Development, as it is currently
conceived, has reached it limits economically, environmentally and socially
(toward a decolonial.. 2017:425). We are presently facing an impasse, a far-reaching
crisis, in which our global economic system has been proven ineffective at
engendering a good standard of living for all. Although, development has
attempted to assimilate various criticisms and has embarked on a more holistic path,
one which pays heed to the socio-ecological needs of our diverse cultures, peoples
and ecosystems, dissent remains (reference, reference, reference). Using Foucault’s
concept of genealogy and his ideas on discourse this paper will analyse current
alternatives within the development paradigm, paying attention to the emerging force
that is Sustainable Development and, in particular, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2030 Agenda. It will then look to Latin America and the emerging
concept of Buen Vivir, which has been
lauded as an indigenous inspired alternative to the Western-centric field of
development and which is seen as a contemporary expression of the ideas
introduced by the post-development era (towards a 2017:426). Through a critical
analysis of both ‘alternatives’, and a more general discussion on the nature of
change within the international system, it will be argued that although a
gradual shift away from the development paradigm is required, the field must also
begin a critical reformation so that it too can have a positive input in a plural


The 2030 Agenda and the ‘Will to Truth’

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The end of development and the
need for a new paradigm to deal with issues of growing inequality, environmental
degradation and the emancipation of subaltern groups, had been declared as
early as 1989(?) with the emergence of post-development scholars and a
multitude of different works (Reference). Nevertheless such prophesies of
impending doom did not come to bear and what we have seen instead is that
development has become embedded, as a worldview, in a network of international
institutions, national governments and non-governmental organizations (Easterly
?:2574). Problems, however, concerning the aforementioned issues have persisted
and so since the millennium, what has emerged are a growing number of
alternatives such as the ‘Human Development
Index’ and the ‘Capability Approach’,
which have sought to remedy the societal ills exacerbated by the overemphasis
on economic growth-led development. One particular alternative that has achieved
notable nuance is Sustainable Development, which, as an approach, was globally
operationalized in 2015.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development arose from two years of
intensive engagement and consultation between national governments, civil
society groups and other international stakeholders, focusing particularly on
the needs and voices of the poorest and most destitute (UN 2015:4). Setting out
a total of 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 related Targets, the Agenda
has a transformative vision which seeks to eradicate hunger, poverty, disease
and want; ensure equitable and universal access to healthcare, education and
social protection; and change consumption and production patterns so that our
use of all natural resources is sustainable (Ibid). It acknowledges the unevenness
in progress and shortcomings of the previous Millennium Development Goals (Ibid:7), reaffirms the political
integrity and sovereignty of UN member states (Ibid:12), and pledges to ‘build dynamic,
sustainable, innovative and people-centred economies’ (Ibid:9).   

Although the majority of aims in
the 2030 Agenda must be lauded for
their visionary qualities of a world absent of hunger, misery and inequality,
the problem lies in that they are non-binding, there are no sanction mechanisms
in place and the underlying emphasis is still placed on economic growth which
at 7% for the least developed nations (Ibid:21) can hardly be viewed as
sustainable. The world in development terms has always been viewed in
hierarchical terms due to the insatiable emphasis placed on Gross Domestic
Product, which sets out an objective means of classifying how developed a
country is. Teleology is thus what reigns when analysing the current situation
of any country as we are able to position them on a linear trajectory, from
where they currently place to where they need to be. The preponderance of this
linear notion and the unequivocal importance placed on exponential economic
progress is exemplified by the 2030
Agenda which fails to consider any notions of prosperity without growth
(Sachs ?:2577). This obsession with quantifiable data has now also been
transferred to an array of other issues such as health, education, oceanology
and food security, which creates the sense of a deficit between the developed
and developing nations. The 2030 Agenda
can thus be seen as a means of measuring the world and gives the idea of
development a reason to carry on existing (Ibid:2584).

