Development : Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Development / Gayatri Spivak
A gradual unfolding, a bringing into fuller view; a fuller disclosure or working out of the details of anything, as a plan, a scheme, the plot of a novel. Also quasi-concr. that in which the fuller unfolding is embodied or realized. . . .
The economic advancement of a region or people, esp. one currently under-developed.
1902 Daily Chron. 25 Nov. 4/5 This consideration leads us to what is the supreme need for all parts of that country, namely, economic development. ‘Development first’ was the formula for the moment used by Lord Milner in his latest speech. What South Africa. . . needs above all is. . . the primary plant of civilized development.
1945 Polit. Q. Oct.–Dec. 359 Economic development has benefited large sections of the people in Anatolia.
1982 Dædalus Spring 133 All African countries lack sufficient managerial, administrative, and technical skills to undertake the massive task of development contemplated at independence. (OED)
Why is “development” a political concept? The historical answer might well be that we should plot it on a chain of displacements beginning perhaps with the notion of the possibility of the perfectibility of humankind, a conviction not necessarily confined to Europe, but most publicly associated with the Encyclopaedist strain of the French Enlightenment.1 Upon this chain of displacements, Kant has been marked as inaugurating modernity.2 In our reading, Kant binds free will as a human programmed necessity within practical reason; the need or necessity for rational freedom is taken as constituting human agency at the very moment that nature, in its new Newtonian understanding, is conceived of as nothing but causal necessitation. This Anlage or program is irreducible and can be called a nuanced “fatalism,” freedom without the possibility of world transformation, within which the Kantian critique exemplifies the acting out of an unavoidable desire for philosophy, the all too human desire to “save” freedom as a practical necessity. This declaration of free will by a structurally determined necessity leaves fatalism as such unguarded in the persistent structures of history. The force of the Kantian critique is counter-intuitive and has idled as a guide to practice. In the lay reading, he has been seen only as an implacable moralist. Rather than Kant’s taxonomy of Anlage and “fatalism” we have fallen back or into or yet forward to a race-class-determined binary opposition of free will and fatalism that writes our world today. The so-called abstract workings of capital operate a deconstruction – fatalists to be folded together (made com-plicit, a typical deconstructive move) with capitalist petty bourgeois ideology (everyone can be a captain of industry) – which is called “development.”
Ranajit Guha has allowed us to plot development in a chain of displacements applying to India, as I have noted recently, in the following way:
I believe one could find corresponding chains and linkings in other parts of the world.
In the last century, Michel Foucault taught us to think about politics as a heterogeneous insertion into the play of power. Although Foucault was not specific about race and class, I can summarize his position as follows: access to power positions is not initially deliberate but rather an “insertion” by virtue of what an older language would call “social formation.” Within a single social formation, such access is necessarily heterogeneously determined by race-class-gender as the condition and effect of inequality. In my estimation, the diversity involved in the field of application of “development” pulls Foucault’s analysis beyond its own empirical limits.
One can come to this conclusion by attending to questions Foucault himself famously posed about conceptualization: “conceptualization should not be founded on a theory of the object—the conceptualized object is not the single criterion of a good conceptualization. We have to know the historical conditions which motivate our conceptualization. We need a historical awareness of our present circumstance. The second thing to check is the type of reality with which we are dealing.”4
I think in our reality, wherein states have been usually undermined with reference to capitalist globality, some of us might think of politics by going back to the word politeia or, roughly, constitutionality. Although most new nations are tremendously interested in new constitutions, and European nations are also concerned about constitutions because of the precariousness of the euro zone, in fact we know that the charge of the state for redistribution and constitutionality has been taken elsewhere: the human rights lobby, the various United Nations organizations from peacekeeping to language protection, and the international civil society in general. The state now operates by the unconstituted “rule of law” required for the management of global capital, preserving its ideological frame: neo-liberalism. On this agreement, it is economic growth that is the main index of what is called “development.” The measuring site of economic growth, nonetheless, remains the state, and with it there is also an increasing awareness across the political spectrum that economic growth is not an adequate gauge for development in the qualitative/affective sense.5 The historical conditions of our conceptualization of “development” must take into account a change in the electronic capitalist management of capital, where economically re-structured states take on a managerial role. Thinking capital’s social productivity as “development” is now more apposite than “improvement” or “civilizing mission.” The contradiction between state-by-state measurement of economic growth and the decimation of the stately function (neoliberal governance by unconstituted “rule of law”), the increasing use of “cheap labor” (heterogeneity of labor) leading to massive labor export understood as migration, legitimized by tremendously expensive tax-dodging “V.I.P. migration” required by the same “rule of law,” the preservation of differences in foreign exchange to protect one of the mainstays of finance capital and innumerable other details in order to grasp that “development” as a word covers over the gap between a statistical measure and a trained epistemology. This is supported by private sector voluntarism of heterogeneous sorts: from international civil society through corporate social responsibility into the antics of the World Economic Forum and its reactive double, the World Social Forum.
