Rethinking development in an age of scarcity and uncertainty: IDS at the DSA/EADI Conference

26 September 2011

An unprecedented gathering of researchers, practitioners and donors recently came together to challenge and rethink existing paradigms and practice in development, in this age of uncertainty and scarcity.

The Development Studies Association (DSA) and the European Association of Development Institutes (EADI) joined forces presenting a packed programme which covered aid architecture, the role of celebrities, corporations and activists, conflicts and scarcity, disasters and climate change, disability and development, open data and knowledge ecology, poverty measurement, urban governance, wellbeing, amongst other issues. 

The conference marked IDS Director Lawrence Haddad's last year as president of the DSA, and was an opportunity for IDS to launch its latest Bulletin on Reimagining Development.

Indeed, IDS work was widely represented by speakers and panellists at the conference, including:

IDS Research Fellow, Dolf te Lintelo was awarded the EADI prize for Excellence in Development Research for his article The Spatial Politics of Food Hygiene: Regulation Small-Scale Retail in Delhi, which is now one of the ten most downloaded papers of the European Journal for Development Research.

Below are his reflections on the conference.  

Messi, Prophets of Doom and the metabolism of elephants: reflections on EADI/DSA conference by Dolf te Lintelo

Hosted at the University of York, this year’s DSA/EADI conference had the theme of Rethinking development in an age of uncertainty and scarcity, new values, voices and alliances for increased resilience. No theme could have spoken better to daily headlines on economic crises, double dips and state retrenchment.

The conference offered a rich choice of working groups, panels and topics, running at any one time up to 24 parallel sessions. I attended some excellent sessions on urban governance and the reconfiguration of fast growing cities; capitalism and informality in India and China; and Rethinking governance for development in Africa, amongst others.

At the end of each day, a reception was organised offering a nice glass of wine. After another day of conferencing, one panellist certainly seemed to look forward to these - referring to the famous French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu as Mr Bordeaux.  Now, where did that come from?

The plenary events also provided an excellent programme. The Dudley Seers lecture by Professor Mario Giampietro from the Catalan Institute of Research and Advanced Studies was a master class in presenting complex ideas with verve. Giampietro challenged prevailing development thinking through the use of unusual, inspiring analogies, involving Prophets of Doom; the anatomy of Lionel Messi and the metabolism of elephants!

Growing inequality...

The panel discussion on the last day of the conference also offered rich food for thought. Newly elected DSA president, Professor Geoff Wood, noted that rethinking development requires active engagement with values, yet this is currently the elephant in the room. In a context of growing inequalities, Wood made a call for shifting discourses from modernisation to lifestyles, as growing urbanisation, jobless growth, rising exclusion and depravation make up powder kegs beneath societies.

Nisha Agarwal, Head of Oxfam India, poignantly noted that 50 billionaires now control 25% of Indian GDP, while 400 million people live in dire poverty. The growing divide is exemplified by 60-story private residence located cheek to jowl with slums, which astoundingly, are still a luxury for countless pavement dwellers. As Agarwal reminded us that already 200 districts in India are controlled by Maoist insurgents, Wood suggested that the threat of disorder may ultimately constitute the most powerful non-altruistic argument for better-off classes to reduce inequality. Perhaps this is the terrain on which new development alliances have to be forged.

In all, I had a really good time meeting old and new friends, picking up inspiring ideas. I also particularly liked the setting: the campus of York, with its greenery, water and 1960s architecture was reminiscent of my alma mater – the University of Twente. It was great to receive encouraging feedback on a paper on youth transitions towards economic empowerment in Zambia (PDF), co-authored with and presented by Catherine Lock  from the University of East Anglia.

I am sure that many participants are already looking forward to the next DSA/EADI conference in 2014.

Dolf te Lintelo is a Research Fellow with the Vulnerability and Poverty Reduction research team at IDS.