January 19, 2017

In defence of social policy: Rethinking the trade–off between equity and efficiency in Kibera

By Daisy Sibun, University of Warwick

The prevailing logic of mainstream development theory tells us that economic policy is the primary driver behind any nation’s development. Such logic suggests that one can simply look at tweaking the macro-economic policies of a developing nation and herein lies the path to broader developmental progress. But this dominant conceptualisation overlooks the capacity of social policy, defined by Thandika Mkandawire as “collective interventions affecting transformation in social welfare, social institutions and societal relations”, to drive a more comprehensive and sustainable form of socio-economic development when designed to work on a more equitable basis in conjunction with economic policy (Mkandawire, 2001). More than just a way to remedy the fall-out of economic policies, social policy can be instrumental in generating growth and ensuring a level of productivity that is both socially sustainable and mutually-reinforcing in promoting desirable socio-economic outcomes.

It has been broadly accepted that the goal of development policy is more multi-faceted than simply achieving economic growth as an end in itself. The “trickle-down” views that permeated development thinking in the 1970s lost ascendency when it was widely realised that, without some deliberate policies to shape effects of economic growth and mitigate potential policy failures, there was no guarantee that this growth would trickle down and confront poverty. The incorporation into mainstream development theory of Mahbub ul Haq and Amartya Sen’s Human Development Index in the 1990s, for example, demonstrates the increasing consideration of more people-centred policies as a means to achieving a more comprehensive experience of development (UNDP, 1999).

Fundamentally, however, the role of social policy has remained limited and reactionary in its conception as a provider of “safety-nets”, used merely as an afterthought to mitigate the potential social costs and failures of economic policy. This subservient role of social policy continues to be institutionalised in the conditionalities of the IMF and World Bank’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers and their prescriptive primary focus on liberalising macro-economic policies. Neoliberal economics has presented social policy as a distortion to the labour market and a source of economic instability. This equity vs efficiency trade-off has remained dominant.

But treating social policy as subservient to the role of economic policy may overlook its capacity to play a more fundamental role in driving economic development. Development economist Thandika Mkandawire has pointed to the ways in which the more prominent integration of social policy into economic agendas can lead to promising socio-economic outcomes. Mkandawire opens up to discussion the idea that, far from being a source of economic instability, social policy, when designed complementarily in conjunction with economic policy, can generate growth that is both equitable and socially sustainable.

The economic potential of social policy becomes particularly evident when considering the case of Kibera, an informal settlement or ‘slum’ on the outskirts of Nairobi, which is home to what some sources have estimated to be over one million people (Mutisya and Yarime, 2011). Residents of Kibera have demonstrated entrepreneurial tenacity in creatively addressing the needs of their communities and targeted social policy could be used to support the development of Kibera’s promising informal economy and aid its capacity to generate economic growth for those who need it most.

Entrepreneurship and the creation of small businesses are increasingly providing an attractive alternative for young people in Kibera who face an economy with high youth unemployment rates and limited prospects for progression and social mobility. Many residents of Kibera effectively meet the demands of those in the community by providing paid services that have proved popular and effective business strategies.

These small-scale business activities are popularly referred to as Jua Kali and demonstrate the creative pragmatism of those living in the communities of Kibera. This ranges from creating solutions to existing social problems, such as providing a paid Masai security escort service for residents or visitors concerned for their safety when travelling the settlement at night, to developing small businesses that offer leisure services such as cinemas, music-sharing and rented gaming facilities. One such young business owner is Vitalis Odhiambo who, alongside running a clothing shop, has created a small, but popular, PlayStation-rental facility at which residents of Kibera can pay ten shillings for ten minutes of play (Higgins, 2013).

Such displays of initiative and innovation, coupled with access to a market of over one million potential customers, demonstrate that Kibera is a thriving economic machine with the potential to contribute substantially to the growth of Nairobi’s economy. A crucial roadblock to the further development and expansion of such small business models, however, is the inability of many of Kibera’s residents to access investment capital. Small business owners in Kibera often struggle to gain loans from banks because they lack collateral, are pushed out by high interest rates or because their insecure land tenures mean that they cannot provide a formal address (The Economist, 2012).

These are limitations that could be more pertinently addressed by integrating targeted social policy, such as housing policy that addresses the problem of tenure insecurity, into Kenyan economic policy. Whilst the government-led Kenya Slum Upgrading Project (KENSUP) has built alternative houses on the outskirts of Kibera, many residents have identified that relocating to new housing outside of their existing economic and community structures does not provide the best solution and have rejected the scheme (Tairo, 2013). A focus on transferring legal ownership of Kibera’s land from the government to the residents, some of whom have lived in Kibera since it was founded by the Nubian community in 1904, holds perhaps the most promising solution to overcoming social impediments to small-business expansion.