           Development, in both its mainstream and
alternative forms, strives for what Foucault termed the ‘will to truth’
(1981:55). This mission, as such means that development persists in focusing
solely on what it considers can be deemed as truth – quantifiable indices – in
its discourse and practice. One sees this in the SDGs. This ‘will to truth’ is masked by the inclusionary language
used throughout the 2030 Agenda. We
see repeated use of collective pronouns, adjectives such as . . . and claims of
unity and solidarity. What is presented is a universal force and the idea that
what is being put forth is a consensus based program, exemplified on page 3 of
the document which proclaims that the agenda has been ‘accepted by all countries and is applicable to all. . . These are universal goals and targets which involve the entire world’ (emphasis added).
Although it may be farfetched to claim that it purposively produces what
Foucault called ‘machinery designed to exclude’ (Ibid:56), the implications are
very much such that those who may not agree or have different visions of
tackling the issues considered, are alienated by the lack of room for diversity
for which the document allows.

Although, sustainable development is critical of focusing
solely on growth based development, it does not criticise its structural
conditions and fundamentals, and as such, gives legitimacy to the material
basis of the modernising notion of development (An alternative to 2017:282).


Paraphrase and use to link this
section with section on Buen Vivir.

“The task of deconstructing particular aspects of
development discourse . . . can have a directly practical and political
outcome, for to reveal what at first sight appears to be objective reality as a
construct, the product of particular historical and political contexts, helps
problematize dominant paradigms and open the way for alterative paradigms.”
(Gardner & Lewis 2000:19) Think SDGs and Buen Vivir.


and the ’emergence’ of Buen Vivir

The pursuit of ‘alternative development’ is seen by post-development
scholars as a fruitless exercise because it persists in adhering to the linear
conception of the world system which reproduces the idea that there are still
many areas that are ‘underdeveloped’ and need to improve to become like the West
(Ziai ?:2548). Although, post-development scholars agree that their declaration
of the end of development was premature they persist in calling for the ‘decolonisation
of the imagination’, which acted as their original premise (Ziai reference 23).
The greatest push towards such decolonisation, and alternatives to the
development paradigm, have emanated from Latin American intellectuals,
governments and activists. One concept that has been gathering considerable
pertinence is Buen Vivir. The ideas
of Buen Vivir very much resonate with
Latin American decolonial thinking (Mignolo 2016; Escobar 2010; Esteva 2013;
Quijano 2000). Whereas decolonisation efforts have tended to focus solely on
economic exploitation, Arturo Escobar (2010:9) has argued that decolonization
must also confront neoliberal development paradigms and importantly the ‘modern
project’, which denotes ‘the kinds of coherence and crystallization of forms
(discourses, practices, structures, institutions)’ that have developed as a
result. What this can then challenge is what Humberto Quijano (2000) terms the
‘coloniality of knowledge’.

Buen Vivir was
formulated from the politics and societies of the indigenous communities of the
Andean region, predominantly in Bolivia and Ecuador. This means that it cannot
be epistemologically assimilated by alternative development approaches because
it transcends, ontologically, the current global political economy (an
alternative to document 2017:272). What it represents is an alternative to what
Gudynas (2011:455) describes as the ‘reductionism of life to economic values
and the subsequent commodification of almost everything’. Whereas, development
has come to embody the ideologies of growth, accumulation and the exploitation
of nature. Gudynas (Ibid) argues that the content of Buen Vivir is, instead, based on ethical, environmental and
intercultural values which counter the Western overemphasis on economic values
and anthropocentric worldviews. The notion is indebted to an assumption and
respect of differences and complementarities among human beings and between
humans and nature from an ecological standpoint, which accentuates the
principles of reciprocity, complementarity and relationality as essential to
harmonious human interaction and in relation to natures’ cycles (alternative to

There are two manifest forms of Buen Vivir in Latin America at present. One is the ecologist
position, which is the vanguard of critical political movements, intellectuals
and indigenous communities who reject the western Cartesian notion of duality
between nature and humans and emphasise community relations and respect for
their ecosystems as a way of maintaining Buen
Vivir (Guardiola & Garcia-Quero 2014:?). The other is the state led
extractive position which has been adopted by both the governments of Bolivia
and Ecuador, who use their natural resources as a means of funding social
spending, and who use the emancipatory rhetoric of Buen Vivir, as a way to maintain support and administer their
populations (Breton 2013:?).

