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A reflexive postdevelopment critique of development knowledge: Exploring bases for alliance with development professionals

Peter A Tamas, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation accepts that the way that international social and economic development is taught, practised and critiqued condemns its practitioners to co-opt those who engage them in alliances into becoming instruments for the extension of western hegemony. It demonstrates that this analysis and its outcome are inevitable conclusions given the Enlightenment approaches used in the theory and practice and the postdevelopment theory deployed in the critique of development. This dissertation argues that the work of Jacques Lacan provides a foundation for training for, the practice of and the critique of development that escapes these limitations. Initial exploration for dissertation was composed within the work of Michel Foucault. This perspective made it possible to see the effects of the partial use made of Foucault by postdevelopment critics. The gap between this potential and their use justified field research. Research involved an iterative sequence of interviews with development professionals that engaged both their accounts of the relationship between knowledge and action in development and accounts of their own production and reproduction as development professionals. Following the Foucauldian argument that there are a plurality of discourses, the content of these interviews was synthesized into narratives that evinced a variety of relationships between knowledge and action. Actions, however, are necessarily justified on the terms of, and therefore reinforce, the dominant discourse. In addition to discussing the relationship between knowledge and action, subjects were also found to discuss dispositions like naïveté and cynicism. These were not anticipated nor are they well accommodated in Enlightenment or Foucauldian frameworks. This surplus was productively engaged through the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan. Lacan's notions of fantasy and the unconscious are found to provide a terrain within which it is possible to suggest how development practitioners can be engaged as allies in a manner that does not result in the extension of western hegemony. His theory is also found to suggest a framework for the understanding of education that may produce development professionals who are far more fit than those solely educated in the Enlightenment tradition to serve as allies.

Subject Area

Cultural anthropology|Social studies education|Social structure

Recommended Citation

Tamas, Peter A, "A reflexive postdevelopment critique of development knowledge: Exploring bases for alliance with development professionals" (2006). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3245360.