International Development in Transition: Critical Perspectives - Þjóðarspegillinn Social Sciences Conference


3.11.2017 - 3.11.2017


Reykjavík, Iceland (view on map)


GEST leads a panel at Þjóðarspegillinn Social Sciences Conference

Conference poster


The panel "International Development in Transition: Critical Perspectives" was held in Þjóðarspegillinn Social Sciences Conference organised by the Social Science Research Institute (SSRI) of the University of Iceland on the 3rd of November 2017 and was led by Dr. Pétur Waldorff and Erla Hlín Hjálmarsdóttir from GEST.

Critical perspectives on international development were reflected from different fields within the social sciences and from different geographical contexts. From locating the social in development in rural Tanzania, the McDonaldization of the development field in Namibia, to the process of defining the post 2015 agenda and the SDGs in Senegal. Although the research data on which these presentations are based are derived from field research in different countries on the sub-Saharan continent the findings and reflections are of a general nature and thus could apply to a variety of geographical and social contexts.

Dr. Pétur Waldorff, Senior Researcher at UNU-GEST presented (Ad)Ventures in Development: Reflections on the “Social” in International Development. White elephants, unintended consequences and development mistakes are prominent concepts in discourses on development. International development has been critiqued for not achieving the goals it sets out to accomplish, which includes eradicating poverty and helping those in need. The development concept has had to fight for its survival on all frontiers; political, social and academic. Complex realities, cultural factors, and conflicting ideologies are, for example, thought to stand in the way of development successes.

The ethnographic field research on which this presentation is based took place in the Kigoma region of Tanzania in 2015 and 2016. It is based on a gender focused value chain analysis of fish and fish processing, a qualitative research methodology originating in business studies but used in this case as an applied development research methodology. Research results have shown that the value chain of fish in Kigoma is highly divided by gender. The main focus of this presentation was put on the diverse complexities of development research and representations of complex socio-economic variables that are important to understand and acknowledge for development interventions to succeed and become sustainable. Empirical examples were offered from fieldwork in Tanzania where piracy, human trafficking and sex work, among other factors, all became an unexpected part of an applied development research project.

Erla Hlín Hjálmarsdottir, Head of Research at GEST presented McDonaldization of Development. The study is part of a PhD research in political science at the University of Iceland which critically addresses the concept of performance within development cooperation and explores how the quest for performance affects organizational behavior. It may be difficult to envision how an American fast food chain is embodied in institutional changes within the sphere of development. Based on Weber´s notion of the iron cage, George Ritzer introduced his theory of McDonaldization of society in 1993, with a focus on the irrational consequences of rational systems. In this paper it is argued that McDonaldization of development is a manifestation of the standardization within the sector and the prevailing tyranny of the measurable, relying on analysis of data collected from the rural water supply sector in Namibia and among actors within the international development sphere.

Some primary components of McDonaldization, such as efficiency, predictability, and calculability, often imposed by the standardization of international organizations, are highly prominent within the development sector. It is argued that such unintended neo-colonialism affects the behavior of individuals and institutions in various ways, including in institutional isomorphism and the supersizing of development.

Guðrún Helga Jóhannsdóttir, PhD Candidate at the Universtiy of Iceland presented Participation in the Post 2015 Consultations in Senegal. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the successor of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), were formed with an overall global consultation. The voice of everyone everywhere was to be heard in the world we want post 2015. This was done as an attempt to respond to major critique of the MDGs, that they were formed by a small group of insiders, without any consultation with stakeholders. National consultations took place in 88 countries at all levels of society, including Senegal, where academics, practitioners and citizens shared their views on the world that they wanted. The overall aim of this article is to examine the request for participation during the post-2015 national consultation process in Senegal and reflect upon whether this massive participation served its purpose. Research findings reveal a contradiction between best practices in development policy making and desired outcomes.

The full program of Þjóðarspegillinn Conference is found here.