Through looking at the example of Bolivia, one can see the
difficulties of attempting to implement Buen
Vivir at the state level. The notion has been employed since 2006 when Evo
Morales rose to power on the back of a campaign which stressed his indigenous
roots and his unequivocal opposition to neoliberalism. Commendably its
implementation, as a fundamental part of the National Development Plan, has provided the ethical foundation of a
pluri-national state in which indigenous peoples and their communities are now
regarded as “nations” (Galindo 2010). The NDP also explicitly recognizes the
need to deconstruct the institutions and practices that had been infiltrated by
neo-colonial domination and social exclusion, which had caused great
socio-economic inequalities revealed most prominently in indigenous communities
(Towards a 2017:431). Nevertheless, although there has been much ground covered
on empowering indigenous peoples and on social spending, the changes have
failed to address Bolivia’s reliance on extraction and primary resource
exports. Admittedly, these have funded many of the changes which have been
initiated but they fundamentally contradict the ecological underpinnings of Buen Vivir. So although official policies
have stressed ideas of respect for nature, actual government policies have not
followed such rhetoric, which can be seen, for example, in the promotion of
mining activities in the Amazon and in national parks (Radcliffe 2012:?).
Therefore, what is seen is merely a continuation of conventional development
under the guise of an alternative.

This situation where Latin American governments have
proclaimed to be embarking on a radical new form of politics but have in fact
further entrenched the traditional extractive industries has become known as
the ‘Latin American paradox’ (BuenVivir vs Dev reference 53). Some argue that
although Buen Vivir has led to a
shift away from neoliberalism it does not represent a viable alternative to
development (BuenVivir vs Dev ?:1437). Nevertheless, Tortosa (?:?) argues that
the current politics of governments who profess Buen Vivir should not be confused with its underlying principles
and rights as the latter will take a long time to be realized. This can be seen
as a result of the way in which the international system actively discourages other
forms of political economy in the shape of embargoes, tariffs and political
isolation, when countries attempt to embark on new socio-political trajectories
in a system which demands conformity.   

Buen Vivir with
its ideas rooted in the histories and traditional cultures of indigenous communities and their thinking, has become
a means of articulating critical views of mainstream development, and through
the practice of collective learning, it is hoped, will see the emergence of new
institutions, conceptions and practices which can act as an alternative to
communities in the region (Vanhurst & Beling 2014:?). Nevertheless, one
must be careful of overstating the homogenous nature of these communities and
movements, and thus falling into the same trap as that of development. Buen Vivir in this sense is a mechanism
by which communities are able to draw from their own experience and knowledge,
and affect change or maintain customs in the way they believe best enables them
to live in harmony and to re-establish the balance that was interrupted by


What Next?

Development has conceptualised the ‘other’ as a deficient
version of the self, difference is not acknowledged nor accepted, instead what
development discourse does is to identify nonconformity with what is presumed
to be ‘developed’ as inferiority (Ziai reference 29), thus what we get are
labels such as ‘illiterate’, ‘underdeveloped’ and ‘undemocratic’ to highlight
such deviance. Any sense of pluralism is not accepted and it is only with
pressure that development begins to accept certain ‘other’ ideas that were once
shunned. Aram Ziai puts it aptly that the failures of development ‘lead only to
a reformulation of the promise’ (Ziai ?:2551). This has to change, but how?