Education policy offers another way in which social policy can support the development of Kibera’s informal economy. Findings from Wise Sambo’s 2016 study of entrepreneurial development in Kibera revealed a strong positive correlation between the provision of youth entrepreneurship education and the development of youth entrepreneurship (Wise, 2016). More broadly, improving the welfare of citizens through healthcare policies may see economic benefits as life expectancy is a powerful predictor of economic growth (Mkandawire, 2001).

There is, of course, a danger that framing social policy in this way can instrumentalise it to the degree that is valued more as a means to growth than as an end that is intrinsically valuable in itself. Indeed, this is a concerning possibility that we should be mindful of in discussions about reconceptualising the role of social policy.

As long as we can continue to capture the absolute value that social policy provides in improving the human development of communities such as Kibera, a greater emphasis on designing social and economic policy as a more integrated process could have substantial benefits for socio-economic growth. Challenging the naturalisation of a neoliberal equity-efficiency trade-off can illuminate other ways of conceptualising the role of social policy in development issues that may provide more equitable and socially-sustainable development for communities such as those in Kibera.


Higgins, A. “Meet the innovators and entrepreneurs of Kenya’s Kibera slum”, One. [Online]. Accessed: https://www.one.org/us/2013/03/29/meet-the-innovators-and-entrepreneurs-of-kenyas-kibera-slum-part-2/.

Mkandawire, T. Social Policy in a Development Context. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Mutisya, E. and Yarime, M. (2011) “Understanding the Grassroots Dynamics of Slums in Nairobi: The Dilemma of Kibera Informal Settlements”, International Transaction Journal of Engineering, Management, Applied Sciences & Technologies, 2(2): 197-213.

Tairo, A. M. (2013). “Why Slum Upgrading in Kenya has Failed”, Buildesign. [Online]. Accessed at: http://buildesign.co.ke/slum-upgrading-kenya-failed/.

The Economist. “Boomtown Slum”, The Economist, December 23 2012. [Online]. Accessed at: http://www.economist.com/news/christmas/21568592-day-economic-life-africas-biggest-shanty-town-boomtown-slum.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (1999). Human Development Report 1999. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

Wise, S. (2016). “Factors affecting youth entrepreneurship development in Kibera, Kenya”, Problems and Perspective in Management, 14(3-1): 154-161.

January 11, 2017

Selling the City


By Sean Rai-Roche, University of Edinburgh – MSc Environment and Development

Edinburgh: An ‘International Cultural Epicentre’

“On a tremendous scale, Edinburgh becomes an international cultural epicentre for all the performing arts offering intense, personal and exciting experiences to those who come from Edinburgh, from Scotland and from around the world.”


Since the 1980s, and the ascendency of neoliberal ideology, the idea that places should be competitive has become naturalised into contemporary understandings of cities. David Harvey (1989) describes this shift in what he calls the ‘managerial’ approach of the 1960s to the ‘entrepreneurial’ approach undertaken in the 1970s and 1980s. He asserts that the consensus amongst the capitalist economies that cities should adopt this entrepreneurial stance is ‘remarkable’ because it ‘seems to hold across national boundaries and even across political parties and ideologies’ (Harvey, 1989:4). Such a consensus is indicative of the hegemony of neoliberal ideology as the remaking of space – being a particularly powerful way to inscribe neoliberalism on to the city – becomes central to urban policy under new waves of capitalism. Brenner and Theodore (2002) assert that the remaking of space is a key component within neoliberal designs for the city as the ‘production of space’ becomes ever more important for capitalism’s ability to construct spaces after its own, idealised image and thus further processes of accumulation (Lefebvre, 1991). Because neoliberalism involves shifting scales of governance with increasing importance placed upon inter-regional and international competition, this idealised image of urban space took the form of competitive cities.

For Kearns and Philo the practice of place branding (or selling the city) involves the myriad of techniques employed by state and private actors to sell the image of a city in order to make it more attractive to both capital and tourism. The imaginaries of areas constructed through place branding differ significantly as do the subsequent implications for life in the ‘branded city’. In the Western world place branding has often been used to signify a transition to a post-industrial society (Barke and Harrop, 1994) through the construction of the city as a dynamic, mobile and modern centre for accumulation, accommodating the needs of restless capital. Sadler states, ‘in the UK in the 1980s the idea that places as well as people could be competitive became central to an increasingly powerful ideology’ (1993:190). Although place branding does not occur in all cities, the globalised nature of contemporary capitalism means that urban areas are increasingly being commodified in different ways and at different rates. This, however, is not a mere coincidental outcome of capitalism but a key means whereby it is able to reproduce itself through the creation of new investment opportunities within the city (Harvey, 2014).

