The Development Dictionary, A Guide to Knowledge As Power
Harry S. Truman’s famous statement of 20 January 1949 can be regarded as the official proclamation of the end of the colonial age. He announced a plan for economic growth and prosperity for the entire world, explicitly including the “underdeveloped areas”.
“We must embark on a bold new program for making the benefits of our scientific advances and industrial progress available for the improvement and growth of underdeveloped areas. … The old imperialism – exploitation for foreign profit – has no place in our plans.… Greater production is the key to prosperity and peace. And the key to greater production is a wider and more vigorous application of modern scientific and technical knowledge.” 
Greater prosperity calls for increased production, and more production requires scientific technology – this message has been proclaimed ever since in countless statements by the political elites of both West and East. John F. Kennedy, for example, emphatically challenged Congress on 14 March 1961, to be conscious of its historical task and authorize the financial means necessary for the Alliance for Progress:
“Throughout Latin America millions of people are struggling to free themselves from the bonds of poverty and hunger and ignorance. To the North and East they see the abundance which modern science can bring. They know the tools of progress are within their reach.” 
With the age of development, science and technology took over the leading role altogether. They were regarded as the reason for the superiority of the North and the guarantee of the promise of development. As the “key to prosperity” they were to open up the realm of material surplus and, as the “tools of progress”, to lead the countries of the world towards the sunny uplands of the future. No wonder that for decades numerous conferences all over the world, and particularly in the United Nations, focused, in a spirit of near religious hopefulness, on the “mighty forces of science and technology”. Lire la suite »
The protesters tearing down monuments to slaveholders and perpetrators of genocide are often accused of “erasing the past.” But their actions are bringing closer scrutiny on the figures these monuments celebrate — allowing history to be retold from the viewpoint of their victims.
Anti-racism is a battle for memory. This is one of the most remarkable features of the wave of protests that has arisen worldwide after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Everywhere, anti-racist movements have put the past into question by targeting monuments that symbolize the legacy of slavery and colonialism: the Confederate general Robert E. Lee in Virginia; Theodore Roosevelt in New York City; Christopher Columbus in many US cities; the Belgian king Leopold II in Brussels; the slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol; Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Finance Minister for Louis XIV and author of the infamous Code Noir in France; the father of modern Italian journalism and former propagandist for fascist colonialism, Indro Montanelli, and so on.
Whether they are toppled, destroyed, painted, or graffitied, these statues epitomize a new dimension of struggle: the connection between rights and memory. They highlight the contrast between the status of blacks and postcolonial subjects as stigmatized and brutalized minorities, and the symbolic place given in the public space to their oppressors — a space which also makes up the urban environment of our everyday lives. Lire la suite »
The present interest in new commons is a very welcome development. It shows that more and more people understand that our present capitalist world system cannot solve any of the problems it itself has created. Most people who want to create new commons are looking for an altogether new paradigm of economy and society. Yet I think it is necessary to look more critically at the main concepts and arguments used in the contemporary discourse on “the commons”. Today there is a new hype about the “new commons”, including myths about the Internet as a commons and that it has created new communities. In this article I ask: what do we mean when we speak of “new commons”? What can we learn from the old commons? What has to be changed today? Is there a realistic perspective for new commons? Lire la suite »
The coronavirus is keeping the world in a state of shock. But instead of fighting the structural causes of the pandemic, the government is focusing on emergency measures. A talk with Rob Wallace (Evolutionary Biologist) about the dangers of Covid-19, the responsibility of agribusiness and sustainable solutions to combat infectious diseases
How dangerous is the new coronavirus?
Rob Wallace: It depends on where you are in the timing of your local outbreak of Covid-19: early, peak level, late? How good is your region’s public health response? What are your demographics? How old are you? Are you immunologically compromised? What is your underlying health? To ask an undiagnosable possibility, do your immuogenetics, the genetics underlying your immune response, line up with the virus or not?
So all this fuss about the virus is just scare tactics?
No, certainly not. At the population level, Covid-19 was clocking in at between 2 and 4% case fatality ratio or CFR at the start of the outbreak in Wuhan. Outside Wuhan, the CFR appears to drop off to more like 1% and even less, but also appears to spike in spots here and there, including in places in Italy and the United States.. Its range doesn’t seem much in comparison to, say, SARS at 10%, the influenza of1918 5-20%, »avian influenza« H5N1 60%, or at some points Ebola 90%. But it certainly exceeds seasonal influenza’s 0.1% CFR. The danger isn’t just a matter of the death rate, however. We have to grapple with what’s called penetrance or community attack rate: how much of the global population is penetrated by the outbreak. Lire la suite »
The eco-feminism of Maria Mies stands at the crossroads of the feminist, ecological and colonial liberation movements. Mies attempts to bring Marxian theory face to face with the newly emerging political crises of the late twentieth century. This has involved a heuristic reading of Marx’s text in the light of modern anthropology and what she calls “object-relations”. But Mies is as much an activist as an academic sociologist. Her concerns range from prescriptive essays on methodology in social science, to empirical studies of exploitation among Indian women lace-makers, campaigns against pornography and the reproductive technology industry in West Germany. Ariel Salleh spoke with her in 1987 and formalized this interview by correspondence. Lire la suite »
An examination of the history and significance of the concept of “progress”, its origins as an expression of the Enlightenment’s battle against religious bigotry and ignorance, its transformation into a “new [scientific] superstition” characterized by indifference to nature and the worship of technological change, and its current status as “a threat to the survival of the human species”.