The Foucauldian conception of genealogy demands the deconstruction
of ideas and histories that are seen as immutable and unified. Thinking in
terms of genealogy allows for an understanding which is attentive to
discontinuous, illegitimate, local knowledge (Foucault 1980:83). It also
opposes the centralising effects of development which is linked to the
institution and functioning of discourse organized around a positivistic
unitary body which proclaims exclusivity. (Leff 2012:84) The SDGs can be seen as an example of this
tendency because they solely base their idea of positive change on quantifiable
means and indices assuming complete control of the development agenda through
there proclamations of no alternatives. An alternative to development based on
an acknowledgement of Foucault’s genealogy can therefore emancipate our current
understandings of the issues affecting diverse cultures through creating an
opposition to the ‘coercion of a theoretical, unitary, formal and scientific
discourse.’ (Foucault 1980:85) The scientific hierarchy of knowledges could
then dissipate in favour of an acceptance of local knowledges and their role in
determining the course of action for societies worldwide. As we have discussed,
mainstream development has been able to persist as it has regularly adapted to
the criticisms placed upon it through appropriating them within the alternatives
it has initiated. Foucault warns of this when he questions the danger of
genealogies being accepted to be then recolonised by the very paradigms to
which they rose in opposition (Ibid:87). The implications are manifold and not
only pertain to the danger of new alternatives being annexed into old dictums,
but also in attempting to protect these new ideas there is the danger as
Foucault suggested, ‘of ourselves constructing … (a) unitary discourse.’ (Ibid:
86) As we saw with the ideas of post-development and the subsequent ridicule
their scholars endured in the defence of their ideas such a danger is very

The problem with development, as it stands, is that it
assumes exclusivity on patterns of knowledge and thus claims to be the sole
mechanism through which certain issues can be dealt with, any notion of
self-criticism, is not only absent but impossible.  Nevertheless, the ontological conditions of
life have highlighted the need to de-construct unsustainable power devices
indebted to the hegemonic rationality of modernity and have beckoned a call for
innovative political strategies and theories which can reconstruct society
along those conditions (Leff 2012:64). (Logocentrism of science, modes of
production and market logic, and juridical norms). Although Buen Vivir represents a form of living
which may be difficult to transfer to contexts far removed from the indigenous
communites of the Andean region, what it does represent is an alternative which
understands the setting in which it operates and can offer a more holistic approach
to the difficulties facing the region. What this shows is that if development
is to survive as a theoretical and practical approach, and one which
importantly affects positive change, then it must begin to recognize, and work
alongside, not consume, other visions of how life should be. Pluralism in this
sense must be accepted, a pluralism which allows previously subjugated
knowledges to flourish. With the re-emergence of these local popular
knowledges, these disqualified knowledges, criticism can once again begin to
inform and enhance the most important debates and issues that effect our
societies at present (Ibid:84).



“The real generosity toward the future consists of giving everything to
the present”                      Albert Camus (1951:380).

For the Majority World, achieving development in the terms
laid out by the traditional understanding of development, as socio-economic
development in the capitalist sense, remains the primary objective for most
countries. This cannot be ignored and therefore development alternatives which
effectively enhance the well-being of disadvantaged, destitute members of
society must continue to be developed and operationalized. This, nevertheless,
does not discount the importance of beginning to look past development and
towards more emancipatory, sustainable and contextual systems of society, ones
which protect and enhance the rights of both people and the environment. These
must directly challenge and critique those organizations, politicians, and
corporations who purport to have peoples’ best interests at heart but who, in
fact, perpetuate and further embed the problems which effect their lives. The
idea of Buen Vivir rests on the
notion that other ways of living are possible, and not only does it strive to
remind the world of this point, but it also posits a means of understanding the
world based on an epistemology very different from that of the Global North. At
a time when the conventional ideas of progress posited by development are being
questioned due to the emerging socio-economic and environmental problems
affecting most parts of the world, different approaches with unique cultural
and historical insights may help to quell the tide of unrest.