How do we 'know' the world? Interrogating the ''Coloniality' of Development Aid
The seemingly limitless Imperial ambition of Europe’s great powers has irretrievably transformed the world. By the time that Christopher Columbus set sail from Spain in 1492, Europe had already begun the enactment of an expansionary vision that resulted in the downfall of civilisations and over 400 years of the violent extraction of land, people and resources. How does our shared colonial past continue to shape our present? In this lecture we will use both historical and contemporary lenses to understand why calls to ‘decolonise’ are getting louder. Many scholars over many years, both as subjects of Empire and in the post-WWII years as European Empires steadily declined, have raised concerns about the tendency to presume that the West has the monopoly on useful knowledge. This conceptualisation of ‘knowledge’ in turn underpins enduring perceptions of, for instance, progress, or the primacy of the West as ‘civilised’ or ‘advanced’ against a ‘backward’ or ‘poor’ developing world. The idea that the West represents the pinnacle of civilisation or ‘development’ to which all other countries must aspire, a view that also underpins dominant approaches to ‘aid’, reveals a pernicious and deeply ahistorical understanding of the diversity of people’s social, economic and political lives the world over. Yet we are also now facing more and more seemingly intractable and interconnected global challenges that are affecting an ever-larger number of stakeholders. Market turmoil and financial/global debt crisis, food and water security, rapid climate change and the inequalities that have become starker as a result of the failure of the global community to come together to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, have led some to search for new explanations. Calls to re-examine our shared colonial pasts are at least partly a response to this search, offering potentially new perspectives on the historical roots of the challenges we face in our global present.
Prof. Dr. Lata Narayanaswamy is an Associate Professor in the Politics of Global Development at the School of Politics and International Studies (POLIS), University of Leeds. Since 2001 Prof. Dr. Narayanaswamy has worked as a research practitioner, consultant and now an academic working at the nexus between development theory and practice. Her research critically reflects on gendered/intersectional and post/decolonial dynamics of development knowledge and its perceived contribution to addressing global development challenges. She is currently involved in applied, interdisciplinary research related to gender/feminism/ intersectionality as these relate to climate change, water security and decolonising development.
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