This constellation enables the word “development” repeatedly to cross the aporia between mathemata and pathemata, statistics and affect. Marx’s use of the word “social” shares the same problem – a quantified definition that seemed useful and a fuzzy qualitative idea. The first leads to the hope that “socialization” – using abstract average labor power with worker-owned means of production – would lead to a just society; the second to an unexamined and vague idea of a humanistic good society that Marx himself left untheorized as “the realm of freedom.”6 Some of us are trained into an intellectual style that welcomes such openings, but the traditional imperative to theorize considers all openings to be loopholes to be closed off. Hence the unexamined fuzzy connotative field is simply taken for granted or ignored, ripe for political mobilization and poetry, sometimes indistinguishable, that cannot be satisfactorily thought through and therefore can destroy the clear outlines of a conceptual field.7 It is because this muddle between affect and statistics cannot be satisfactorily theorized –– that we can have moralistic descriptive books, but no discussion of solutions.
Reviewing Jean Drèze and Amartya Sen’s An Uncertain Glory: India and Its Contradictions,8 Jyoti Thottam writes:
And Robert Shiller makes the same complaint in the pages of the same newspaper:
Put another way, “development” is insertion into the circuit of capital, without developing the subject of its ethical, or even appropriate social, use. The development of the subject is apparently in the self-interest of the “underdeveloped,” but the larger pattern is the interest of developed capital, as will be clear from the clinching concluding module of this sample of a “sustainable development” syllabus:
Module 1: Introduction to sustainability management: What is it? How can we achieve it?
Module 2: The public policy and regulatory framework of sustainability: How can this speed transition to sustainability?
Module 3: A sustainably built environment: how can we plan for, design, and operate green workplaces, buildings, and infrastructure?
Module 4: Sustainable financing and investment: how can we fund sustainability initiatives?12
This is designed for the subject of developed capital, whose force is larger than the undoubted personal goodwill of teacher and student. But the underdeveloped hastily trained into self-interest or self-interested income-production remains incapable of capital-management, especially in its global form. Therefore, if we credit the abstract power of largely more and more unregulated capital, what is ultimately sustained is minimum “development” and “maximum” accumulation and surplus for financialization. Let us call this “sustainable underdevelopment.”
In a popular essay on “development,” a successful transformation of the gendered subject in Peru is described as follows:
“Gendering,” also the subject of micro-credit, is always the paradigm case of the inefficient production of the subject of development, whereby the provision of unmediated economic independence—let us forget global control—is a guarantee of victory in the gender struggle.
