The unbearable modernity of 'development'? Canal irrigation and development planning in Western India

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Post-development theorists have argued that ideas such as 'progress', 'growth', 'poverty' and 'underdevelopment', are artifacts of a discourse of development that has imposed its normalizing and teleological vision on the world. I intend this essay as a provisional critique of post-development theory. I show with the help of a detailed case study of canal irrigation-led development in central Gujarat, India, that while the general critique of development presented by post-development theorists is valid in many respects, the criticisms they launch are neither novel; nor, are their understandings of development processes particularly nuanced. Morever, I demonstrate that post-development theory is philosophically inconsistent when examined on its own terms. In contrast to the critics of development, whose project concludes, inevitably anti-development stance, 1 argue that development can be liberatory in particular time-space contexts. We cannot make a priori assessments of development outcomes without understanding the freedoms they enable or curtail: in other words, their moral geographies. I suggest that as development planners and scholars interested in tackling issues of poverty, inequality, and deprivation, we can use our theoritical arsenal to expose and contest capricious and disempowering forms of development; and imagine alternative strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-80
Number of pages80
JournalProgress in Planning
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2002

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