2 .

Development Theory: Deconstructions/Reconstructions
Jan Nederveen Pieterse

London, Thousand Oaks and New Delhi: Sage, 2001
208pp. Hb.: £50.00; ISBN 0-7619-5292-6. Pb.: £16.99; ISBN 0-7619-5293-4.

Development Deconstructed?

This collection consists of previously published essays on critical globalism, globalization, the 'cultural turn' and critiques of alternative development and 'post-development'. While the idea of this book is timely, its overall sum is rather less than its parts. This partly reflects the difficulty of reconciling the deconstructive and reconstructive strands in development thinking.

The opening chapters set out a fairly conventional 'po-mo' position on 'development'. He highlights the impossibility of generalising about what it is and concludes that development theory must leave 'totalizing paradigms' behind (p50). Deconstruction and reconstruction lead the author in conflicting directions. This ambivalence is clear when he discusses 'alternative development'. While he supports human development, he rejects the notion that it can represent a coherent perspective, or that it is 'alternative'. This has the effect of glossing over the real conflicts that are taking place between human and ecologically centred and market-centred models of development. I would argue, contra Pieterse, that alternative development retains an intellectual coherence that cannot be done away with just because postmodern development theory desires post-paradigmatic status.

Deconstruction sometimes has the unfortunate effect of cutting concepts like 'culture' and 'development' off from political struggles. The growing fragmentation and inequality of the world system is precisely the reason why development theory needs a core of ideas that remain human-centred, sustainable and needs-based. His version of 'critical globalism' includes a variety of arguments and positions, but there isn't enough substantive depth and coherence to move the critical project beyond the 'globo-cliché'. His engagement with political economy consists of a tired rejection of Samir Amin's 'de-linking' thesis and a simplistic critique of world-systems theory.

His attempt to 'bring in culture' fails to clarify how development theory and cultural analysis might be brought closer together. Despite specifying that critical globalism must involve '?theorizing the entire field of forces', including market forces, interstate relations, international agencies and civil society in its domestic and international manifestations' (p46), the discussion doesn't really go there. In Chapter 5 he criticises 'endogenous' development' that takes national and local forms, rightly fearing that 'ethnodevelopment' will lead to ethnochauvinism. Yet he contradicts himself in Chapter 8 by congratulating Malaysia for its ethnodevelopment policies. He has little to say about state formations of culture and power vis-à-vis civil society, except to praise East Asian governments for having 'ingenious political and social arrangements?to effect social policies in a market-friendly fashion' (p118). Instead of 'add culture and stir', he effectively subtracts culture, leaving aside questions of how ethnic mobilisation combines with the quest for economic power.

Pieterse remains optimistic that conflicting approaches to development can be reconciled, transcended, 'healed' and resolved. However, his descent into Taoist platitudes and chaos theory fails to convince, serving up narcissistic reflexivity and political quietude in the guise of 'non-Western', 'scientific' and 'holistic' alternatives.

Su-ming Khoo
Department of Political Science and Sociology

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