Colonialism, the White Man’s Burden, and the History of Development

Internationaldevelopmentshould.com is a blog about making people really think about the “purpose of international development efforts and alternative approaches to the design, implementation, and evaluation of ‘international development’ projects, programs, and policies” (http://internationaldevelopmentshould.com/mission/).  One blog post written a little over a year ago, The More Things Change: Development’s Colonial Heritage,” discusses some of the basic history about how the development field came to be what it is today.   The blog writer broke it down into three separate blog posts with historical details ranging from after the First World War, after the Second World War, and post-colonialism during the 1960 to 1970’s.

In particular, the blog focuses on the ‘sovereign-state’ system as well as the idea of development , welfare, and reconstruction.  The author argues that in the post-colonialism era, independence did not liberate people, but freed the “states.” This has culminated in “ineffective and illegitimate development programs and policies” in these so-called developing areas because of the distribution of illegitimate power.

In Britain, the Colonial Development and Welfare Act of 1939 defined development as referring to the infrastructure necessary to be able to extract raw materials while welfare included the social services necessary to prevent civilian outcry through protests or revolution.  There was a reason for the welfare, and it wasn’t to merely help the “natives.”

After World War II, the United States was the only nation involved in foreign aid bi-laterally until France began in 1961.  Forty-three percent of the aid donated by the United States directly flowed into European countries which was no different from the World Bank who primarily only loaned money to the same industrial powers.

According to the blog, many Westerners who worked with indigenous people “explicitly rejected the non-European beliefs and values of ‘those’ people.”  John Maynard Keynes wrote about how twenty-one of the countries which had been invited to join the World Bank and International Monetary Fund “clearly have nothing to contribute and merely encumber the ground.”  Additionally, several United Nations delegates were vehement in their position that development was “’a Western mode of reasoning’” to the indigenous people in the colonies.   The blog continues with specific instances in which the UK and France went directly from a “colonial administration to direct bi-lateral international development assistance.”

The reason why I bring all of this up is because of our recent conversations about the KONY 2012 Campaign and the International Development field altogether.  As we briefly discussed the “White Savior Industrial Complex,” I think it is important to note the history of development and the history of the White Man’s Burden as well as the role of white men in the “development” of the world.  There is a long history of development and the precedent that colonialism and imperialism left was merely the foundation for development.  As we study ICT4D vs. ICT4$, it is imperative for us to understand the history of the 4$ and 4who exactly.  Whether or not we define ICT4D as such or as 4$, the idea of “development” is not so neutral in itself especially within the historical context which this article brings some light to.  International development was never purely intentioned from the start.  At the same time, whether or not people have a desire to help people and have pure intentions, this does not always lead to positive impact as we have clearly seen in the case of KONY 2012.  However, I think it is imperative that we don’t stop at KONY 2012.  Besides projects with tied aid or for security purposes, it is crucial that we are critical of all development because of its very nature and the guaranteed profit in some form that someone gains (which is usually the donor in this market-society). While people need to be able to make a living to do good work, we have to be very clear about how development workers have come to have their jobs and be cognizant of the history of development and each individual’s role in the process of reframing what that means.  If we truly are pure about our intentions, why would we resist having these real conversations about white privilege and the way in which we operate our development projects?  In my opinion, if we don’t have these conversations, than we are merely adding to the many problems with development.

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2 responses to “Colonialism, the White Man’s Burden, and the History of Development

  • ccrowle1

    This is really awesome and I’m glad that there are people who realize there’s a whole history behind the field we’re studying that we’re taught quite little about. I think what you don’t give yourself and all of us credit for (and I don’t blame you) is that we’re able to spontaneously have these conversations in the context of classes like ICT4D. I guess the reality is that ICTs change the playing field and we should be examining, like you say, whether we’re actually playing a different game.

    This is a bit unrelated I’ve read a few articles on knowledge as a commodity and that things like TED talks and other ICT-based platforms really don’t change the production/consumption of open-source knowledge/information across traditional demographics. I can’t find them right now but I will try to follow up with those!
    Sorry this post is kind of an aimless tangent but essentially I just want to say I agree.

  • mariahvb

    I definitely agree! Nothing to add, but great post : )

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