At the developed end, the management of subject production in the citizen — as well as the global citizen, an oxymoron — is guided by timid invocations of behaviorist economics, assuming a pre-critical theory of the subject that takes a step or two beyond rational choice. A “global citizen” is an oxymoron in the strict sense because there is no constituted global state. It uses the fuzzy connotative field around the word “citizen” as if it is conceptualizable. “Behavioral” economics, like behaviorism itself, conceptualizes the affects as leaders of “motivation” and thus ignores the complexities of the human mind. I use the term “pre-critical” in relationship to the outlines of the Kantian critique that I attempted to summarize above, because these motivations are argued by mere reason, behaviorist economics seems a modest modification of rational choice, reason defined by its lowest common denominator. Thus, the attempt to solve the problem of the muddle between statistics (rational choice) and affect (behavior) is inadequate to its enormity. I am still with Foucault’s warning about the conditions of conceptualization. Among the many implications of explicit electronification of globalization is the setting-to-work of the rising potential of language in its normal mode of existence: “development” – as “improvement” and “civilization” in previous formations.14 One of the conjectural contradictions thus glossed over by the nature of words is the obvious existential impoverishment of abstract calculation — the distance between capital measurement and the task of subject-formation that defines “development” in our conjuncture, as I have already suggested.
What follows is an example of advancement in statistics inadequate even to understanding the task of subject-formation:
We must now confront the fact that “development” might top the list of a generic change in global index-making since the tremendous advance in statisticalization brought in by the silicon chip: the measure of affect by numbers, as it affects our everyday: please “like” this, please be my “friend.” Presidents blog and twitter. Development is on the cusp of this loosening of the conceptualization of the political. When such measurement began, in the aftermath of the Great Depression and World War II, the idea was, as Yeats put it, “Measurement began our might.”16 After Bretton Woods, “GDP becomes the standard tool for sizing up a country’s economy.”17 Now, as we notice in the module for sustainable development training, we must consider investment, for finance capital is more important than industrial. And, the bull market is constantly dependent upon affect: not even the most mathematical textbooks can escape the fact that the bull market is dependent upon investor confidence. It is therefore dependent upon an interested subject-production.
The relationship between affect and its statistical legislation can also be seen as a displacement of the concept-metaphor argument made in Derrida’s “White mythology,” that the concept erases within itself the fabulous scene that persistently produces it. Derrida does not see this erasure as sequential.18 Although worldwide policy on many angles is made on these existentially impoverished statistics, the word “development” is used and felt by people even at the bottom of the pile to describe a general condition of human value. It is this that the concept erases by the general law of abstract measurement. For whom is the definition to be made? The way in which the policymakers use it? The way in which among the policymakers there is still a group that thinks economic growth is not, in the human sense, development? The efforts at nuancing the concept simply by adding myriad items is an example of Kant’s long ago indication that “mere reason” reduces responsibility to Zurechnungfähigkeit or reckoning. Similarly, the desire to measure “happiness” ignores the condition of subalternity: the subaltern as such – not yet in crisis/struggle – thinks objective wretchedness is normal; how shall we measure “happiness” here? (Let us remember Kant’s displacement of “fatalism” in his bound conception of freedom – the misfired mark of a misfired philosophical modernity which was replaced by a race-class-determined binary opposition of free will and fatalism that runs our world today.) I refer the reader to the more extended discussion above. These then are the “fatalists” at the bottom. Should the definition accommodate the way in which large sections of the population use it at present, as what Raymond Williams would call a “residual,” hanging on from the sense of being a second-class culture that came with colonialism? If you think I am beginning to suggest that this is a word which would be better off without the convenience of adequate conceptualization, you are correct. (I realize I am interdisciplinary here. No doubt the qualitative social sciences must aim to conceptualize seamlessly; the quantitative ones statisticalize; it is most often a combination of the two. The humanities break them open to consider the incalculable when we speak “development.” Can a lexicon allow for this?) The task is to translate the word into many different languages and see how it is understood and internalized by the class that cannot access worldwide quantification – and by gender singled out as an alibi for intervention. For this persistent opening up, the baseline concept will suffice: the economic transition into the circuit of capital with insufficient attention to subject-formation.
It is the task of such a supplementation of the word “development” to make the apologists or organic intellectuals of capitalist globalization think development as subject-formation and dismiss this “real” definition of development as only “economistic.” Development as such moves at best toward fostering the justified self-interest of groups often in opposition. As Marx already knew, it is not enough to wish to end exploitation for one’s own group. The point is to foster an international will for social justice in general. There are many reasons why this does not happen. The failure does not require us to fall back into unexamined liberalism. I can repeat here what I said to the World Economic Forum: knowledge depends on cooking the soul with slow learning, not the instant soup of a one-size-fits-all toolkit. The world is not populated by humanoid drones. You cannot produce a toolkit for “a moral metric,” or if you do you will be disappointed.
