Global partnerships to prioritise care and the preservation of life

By Christiane KliemannNew Rhythms of Development blog series

Amid the multitude of current interconnected and mutually reinforcing global crises, the closing panel of our recent #NewDevRhythms conference in Lisbon centred around the question what Development Studies could do to understand and respond to the various facets of these crises, while, as a  discipline, facing numerous crises of its own. To consult and bring forward non-European perspectives, EADI president Andy Sumner who chaired the session had invited representatives of Development Studies Associations from different parts of the world.

Latin America: inequality as a starting point

Karina Batthyány, Executive Secretary of the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO) pointed out that the multicrisis in Latin America and the Caribbean is a combination of economic, ecological and social issues at a level of complexity going beyond issues of poverty and inequality: Racism, the absence of state institutions, poor quality of democracy, institutional weakness of the state and lack of indigenous rights add another layer of challenges to the overall situation. High social inequality has remained a historical structural characteristic of the region as well as the dependence on extraction of natural resources. She highlighted that more than 50 percent of the population live in poverty, which threatens to extend also to the middle class and proves that attempts to fight inequality have not been effective.

This is why, from an academic point of view, she suggested solutions to be developed from an inequality perspective in an inter- and transdisciplinary manner, together with social movements and policymakers. To facilitate such a collective endeavour, CLASCO has set up social dialogue platforms in the following areas: 1) Democracy and Peace, 2) Environment, Climate Change and Social Development, 3) Migration and Human Mobility, and 4) Work and Education. Beyond this, Batthyány mentioned integrating different forms of knowledge, also from social movements and local communities as crucial elements, as well as education and capacity building beyond academia and global cooperation of researchers and practitioners in an equitable way.

As a starting point, she proposed starting from the political dimensions of everyday life which set the focus on a society of care that puts life, its recreation and equity at the centre.

Indonesia: equity instead of growth

Arief Anshory Yusuf, President of the Indonesian Regional Science Association started his analysis of the situation in Indonesia with the COVID-19 pandemic which killed one million people in the country and increased both poverty as well as generating larger inequalities, especially in the hardest-hit regions. This, as he pointed out, may signal towards a destructive recovery trajectory due to certain “co-morbidities” which are poverty and vulnerability, high income inequality, unfavourable structural transformations and insufficient social protection.

To be better prepared for further crises, he suggested to eliminate these co-morbidities through three main policy-measures: 1) focusing on equity instead of growth, which he described rather as a prerequisite for than an outcome of growth, 2) empowering state capacity, especially fiscal space, by more progressive taxation to support social progressive spending, and 3) improving democracy and institutions to eliminate rent-seeking and tax evasion to redirect resources for social infrastructure instead of being captured by elites.

He referred to “a capitalism which misdirects resource allocation” as the root cause of the ongoing food crisis, climate crisis and continued deforestation in Indonesia, and asked “How can we rely on an economic system that disregards most things that we value?” Here, he particularly highlighted the role of Development Studies which might “help us understand why we often under-invest in what is truly important to us.”

The Global South and the tech (digital)/gender gap

Eun Mee Kim, President of Ewha Womans University and representing the Asian Political and International Studies Association (APISA) analysed the global situation through the lens of the North-South-divide in terms of access to education and digital technologies as well as gender inequalities. Starting from the analysis that we are not only failing to achieve the SDGs, but even going backwards in the areas of inequality, climate change, biodiversity loss and ecological footprint, she stressed the importance of access to artificial intelligence, digital technologies and higher education in the Global South. In the light of the extreme North-South gap in research and development and the brain-drain from the South to the North, she pointed to these factors as key for the capacity to confront the various contemporary crises.

She made clear that the COVID-19 pandemic widened the gender gap all over the world, as well as the digital gap between the North and the South where access to the internet became even more expensive during COVID, reminding us that the care burden was largely left to women who fell back in their jobs while extreme poverty and health and vaccine inequality increased tremendously during the pandemic. At the same time, official development assistance for Southern countries decreased which left Southern countries alone with the challenges of economic slowdown and the breakdown of health systems, as she explained. For these reasons, she stressed the importance of international development cooperation for digital and gender equality in the Era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to enable Southern countries to overcome these extreme divides.

South Africa: the case for a new philosophical understanding of Development Studies

Sebeka Richard Plaatje, President of the South African Development Studies Association (SADSA) analysed the crisis of development and Development Studies in Africa from a philosophical perspective, suggesting that development in whichever definition must put human beings front and centre, which would, according to his line of thoughts, require the preservation of life as a fundamental prerequisite in the first place. Beyond this principle, he argued, development becomes an ideology that is shaped by philosophies of different worldview that are very often oppositional. Historically, as he explained, the ideology of development and its attendant discourses were founded exclusively on Euro-centric philosophical underpinnings which were later universalised through conquest. This Eurocentric development philosophy also justified colonialism, patriarchy, conquest, and Western modernity amongst other things, and “allowed humanity to enter a civilisation of death which is incapable of resolving its problems, and which is increasingly proving today to no longer have moral authority.”

As for Development Studies, he pointed to critical self-reflection and generation of consciousness around racism and epistemic chauvinism in the history of mainstream development and Development Studies as “a necessary but insufficient condition to address its problems”. He mentioned that development suffers from the crisis of legitimacy in the Global South due to continued preclusion of African philosophies in the debate about development. He further noted that this is development and Development Studies’ “crisis of commitment to its own transformation to opening up itself to the pluriversal world.” As a point of departure towards something new, he suggested the centrality of human life as articulated in concepts such as Ubuntu and Buen Vivir, as well as the elevation of “sameness” and de-politization of difference/s amongst human beings as the foremost necessary principles towards a liberated development and Development Studies for humanity.

What can EADI do?

Confronted with the question of what EADI could do to respond to what has been discussed, all panellists made concrete suggestions. Some ideas were an initiative to learn from past mistakes in decolonisation efforts, an educational project on the global character of research, establishing guidelines on South-North cooperation in higher education, a programme for international student exchanges, and enabling critical dialogue and self-reflection combined with brainstorming about a truly inclusive shape of global development. What all panellists had in common was the focus on international partnerships and an understanding of development that puts care and life front and centre.

Christiane Kliemann does communications at EADI. Besides, she writes on social-ecological transformation, degrowth and postgrowth