The final version of this working paper is forthcoming as a publication of the Wisconsin International Law Journal


Whether it is being praised or excoriated, defended or condemned, the concept of development shapes and dominates our thinking about the Third World. Indeed development has evolved into an essentially incontestable paradigm with such a hold on our collective imaginations, that it is almost impossible to think around or beyond it. This article, however, interrogates development to its very core, demonstrating that although it is presented as something that is universal, natural and inevitable, in truth it is part of the Western political and cultural imagination. Moreover, the interlocking ideological assumptions that support this paradigm are inherently hierarchical and by definition privilege certain societies, cultures and institutions while disparaging others. This critique traces how development began, how it has evolved and expanded in theory and practice over the last fifty years, and the evolution and influence of the institutions that determine its content. It also considers the implicit ideology that underpins development, as well as how and why it has come to feel almost inevitable and natural despite its short and disappointing history. While no new meta-narrative is posed, we nonetheless turn to imagining a world that does not demand that people ‘develop’ into something other than what they are.


International Law | International Trade Law

Date of this Version

June 2004