Cooking the soul=subject-formation. “Development” as a political concept ignores this. That the World Economic Forum has no interest in this does not mean that the readership of this critical lexicon also should not!
“Development” as a concept is understood by ordinary people differently from the statistical understanding available to competitive national governments and international finance. The word in my mother tongue is unnayan. As a noun, it works fine – it is understood as various good things like schools, bridges, hospitals, or trees coming our way. For “developing” there is no colloquial word. For “undeveloped,” a word routinely chosen for self-description, we have: anunnoto. Paradoxically, this adjective is usually applied by my clients – landless and ill-educated, often illiterate, men, to describe India – of which they have a somewhat vague idea. To represent themselves, they use the colloquial version of this adjective – pichhiye pora – held back – which is also routinely used by so-called radical intellectuals to describe them.
Many years ago we read Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.19 I am proposing that that story, although signaling a rupture, could take hold because it is also a displacement of the general dominating practice of pre-colonial conjunctures. Benevolent or malevolent or in-between or indeed not-bothered-to-be-violent-pre-colonial power groups unevenly enriching themselves at the expense of the postcolonial groups inheriting older hierarchies, shares that logic. This gives us a pre-modern clue to the word “underdevelopment” as it spread to varieties of the class-apartheid present in all polities, cutting across gender-apartheid and group-apartheid, where the usual overflowing of something like “class” in the everyday must be allowed to contaminate the disinfected house of scientific socialism.20 The Dalit leader Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar suggests, in a graduate seminar paper written by him as a student at Columbia, and intended therefore for a non-Indian audience, that the difference in the treatment of surplus-men and surplus-women, present in all societies, is the motor of group-formation, including caste.21 In other words, the essay acknowledges reproductive heteronormativity as the matrix within which the history of all apartheid is held.
If we allow the concept of development to overflow the interplay of capital and colony, we will see this matricial role more clearly. This requires allowing reproductive heteronormativity itself to overflow the outlines of sexual reproduction and be thought as the possible unacknowledgeable antonym of the autonormativity that is the authoritative self-representation of ideology as Idea. I will unpack this by way of Marx’s discovery of surplus-value.
Marx describes the secret of surplus-value in Capital I as the Sprengpunkt or “the ‘pivot’ of his critique.” In surplus-value, discovered during the composition of the Grundrisse – he discovered the secret of reproductive heteronormativity, that everything human and upper primate emerges out of the differences between needing and making. He described it in human terms – the worker advances the capitalist his laborpower and the capitalist repays less than he gets out of it; and he also describes it in rational terms – laborpower is the only commodity which, when consumed, produces value. Yet, this discovery of human and top primate hetero-norm (that the contingent surplus produced in the difference between need and the capacity to make runs the world), was seen subsequently as lodged in the autonormative idea, identical with itself, scientific socialism. Hence Gramsci’s word, gnoseological –neither “psychological,” for the logic of the psyche is at the mercy of the individuated contingent, nor “moral,” although consciousness and morality are at issue. The tremendous discovery of the heteronormative as the source of simple as well as expanded reproduction was put in the service of autonormative gnoseology – gnosis, diagnosis, prognosis: scientific socialism. Marx gives enough signs that he is aware this can go beyond the economic sphere. However, tying it to the economic has prevented us noticing that this is how all intuitions of the transcendental also come forth, including any possible acknowledgement of complicity with the anthropocene. Here, however, we are on the track of the rich potentiality of Ambedkar’s early reckoning of reproductive heteronormativity as the matrix within which the history of apartheid, consistent in race, caste/class, and gender – most damagingly marked in access to educational quality – subject formation – is held.
