EADI @ 50 Years: Celebrating Why Researching and Studying Development Matters

By Laura Camfield and Andy Sumner

EADI will celebrate its 50th anniversary from April 2024 to September 2025. It was founded in 1975 in Linz, Austria, after a meeting of researchers the year before in Ghent, Belgium. Those researchers wanted to ‘promote a concerted approach to the gaps and shortcomings in research on development problems.‘

Development in Crisis: Reflecting on the Past, Looking to the Future

EADI was established in the turbulent world of the 1970s. Fast forward fifty years, and the world seems just as turbulent. The global South/East and North/West then and now face shocks and stressors, although their ability to respond financially, in policy, and in terms of capacity differs dramatically across countries.

Looking backwards, there was the oil price crisis of the 1970s, the debt crisis and neo-liberal resurgence of the 1980s, the end of the Cold War in 1989, the global financial crisis of the late 2000s, the Arab Spring, and the recent COVID-19 pandemic, among other significant events. The world witnesses a rising number of conflicts within and between countries, most notably the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East and their geopolitical and socio-economic consequences. However, these crises are seen differently in different parts of the world.

Since the 1970s, there have been improvements in a range of basic development indicators, including higher average incomes, reduced infant mortality and child mortality, and wider access to primary education. But absolute poverty remains pervasive in the global South, and precarity and marginalisation are evident in the North and the South. In much of the North, median wages have stagnated, and relative poverty has risen, creating new questions.

The post-pandemic context is characterized by higher interest rates and debt servicing leading to austerity measures and the diversion of resources that could otherwise be used for social and productive spending. Across the world, there is the rise of right-wing nationalism and populism. There are also new challenges to democratic ideals, partly linked to digitalisation and new technologies, themselves influenced by geopolitics with states intervening in the elections of other countries.

And on the immediate horizon, climate change is now more evident. Extreme weather events are more frequent, and as agricultural patterns shift with climate change, food production will be volatile and thus food prices too. Estimates of migration necessary as a result of climate change are in the order of billions.

How can researchers understand and respond to these growing incongruences between the need for intensified global cooperation in view of the rising global challenges – climate change, loss of biodiversity, etc. – and the retrograde trend in many countries to look backward to a better past as propagated by populist politicians? What does talk of a ‘multipolar world’ really mean? At a national level, is the trend towards increasingly authoritarian/autocratic regimes inevitable or unavoidable? And how do such trends perceived differently around the world?

All of these factors set the context for a series of urgent transitions, including green transitions in energy and adaptation, which will interact with remarkable technological changes, particularly in artificial intelligence, genetic manipulation, and quantum computing in the coming years.

It is within this context that the 50th anniversary of EADI takes place.

Dudley Seers, the first President of EADI, stated that ‘we need to discard the idea that there is such a subject as ‘their’ problem of development and accept that we are all dealing with common, worldwide problems—though they take different forms in different parts of the world.’ One could add that the extent of global inequality, as a result of colonial and contemporary history, means any talk of common problems sits uneasily alongside very unequal capacities to respond to crises not only between the North/West and South/East but also within each.

During this anniversary year, EADI aims to critically assess and reflect on development and development studies, responding to the topics raised by EADI members and EADI working groups, to address today’s development challenges.

EADI plans to generate a kaleidoscope of various views, perhaps rearranging these to better understand the direction in which the world might be headed. EADI will have a rolling calendar of events, including local, regional, and international events that fall under the umbrella of the anniversary.

In summary, as EADI looks ahead, the world today faces multiple crises. It has been the same many times in the past. EADI plans to reflect on that past and anticipate what might be expected from the next 50 years.

Laura Camfield is Professor of Development Research and Evaluation at King’s College London. She is the UK Representative in the EADI Executive Committee.

Andy Sumner is Professor of Development Studies at King’s College London, and President of EADI.

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