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Escobar: Development And Domination. Book Review

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Development and domination.

Escobar's one sided discourse.

Book Review: Escobar, Arturo (1995) Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World. New Jersey: Princeton University Press

Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World (1995), written by Arturo Escobar, has been a controversial book in development debates. The book establishes a critical reading of multiple ideas and practices that have evolved, since World War II, to form what Escobar calls the development discourse. This book is continuation of an academic and political effort, started in the 1980s, to understand social constructions through discourse analysis.

Inevitably, Escobar's claims have raised comments and harsh criticisms by various authors (Little and Painter, 1995; Lehmann, 1997; Crew & Harrison, 1998; Pieterse, 1998; Mosse & Lewis, 2006). For most of these authors the problem is not so much with discourse analysis but with Escobar's actual study.

This article is divided in two. In the first some of Escobar's ideas in Encountering Development are revised: (1) the claim that development is a historical construction, and can be analysed as a discourse, and that by doing so, the analysis becomes a study of domination; (2) the authors perspective against claims of truth and universal models of understanding and acting; and (3) the idea of resistance as expression of alternative discourses. In a second part, I will consider some criticisms done to Escobar's arguments, and highlight aspects, that have resulted from the development debate, and seem relevant for understanding social processes of development.

Domination and discourse.

The structure of the book offers a general idea of Escobar's arguments, one of which is, discourse matters. Encountering Development is divided into six chapters. In the introduction the author explains his methodology and its usefulness, as well as the use of it by other authors. In the second chapter, Escobar argues that poverty, Third World and development are products of an apparatus that came to be in the post- World War II era; this apparatus, the author believes, is composed by forms of knowledge and forms of power. The third chapter is a historical revision of the involvement of some economists with the hegemonic development discourse. The forth and fifth are studies of discourse of specific practice of development in Colombia. The last chapter is dedicated to the existence of alternative discourses and how these are related with the hegemonic discourse. Overall, the author offers a narrative to construct development discourse as an object.

The main characteristic of Escobar's book is that his analysis of development is based on Michael Foucault's conception of discourse, in which discourse is practice. For Escobar any practice is discursive, and can be understood in a specific discourse. In this logic, Escobar bounds any practice of development as part of the development discourse.

As result of the above theoretical departure, Encountering Development can be read as a book about domination. Indeed, Escobar claims that discourse analysis allows him to focus on domination (1995, p.6). According to the author, by equating discourse and practice is possible to understand the production of objects as a cultural action. Additionally, the study of the production of realities, or objects, from a hegemonic discursive position can carry imposition and domination. The creation of poverty, for example, is seen by Escobar as product of the development discourse. In this case, those who are labelled as poor are liable to be shaped as that particular form of poor (a discursive poor).

Furthermore, for Escobar, discourse is not an effect of natural social process in which ideas are found spontaneously; instead, discourse is a construction in a specific context and historic moment. The author believes that after World War II there was a conjuncture, related with previous transformations, that allowed the formation of development as a discourse. The propitious context for the hegemony of development discourse, according to Escobar, is characterised by various events: at the first half of the xx century, increasing anticolonial struggles and growing nationalism; in the post-World War II era, the cold war, the dominant countries' need to find new markets, fear of communism and overpopulation and faith in science and technology as means for development. This historical conjuncture is for Escobar the beginning of the hegemony of development discourse.

The expansion and production of the development discourse is understood by Escobar as a process; in this process an "effective apparatus" relates "forms of knowledge" and "techniques of power" (1995, p.10). Furthermore, this "effective apparatus" creates spaces of action where subjectivities are produced, and the life of people ruled and shaped. Moreover, these spaces of action are regimes of discourse and regimes of representation: the first ones are "domains of thought and action" (p.10); the second ones are "places of encounter where identities are constructed and also where violence is originated, symbolized and managed" (p.10). In other words, the development discourse is a productive apparatus that constructs spaces of action.

In the formation of the development discourse, Escobar adds, there are two main actions that are taken to continuously produce discourse: institutionalization and professionalization. The first one is the construction of an effective network of power, that according to the author, is successfully "able to integrate, manage, and control countries and populations in increasingly detailed and encompassing ways" (1995, p.45). The second is a process in which the so called specialists, or professionals, become an important group for the implementation of development models. The main examples he relies on are international organizations such as the World Bank and the United Nations. In this bureaucratic apparatus Escobar sees the representation of the development discourse.

There are two other major claims in Encountering Development. On the one hand, an accusation of the development discourse as a form of knowledge that imposes claimed truths and, also, a reproduction of a form of control over the Third World. On the other hand, Escobar criticizes the use of universal models thought for interventions in diverse context; moreover, for the author, this practice



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