If we open up this autonormative drive to deny the heteronormative – that everything emerges in the difference of self-adequate need-satisfaction and excessive capacity to produce – the trivial Euro-sequential truism that time moves from the pre-modern to modern through colonialism into globality (spiced up by “culture” as invented by Anthropology and now bowdlerized by UNESCO and the Nara Document of 1994) that runs the world can be revised. To conceptualize development as freedom in capitalism without the task of subject-formation will then have to acknowledge the incalculable in what is in excess rather than narrow it down only to the economic sphere. It is clear that this acknowledgement requires the rethinking of political concepts. To make the possibiliy of the anthropocene visible in the ceaseless turning of capital into capitalist implementation is well-nigh impossible. Here socialism and capitalism are themselves complicit in their will to knowledge, full control through concept.
With colonialism came, unevenly, the social productivity of capital and the inbuilt mechanism for the disavowal of the imbricated increased subalternization. I am asking for an acknowledgement of “development” as a task – understood from the subject-formation rather than the capitalization angle – diversely neglected also in pre-colonial time and space worldwide. It is not “individualistic” to teach elite and subaltern/proletarian to think, in a complicit and gendered manner, that “development” is not necessarily tied to that Euro-sequential truism, that interested underdevelopment rather than development has forever made the world turn and inhabits the persistent structures of contemporary globality, that rogue capitalization, as it is now indicated by more and more people at the center, could inhabit those structures not only as rupture but as repetition.
Once again, then, I am asking us to allow the concept of development to overflow the interplay of capital and colony. This makes room for an acknowledgement of complicity – folded-togetherness – rather than see “development” to be conceptualized as good or evil or both after colonialism. I am asking for us to see that development as sustainable underdevelopment has a longer history and perhaps even that this history is beginning to make itself visible as the pattern of globalization explodes economic growth into developing inequality. I am suggesting that the conceptualization of development must be unevenly interdisciplinary – statistics and political science folded together – complicit – with the disciplines of subject-formation, the humanities.
Globalization requires a change in ourselves as instruments of knowing. Those wonderful historical approaches, “culture wars” approaches, critique of Eurocentrism approaches, the modernity/tradition approaches, post-colonial approaches, will not serve if you’re doing the contemporary as such. That’s the epistemological challenge: “how do we construct our objects of knowledge now, in the moving global now-time?”
The question, for us, is, how to “determine” a “people,” in order to decide development. I use “determination” in the sense of Bestimmung, and I thank Werner Hamacher for long ago endorsing enthusiastically my emphasis on die Stimme (tune or voice) in Bestimmung.22 Determination is also a resonance, as in a keynote: “The unfolding of the qualities or capacities of a musical phrase or subject by modifications of melody, harmony, tonality, rhythm, etc., esp. in a composition of elaborate form, as a sonata [or a raga]” (OED).
To conceptualize development, the intellectual must be in tune with, enter the Bestimmung of “the people,” from top to bottom, elite to subaltern, capitalist to client, and rearrange desires, our own among them. This supplementation is so slow and painstaking, the world has such a wealth of languages, that it is impossible for this to be a general agenda, such as the globalization of capital or the social must be. This is why, once again, this kind of linguistic commitment must work as an unceasing supplementation of the work of the qualitative social sciences, which must in turn supplement the quantifying work of sociology and economics, continuing on to the development indices. Practically speaking, as a woman persuaded of the humanities’ supplementary potential, I must think that development might be a word which would be better off without strict conceptualization. With the inauguration of this new genre, where the affective part is socially mediatized, we might rather engage in an admittedly (rather than disguised as correcting others’ mistakes) persistent effort at the questioning of conceptualizations in this stage of capital. Concepts of development are needed here and now as methodological practical necessities, not as governing ideas. In the area of “development,” if you stick to classical concept-production, you remain with the fiscal and the juridico-legal, tax reform and enforcement; and, of course, the sentimental statisticalization of affect.
We should rather recognize that development is in complicity with what it endangers, that “[t]he opposition of intuition, the concept, and consciousness at this point no longer has any pertinence.”23 Resist the will to conceptualize as you develop yourself. To misquote a classic: “Conceptualization is its own resistance.”24
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak is University Professor and a founding member of the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society at Columbia University.
