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Individual Paper: Undoing the developmentalist fantasy

From Truman to Trump

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Developmentalism, particularly its sustainable variant is still the dominant narrative in global governance and international relations. It is intrinsically linked with the idea of exponential and on-going economic growth as the main goal for all societies, and it legitimates global inequalities with the suggestion that there is a peaceful solution to the underlying antagomisms of contemporary international relations. Developmentalism is convincing: it covers the social horizon, and its power is related to how its premises are accepted by the so-called developed and developing alike. Critical voices have been present since the emergence of developmentalist ideology, and have influenced numerous bottom-up movements and policies. However, developmentalism has not been replaced as a global narrative (for various reasons, including the symbiosis between global capitalism and the developmentalist fantasy).
The power, stickiness, hegemony of the developmental promise has been studied, and problematized in social science and humanities. Yet, two recent occurrences reveal how fragile the developmentalist ideology has become. The fantasy that every society will eventually reduce poverty, and follow the others into a path of progress and welfare is less convincing in the context of these two events: The first illustration is the alleged remarks President Donald Trump has made in January 2018 about certain parts of the world (particularly those countries that the US, in his opinion, should not receive more immigrants from). The second instance is the recommendation the Working Group on the Anthropocene has made to the International Geological Congress on 29 August 2016, after voting to formally designate our current epoch the Anthropocene.
The paper first provides a historical study of the developmentalist fantasy from the end of the Second World War to present, using a discourse theoretical approach. After noting the roots of the fantasy in colonial times, I focus on how the fantasy of sustainable development has become central to the work of global governance institutions. The analysis begins with President Harry Truman’s (1949) inaugural speech introduced the term “underdeveloped nations” to international relations and shows how President Donald Trump’s alleged remarks on “shithole countries” (2018) is a denial of the developmentalist fantasy, and how it destabilizes the established narratives. Then, I investigate the second instance: the emergence of the Anthropocene debate in the social sciences and humanities as well as popular culture and art. The contestations about the meaning of the concept are far from settled, however, the Anthropocene represents a change in our understanding of self and other, human and nature etc. The imagery of humanity in control of planetary systems is a fantasy powerful enough to replace the developmentalist fantasy. I conclude by relating the dislocation revealed by Trump’s words to the the emergence of the Anthropocene as an alternative discourse in global environmental politics.


Day: 2018-08-23
Start time: 14:30
Duration: 00:15
Room: ABF204
Track: Critical Social Theories



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