Discourses on Development

  • Björn Hettne
Part of the Palgrave Advances book series (PAD)


Development is an old idea, but nevertheless an integral part of the modern project, that is, the ideological tradition of seeing society as an object to be changed by rational, purposive human action, a worldview that grew particularly strongly in Europe. This view was more recently incorporated in development studies, the academic field devoted to the modernisation of ‘underdeveloped’ societies. This incorporation took an essentialist form, in the early phase of theory-building close to fundamentalism. Today the intellectual climate is, for good reasons, more sceptical towards Grand Theory in general, and perhaps development theory and social engineering in particular. We are said to live not only in a postmodern era, but also a post-development one. Nevertheless, thinking about development constitutes a rich tradition in social science, encompassing important theoretical debates as well as an ambition to reflect a global experience of societal changes in different corners of the world. It is, however, difficult to summarise this debate in terms of clear-cut results or a blueprint for ‘development’. This overview therefore rests on the assumption that, in order to make sense of successive schools of development theory, it should be historically contextualised rather than understood as a linear evolution of ideas.


Civil Society Development Theory Global Governance Global Development World Order 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2005

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  • Björn Hettne

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