Looking back to look forward on 50 years of development studies

Published on 5 May 2016

At 50 years old, the Institute of Development Studies is ‘looking back, in order to look forward’. The latest IDS Bulletin, entitled ‘Development Studies – Past, Present and Future’ aims to trace the history of development studies by bringing together two generations of scholars – research fellows and students – to provide insight to our rich past and promising future.

The articles in this issue represent the collaboration between these scholars and consider the larger picture: Where is development studies today? Where has it come from? And what role have specific fields of research played in the development of development studies? The issue acknowledges that delving into 50 years in development studies is certainly an ambitious task, since ideas in development theory and practice cannot be divorced from the broader assumptions, aspirations and beliefs of any given era.

Each article in this IDS Bulletin, co-edited by IDS research fellow, Jeremy Allouche and IDS PhD student, Alia Aghajanian speaks to how topics in development studies have critically challenged the existing structures and discourses, particularly on expanding the focus of development from the ‘South’ to a universal approach. They all explore different aspects to development and their interactions and connections with one another. And also, reflective of the multidisciplinary approach to development in this issue, a wide range of topics are presented – from gender to urban violence to agriculture input subsidies – documenting how each of these have been tackled using a wide range of research tools, from ethnographies to econometric analysis.

Director of IDS, Professor Melissa Leach, author of the foreword for this issue said: ‘2016 is the Institute’s 50th Anniversary: a year in which we have set ourselves to ‘look back in order to look forwards’. This IDS Bulletin does that, offering an intellectual history of development and development studies from their emergence in the post-war period – on top of colonial antecedents – through successive eras to the present day. It tracks key continuities around concerns with poverty and social justice, as well as tumultuous changes in intersecting knowledge and practice in rapidly changing times.’

The transformation of development

The histories recounted in this IDS Bulletin track some particular themes.

  1. Transformation of ‘development’ from an ex-colonial enterprise, and then one formed by the discourses and practices of an aid industry, to embrace far wider processes of capitalist change, the roles of states, markets and societies in them, and the diversity of peoples’ accommodations and resistances – both organised and unruly.
  2. Transformation of ‘development studies’ from an era in which IDS could be established in 1966 as a ‘special institution’ to support the UK government’s assistance to its ex-colonies, to a far more networked set of knowledge practices, sensitive to issues of power, representation and difference.
  3. Relationship between analysis and practice. Development studies has always sought to make a difference; its problem-focus explicitly set it aside from ivory towers academia from the start. Again, successive eras have seen more, and more productive, boundary-crossing, whether in work that engages development policymakers and practitioners in reflexive learning and change, that co-constructs knowledge with communities, agencies, businesses and others, or that opens up the possibilities of the possibilities of alternative, potentially transformative, pathways.

Looking forward

A final theme of the issue is the value of Open Knowledge, and Open Access, asking Is Openness Enough? Openness, applied in scholarly and research practices, has garnered increasing interest in recent years. With the broadening reach of Open Access as an alternative scholarly publishing model, there is anticipation that open scholarship practices will produce desirable outcomes for research and access to knowledge.

Hani Morsi, IDS DPhil student and Alison Norwood, IDS publications manager, co-authors of the article, argue that the Open Access model is the first step towards truly transformative thinking in knowledge co-production and sharing, and is only the conversation starter on what the future of knowledge looks like in this increasingly complex and connected world.

Development Studies – Past, Present and Future is available to download for free via the IDS Bulletin website.


Looking back to look forward on 50 years of development studies