Published on May 26, 2017
1. For the most interesting discussion of perfectibility, see L’homme perfectible, ed. Bertrand Binoche (Paris: Editions du Champ Vallon, 2004).↩
2. Foucault hailed Kant as the inaugurator of modernity for a somewhat different reason. See “What Is Enlightenment?,” in The Foucault Reader, ed. Peter Rabinow (New York: Pantheon, 1984), 32-50.↩
3. Spivak, “A Penny for the Old Guy,” Cambridge Review of International Affairs 27, no. 1 (2014): 184–98. For invented tradition, I am using “Introduction,” in The Invention of Tradition, ed. Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press,1983), 1-14.↩
4. Michel Foucault, “The Subject and Power,” Critical Inquiry 8 (1982): 778.↩
5. An excellent account of this in the African context can be found in Thandika Mkandawire, Africa: Beyond Recovery (Legon-Accra: Sub-Saharan Publishers, 2015), 16-18.↩
6. Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, tr. David Fernbach (New York: Penguin, 1992), vol. 3, 958.↩
7. Following from these general presuppositions I had written in the first, strictly 20-minute, paper: the muddle between statistics and affect cannot be satisfactorily noted. These now disclosed presuppositions will, I hope, make clear that we literary folk are satisfied with that connotative muddle. However, the too tightly packed earlier version called forth a reader’s question: “who or what prevents it from being noted?” Alas, the answer is: the nature of words. They offer meanings, the simpler the better. And today these meanings can be extremely satisfactorily measured. We are trained to ignore what cannot fit into the measurement. Knowledge management skills stop the contingent and there is no computer that can catch the contingent. The ruse of single words – to close off resident contradictions—is such an everyday phenomenon that to bring in arguments from the hermeneutics of suspicion and/or the trivialization of the humanities would be, as the saying goes, to use cannon balls to kill mosquitoes.↩
8. Jean Drèze and Amartya Sen, An Uncertain Glory: India and Its Contradictions (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013).↩
9. Jyoti Thottam, “Two Indias,” The New York Times, September 6, 2013.↩
10. Thomas Piketty, Capital in the 21st Century (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014).↩
11. Robert J. Shiller, “Better Insurance Against Inequality,” The New York Times, April 13, 2014.↩
13. Aram Ziai, “Development: Projects, Power, and a Poststructuralist Perspective,” Alternatives 34 (2009): 190.↩
14. Volosinov, Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, tr. Ladislav Mateijka and I.R. Titunik (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986).↩
15. The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World, 2013 Human Development Report (New York: United Nations Development Program, 2013).↩
16. W. B. Yeats, “Under Ben Bulben,” The Poems of W. B. Yeats: A New Edition, ed. Richard Finneran (London: Macmillan, 1933).↩
17. Elizabeth Dickinson, “GDP: A Brief History,” Foreign Policy, 184, 37.↩
18. Jacques Derrida, “White Mythology: Metaphor in the Text of Philosophy,” Margins: of Philosophy, tr. Alan Bass (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1972), 213.↩
19. Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (London: Bogle-L’Ouverture, 1972).↩
20. National liberation is freedom from colonial rule, but cannot necessarily create a rupture from the old pre-colonial structures of sustainable underdevelopment. The nation that is liberated is often a product of orientalist historiography. Ama Ata Aidoo’s “For Whom Things Did Not Change,” captures this; see No Sweetness Here (New York: Feminist Press, 1995), 8-29.↩
21. B. R. Ambedkar, “Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development,” The Essential Writings of B.R. Ambedkar, ed. Valerian Rodrigues (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 241-262. My remark is a gist of a complex argument.↩
22. Personal communication after my paper “The Dimension of History and the Political,” at the Conference on Critical Philosophy and Critical Theory: The Wake of Kant’s Third Critique, at the University of Minnesota in April, 1986.↩
23. Jacques Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, tr. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 270.↩
24. Paul de Man, “The Resistance to Theory,” Yale French Studies 63 (1982): 20.↩