Development without the poor

POSTED ON October 25, 2012 BY admin

In an earlier edition of Padkos (No. 17) we argued that the real possibility and practice of democracy originates in the ‘dark corners’ of the state-we’re-in where ordinary poor people wage extraordinary struggle. One of the ways in which the spaces made and lived by the poor is rendered ‘dark’ is a developmental mythology that valorises the agency and dynamism of the middle class – and positions the poor as superfluous. In this edition we share a recent piece from Richard Ballard (Built Environment and Development Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal) exploring the function and effects of this approach – an approach Ballard characterises as “development without the poor”.It is the first in a forthcoming series of three review pieces where Richard says he will “review recent literature on three contradictory, although mutually constitutive, understandings of development. I refer to these as development without the poor, development for the poor and development bythe poor”. In the Abstract for the article, he points out that: “Some contemporary narratives of development give privileged status to middle classes in the global South. …[But] celebratory narratives elide the complex circumstances that make and unmake middle classes. Furthermore, middle class gains do not automatically translate into development for others. Indeed, efforts to centre the middle class threaten to displace, and justify the displacement of, economically marginalised groups seen as surplus to development”.As this year draws to a close, we have also to digest the experience of the climate change circus that was COP17. The failure of the official COP17 to make headway in resolving the crises is no surprise, and nor is the effective exclusion of the people/the poor. In many ways this was, after all, a meeting of the elites whose praxis and interests are the basis of the crises in the first place. But there were too many instances of contempt, conscription and coercion of ‘the poor’ by civil society elites (whether NGOs, academics, or activists) who dominated the “alternative spaces’ of COP17 to suggest that civil society modes offer the basis for humanising, liberatory resolution of the crises either. Far too much civil society praxis remains basically as elitist, as racist, as authoritarian, and as exclusionary as those they criticise in governments and capital. Real solutions to real crises will not be won by modes of working that are conducted in practice, either ‘without’ or ‘for’ the people/the poor.Thanks: We are grateful to Richard and the editors of the journal, Progress and Human Geography, for permission to share this as-yet unpublished paper. Read and enjoy the attached: Richard Ballard, November 2011 “Geographies of Development: without the poor”, Forthcoming in Progress and Human Geography).Heads up for some good holiday reading: lots of good stuff in the newest edition of the online journal, Interface ( There’s an article by Michael Neocosmos (“Transition, human rights and violence: rethinking a liberal political relationship in the African neo-colony”) where he extends key arguments we summarised in Padkos No. 17; and there”s an important piece from Kenneth Good (“The capacities of the people versus a predominant, militarist, ethno-nationalist elite: democratisation in South Africa c. 1973 – 97″) detailing the battles fought – and largely lost – between the extraordinary radical democracy of ‘peoples power’ in the best of the United Democratic Front (UDF) and a violently authoritarian politics that came to characterise a dominant tendency of the African National Congress (ANC) in exile and through the transition to ‘democracy’ in South Africa.

Read the attachment – Development without the poor