Tuesday, 5 April 2011

'Where is the Human in Human-Centred approaches to Development?: A Foucauldian Critique of Amartya Sen’s ‘Development as Freedom’

Draft paper for 'Reading Michel Foucault in the Postcolonial Present: A Symposium', University of Bologna, Italy, March 3-4, 2011,

Professor David Chandler

This paper engages with Foucault’s critical exploration of shifts and transformations in liberal frameworks of governmental rationality to consider how our understanding of the human subject has been transformed within development discourses.

In today’s dominant conceptualization of human-centered approaches to development, individual autonomy or freedom is the central motif for understanding the problematic of development. Human agency has been placed at the centre and is increasingly seen to be the measure of development, in terms of individual capabilities. The individualized understanding of development takes a rational choice perspective of the individual or ‘the agent-orientated view’ (Sen 1999: 11). This paper seeks to critically engage with the view of the human and of human agency articulated within this approach. In this discourse, development is taken out of an economic context of GNP growth or industrialization, or a social and political context, in which development policies are shaped by social and political pressures or state-led policies. Foucault’s work on the disappearance or invisibility of power, particularly as articulated through the shift towards biopolitical frameworks of liberal governmentality – focusing on the irreducible decision-making subject – ‘the rationality of the governed’ (2008: 312) will be used to critically engage with Sen. This paper genealogically draws out the changing nature of western discourses of development and the understanding of policy practices as promoting the empowerment of the post-colonial other in order to examine how development and autonomy have been radically differently articulated in discourses of Western power and how today’s discursive framing feeds on and transforms colonial and early post-colonial approaches to the human subject.

The paper is available by clicking

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