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Our developmental thinking can cause problems for the poorest of the poor


We like to believe that all the thinking about development and all the assistance we give is helping the poorest people in the world. In a new dissertation, Bent Jörgensen, at Göteborg University in Sweden, maintains that assistance and economic growth in certain circumstances aggravates the situation for the poorest of the poor. The problem is primarily that the concept of development takes on another meaning.

Over the last two decades Vietnam has undergone strong economic development as a result of cautious political reforms. Many people claim that Vietnam is winning the battle against poverty via a high rate of economic growth. At the same time, the gap between rich and poor has increased.

Bent Jörgensen brings forward the importance of non-economic aspects that help us understand poverty and how to combat it in developmental practice and thinking.

The study shows how the local society’s non-poor consistently benefit from partially new flows of resources like land and subsidies, information about cultivation techniques, and enhanced power and influence. Injustices are created and legitimized by locally constructed social divisions between rich and poor.

These social divisions are already in place in the dominant developmental thinking and can be defined as the dividing line between individual success and failure. The poor are assigned the thankless role of illustrating failure or simply the negation of development. Others can grow rich and exert influence by referring to the inability or unwillingness of the poor to deal with resources and influence.

‘Laziness’ and ‘stupidity’ are made a part of the identity of the poor. Developmental thinking thus creates a group of people who not only can be termed poor but also can be seen as ‘hopeless.’

Even the local will to help people in need declines when the poor are blamed for their poverty. This diminishing will to help doesn’t accord well with the present trend of allowing local elite-dominated institutions assume a greater responsibility for combating poverty. These institutions ‘learn’ to place the blame for poverty on the poor people themselves.

With these findings, the dissertation constitutes a critique of not only the received way of combating poverty in Vietnam but also of global developmental thinking in general.

Eva Lundgren | alfa
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