Does the Development Discourse Learn from History?

Park, Albert Sanghoon. "Does the Development Discourse Learn from History?" World Development (2017),

What is the nature and extent of historical awareness in the development discourse? Does the development discourse learn from history, including its own? Set in the contexts of aging development institutions and a changing geopolitical climate, this paper provides one account through a historiographical survey of 136 journal articles across 10 leading development journals. It uncovers a substantial body of works, which offer descriptive histories, derivative lessons, and historiographical critiques. Altogether, they evidence two modes in which the development discourse attempts to learn from history. The first lies in the proactive use of external histories as empirical evidence for a variety of development issues. This is the predominant mode exhibited in the survey. A second mode lies in the use of internal histories of the development discourse, itself. Here, the survey finds a number of noteworthy but largely disparate efforts. This suggests a relative dearth in historiographical self-consciousness for a narrow but influential segment of the development discourse. A number of consequences are considered, ultimately responding to the legitimacy, efficacy, and sustainability of development action. In sum, our survey finds that the mainstream development journal discourse is adept at learning from external histories, but not necessarily from its own. Evidence, however, suggests that it can. A case is made for why it must.

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