Before starting this course, I had a naive view on development; that ‘us’ in developed countries had a duty to help ‘them’ in less developed countries. I definitely believed in the ‘single story’ (Adichie, 2009) of Africa – that all Africans were poor, starving and sick – partly due to getting all my information on development from Western media.
I also thought of development in terms of Said’s (1978) binary opposites – the idea that people in developing countries were ‘others’ who could be helped by people in the West. Thinking about development, I tended to think only of economic growth, job creation and curing diseases, not about happiness, fulfilment and empowerment. However, I had a very positive view on development and thought that all the inequalities in the world could be solved given enough time and resources.
At the start of the course, while my naivety about development disappeared, my positive attitude also did. Studying all the different development actors, their criticisms and the many dilemmas in development, I began to see the size of development as a subject and the many unresolved debates in it. Writing my first blog post ‘What Is Development?’ I found myself agreeing with Rist (2007), that there was an ‘absence of a real definition’ (Rist, 2007 p.486) of development and that development was just a word made up to group a series of problems with no obvious solution. I began to think that there would always be a divide between developed and developing countries, and realised that for every person helped, there were still many more who were suffering.
Reading works by African scholars has increased my understanding of a different perspective of development and helped me to understand how I used to view the world. I have found that this has had the largest impact on how I think about development, increasing my understanding that in all developing countries – whilst there is some extreme poverty – there is also education, humour and happiness. Now when reading pieces on development in Western media, I often find myself thinking about how they are written and how they would be viewed by the people they are written about.
Nearing the end of the course, I find my optimistic attitude towards development returning. Writing my piece ’20 Years of Good Change’ inspired me to think about the future of development and what could be done to educate others with opinions like mine once were. I also found myself thinking about solutions to what I think of as problems in development, and realising that these can be achieved. I now think of development not as a negative thing, describing all the inequalities and problems in the world, but as a positive concept, inspiring people to challenge these problems and change them. Thinking about development does not fill me with naive hope as it once did, nor does it fill me with dread. Instead I find myself thinking about possibilities – the possibility of change, the possibility of a world with equal opportunities and the possibility for everyone to be happy and fulfilled.
Rist, G. (2007) ‘Development as a buzzword’, Development in Practice, 17(4-5), p.485-491
Said, E. (2003) Orientalism. London: Penguin Books.
TEDtalksDirector (2009) Chimamanda Adichie: The danger of a single story. Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9Ihs241zeg (accessed 05/12/2012)