“Memory needs to reestablish the thread of time to recover the central point of view from which the road forward may be discovered. From that point begins the reconquest of the capacity for critical judgment that will be based on verifiable facts, that will be able to respond to the degradation of life, and that will precipitate the split in society, the preliminary moment for a revolution, proposing the historical question par excellence, that is, the question of progress.”
“History of Ten Years”, Encyclopédie des Nuisances, No. 2
Made famous by the Enlightenment, in its origins the idea of Progress was almost subversive. The Church imposed the dogmas of creation and permanence that established the immutability of living beings, created by the divinity just as they were, which is why there are very few lines in the Encyclopedia under the caption of “Progress”, which is simply defined as “forward movement”. On the other hand, Diderot and the other Encyclopedists did not consider civilized society to be superior to the society of the savages—quite the contrary—which is why their position with regard to progress was sceptical or reserved, to say the least. For one reason or another, the idea was imposed in Europe during the Industrial Revolution. As Mumford said, “progress was the equivalent in history of mechanical motion through space”. It was the interpretation of the fact of change as something that only went in one direction, in which going backwards, or decline or regression, were explicitly excluded. Enlightenment thought interpreted industrial production as the herald of a world free of religious prejudices and ruled by Reason, where happiness would be within the reach of everyone. Lire la suite »
This article explores long-term trends and patterns of material use in France for a 185-year period. It is the first long-term study of material flows for France with national and yearly data for most of the period. Based on a material flow analysis (MFA) that is fully consistent with current standards of economy-wide MFAs and covers domestic extraction, imports, and exports of materials, we investigated the evolution of the French metabolism from industrialization to financialized capitalism. Over the whole period, there is a 9-fold increase in domestic material consumption, an expansion of material use per capita, and a spectacular addition of abiotic resources (fossil fuels and minerals) to biotic materials. Using a world-ecology framework, we exhibit a specific metabolic path: that of a state benefiting from successive world-systems for its economic development through massive material imports.
Nelo Magalhães, Jean-Baptiste Fressoz, François Jarrige, Gaëtan Levillain, Margot Lyautey, Thomas Le Roux, Guillaume Noblet, Christophe Bonneuil.
Since the Industrial Revolution, plant breeders have strived to replace farm varieties with “copies” of selected plants that can be fittingly called “clones.” “Pure lines” of wheat, barley, and other autogamous species are homozygous clones, twentieth-century maize “hybrids” (and other allogamous species) are heterozygous clones, while GMOs are patented pesticide clones. This devotion to cloning is founded: a) on logic since there is always a gain to be made from replacing any particular variety with all its diversity with copies of the “best” selected plant extracted from the variety; b) on the industrial principles of uniformity, standardization, and normalization; and c) on the drive for property rights. Pure lines, being homogenous and stable, are legally protected by a “breeder’s certificate.” “Hybrids” carry a built in biological breeder’s protection device since farmers have to buy back their seeds every year and GMOs are legally protected by patents. Since cloning rests on an irrefutable logical principle, it requires no justification. The endless debates about heterosis which, according to geneticists, makes it necessary to “hybridize” maize are, then, a smokescreen to conceal the first success of the historical drive to make reproduction a privilege.
For the kind of explosiveness that man will be able to contrive by 1980, the globe is dangerously small, its political units dangerously unstable.
« The great globe itself » is in a rapidly maturing crisis — a crisis attributable to the fact that the environment in which technological progress must occur has become both undersized and underorganized. To define the crisis with any accuracy, and to explore possibilities of dealing with it, we must not only look at relevant facts, but also engage in some speculation. The process will illuminate some potential technological developments of the next quarter-century.
In the first half of this century the accelerating industrial revolution encountered an absolute limitation — not on technological progress as such but on an essential safety factor. This safety factor, which had permitted the industrial revolution to roll on from the mid-eighteenth to the early twentieth century, was essentially a matter of geographical and political Lebensraum: an ever broader geographical scope for technological activities, combined with an ever broader political integration of the world. Within this expanding framework it was possible to accommodate the major tensions created by technological progress.Lire la suite »
Sooner or later, every movement for basic social change must come to grips with the way people produce the material means of life — their food, shelter, and clothing — and the way these means of life are distributed. To be discreetly reticent about the material sphere of human existence, to loftily dismiss this sphere as « materialistic, » is to be grossly insensitive to the preconditions for life itself. Everything we eat to sustain our animal metabolism, every dwelling or garment we use to shelter us from the inclemencies of nature, are normally provided by individuals like ourselves who must work to provision us, as we, one hopes, are obliged to provision them.
Although economists have blanketed this vast activity with amoral, often pretentiously « scientific » categories, preindustrial humanity always saw production and distribution in profoundly moral terms. The cry for « economic justice » is as old as the existence of economic exploitation. Only in recent times has this cry lost its high standing in our notion of ethics, or, more precisely, been subordinated to a trivial place by a supraeconomic emphasis on « spirituality » as distinguished from « materiality. »
Accordingly, it is easy to forgive the great German thinker Theodor Adorno for acidly observing a generation ago: « There is tenderness only in the coarsest demand: that no one shall go hungry anymore » (Minima Moralia). Lire la suite »