Opening the treasure chest of the IDS Bulletin archive

Published on 19 May 2016

As part of our 50th Anniversary celebrations, we relaunched the IDS Bulletin as a fully open access, peer-reviewed, online journal. With its entire back catalogue now available online, here are some reflections on this special year for IDS and the richness and diversity of scholarship and thought that the IDS Bulletin has contributed to development thinking over the years. I would encourage all to spend some time browsing through the treasure trove that is the IDS Bulletin archive – here’s why.

This is a momentous year for development histories – at least from an IDS perspective.

As part of the Institute’s 50th Anniversary events, last month hundreds of staff, alumni and partners past and present gathered to celebrate the Institute’s official birthday. The evening’s big theme was timelines. They included the multimedia interactive timeline we have prepared to chart the course of the Institute’s contributions to development in interaction with defining moments in world history. They included the alternative timeline of the IDS annual pantomime, infusing this history with music, irreverence, humour and the human warmth that has always been so central to IDS. And they included the many events and episodes recounted in staff and students’ ‘lightening speeches’ – from impacts on the world, to everyday human stories – that add up to 50 years of engaging, learning and transforming.

The IDS Bulletin provides a development timeline, of a uniquely rich kind

I feel very privileged to have become its Editor-in-Chief as we re-launch it as a fully open access, peer-reviewed, online journal in this anniversary year.

In the most recent issue, Development Studies – past, present and future, Alia Aghajanian and Jeremy Allouche have assembled a fascinating collection of articles on topics from agriculture and social protection to global governance and gender, that ‘look back in order to look forward’.

We will also be doing this at our 50th Anniversary conference on 5-6 July on States, Markets and Society and in the IDS Bulletin issue that will follow, tracking the past, present and future of some of development’s biggest controversies.

Looking back and forward from a point in time is one thing; tracking events and debates as they unfold along that timeline is another.

The IDS Bulletin now provides a way to do this, as from this week the entire archive – dating back to the first issue edited by Dudley Seers in 1968 – is available and easily searchable online.

Of course it provides only one set of development and development studies histories among many possible – but it is a hugely rich and varied one, as I discovered anew today in searching for early contributions on the states and markets theme. It’s a bit like opening a treasure chest – surprises and gems await. And like in the (paper, termite-ridden) colonial archives where I used to research West African environmental history, one can easily get happily lost for hours.

What did I discover?

An ‘invitation to dialogue with all engaged in the study and promotion of development’

Not just that approaches we associate with the IDS Bulletin today  – challenging orthododoxies, promoting critically-engaged debate between researchers and practitioners – were there at the start.

Issue no. 1 launched the IDS Bulletin as an ‘invitation to dialogue with all engaged in the study and promotion of development’. Issue no. 4 was on busting Development Myths. But also that some of the themes we think of as thoroughly forward-looking have been discussed before, sometimes many times.

A case in point is the idea of development as universal, progressive change for everyone everywhere, from London to Lagos, Greece to Ghana – enshrined in the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals and global Agenda 2030, in our 2015-2020 IDS Strategy, and highlighted in the new Aghajanian/Allouche issue.

This is certainly not a new theme, though the context and details may have changed. It was prefigured  in the IDS@40 conference special issue of 2007 on Reinventing Development Research, when Michael Edwards famously re-named us an “Institute for Revolutionary Social Science” that should be working in the UK and Europe as much as Asia, Africa and Latin America.

But we already were. In 2002, an IDS Bulletin on Making Rights Real: Exploring Citizenship, Participation and Accountability brought together researchers from the Citizenship Development Research Centre including the UK as well as Bangladesh, Brazil, India, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa.

In 1998, Arjan de Haan and Simon Maxwell edited an IDS Bulletin on Poverty and Social Exclusion in North and South. And as far back as 1978, Robin Luckham and Richard Jolly edited Britain: A Case for Development? discussing the country’s economic challenges and “social and political problems which recession has sharpened: the difficulties of coming to terms with Scottish, Welsh and Irish nationalism; racial conflict; political violence; persistent poverty; the erosion of the welfare state; and corruption and decay in our police and local government bureaucracies.”

Evidently, development and development studies for IDS and IDS Bulletin contributors has never been bound by a colonial, north-south paradigm.

Back to the future? Development revisited? Timelines and treasures? Whatever the metaphor – and whatever the theme – the IDS Bulletin archive is worth a visit, or many.

Enjoy, discover, challenge and argue.

The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IDS.


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