Edinburgh, Scotland is branded to tourists through discursive representations that utilise its iconography as an ‘international cultural epicentre’, its related historicism and architectural assemblages. Kearns and Philo show how ‘central to the activities subsumed under the heading of selling places is often conscious and deliberate manipulation of culture in an effort to enhance the appeal and interest of places’ (1993:3). They argue that any manipulation of culture used to ‘sell’ a place is also a manipulation of that place’s history: ‘the past is appropriated in the present’ (1993:4). This cultural aspect of place promotion is most observable through the promotion of the Edinburgh Festival & Fringe. The Edinburgh Festival is the biggest arts festival in the world, attracting more than 1 million tourists over the space of a month. The allure for tourists comes from Edinburgh’s self-framing as a historic, ancient and cultured city. Jamieson (2004) draws on John Urry’s ‘tourist gaze’ (1990), which argues that tourism depends on the selective screening of images that are more appealing to tourists, to propose the idea of the ‘festival gaze’ that ‘choreographs different forms of identification and interaction with the city’ (Jamieson, 2004:73).

 From the moment you arrive in Edinburgh you are told what an amazing, ‘unique’ city you are in. Walking through Old Town’s historic streets, to the tours of the city’s many dungeons and castles, to the financial district of Scotland you are reminded of the cultural richness, historicism and importance of the city: ‘Edinburgh is mediated through the gaze as a site for and an object of cultural consumption for tourists and service sector investment.’ (Jamieson, 2004:73). The implications of the ‘festival gaze’ in Edinburgh are quite worrying. The structure, use and function of the city are transformed during the festival, as formerly abandoned and neglected spaces become foci for capital accumulation. Every city space is incorporated into the idealised, projected vision of Edinburgh as a ‘festival city’. The Old Town’s streets and alleyways are reclaimed from the city’s homeless population and are transformed into profitable spaces that sustain the ‘festival gaze’. During the festival many local people are effectively ‘priced-out’ of activities and forms of social participation within their own city, whilst tourists enjoy the pleasures of the festival and its subsequent reinforcement of dominant narratives concerning the city. I would argue that place promotion campaigns do little more than obfuscate the deeper inequalities and social injustices that exist within any city. They project an idealised, romanticised and commodified vision of the city that draws on one or many associated images that are more attractive to tourists and capital. Other negative implications of place branding include ‘regressive impacts on the distribution of income, volatility within the urban network and the ephemerality of the benefits which many projects bring’ (Harvey, 1989: 15). Moreover, Kearns and Philo explore how in numerous ways the process of place promotion ‘obliterates both deliberately and on occasion more accidentally the lives of the city’s “other peoples”’ (1993: 26). This is, for me, one of the biggest implications of place promotion: it completely overlooks (intentionally or not) the lives of the vast majority of the city’s residents in favour of an idealised image that is attractive for both capital and the global elite.


Barke, M., & Harrop, K. (1994). Selling the industrial town: identity, image and illusion. Place promotion: the use of publicity and marketing to sell towns and regions, 93-114.

Brenner, N and Theodore, N (2002) Spaces of Neoliberalism: Urban Restructuring in North America and Western Europe. (Oxford: Blackwell)

Harvey, D. (1989) ‘From Managerialism to Entrepreneurialism: The Transformation in Urban Governance in Late Capitalism’, Geografiska Annaler. Series B, Human Geography 71 (1): 3-17

Harvey, D. (2014). Seventeen contradictions and the end of capitalism. Oxford University Press.

Jamieson, K (2004) ‘Edinburgh: the festival gaze and its boundaries’, Space and Culture 7 (1): 64-75

Kearns, G., & Philo, C. (1993). Culture, history, capital: A critical introduction to the selling of places. Selling places: The city as cultural capital, past and present, 1-32.

Lefebvre, H. (1991). The production of space(Vol. 142). Blackwell: Oxford.

Sadler, D (1993) ‘Place-marketing, competitive places and the construction of hegemony in Britain in the 1980s’ in G. Kearns & C. Philo (eds) Selling Places: The City as Cultural Capital, Past and Present, Pergamon Press, Oxford, pp. 175-192.

January 05, 2017

International Development Photography Competition

The Global Research Priorities (GRP) in International Development Annual Photography Competition is now open for submissions by any University of Warwick student or member of staff. This year's theme is ‘Challenging Inequalities, Transforming Gender Relations in the 21st Century’. The website of the competition suggests some questions for inspiration:

Why does gender matter in development? How does gender reproduce social inequalities that affect development? What can we do about the mis-recognition of gender relations that often leads to mal-distribution of resources to support the marginalized? What is needed to transform gender relations in the 21st Century?

The competition closes on 31 March 2017. More information can be found here:



December 27, 2016

Who cares? Addressing the costs of children’s care work in the global South

By Jean Grugel, University of York, and Shirin M. Rai, University of Warwick

Austerity has many victims; among them are children. There is growing evidence that economic shocks can act as entry route into child labour, paid and unpaid. Preliminary research in UNICEF also suggests a link between children’s unpaid domestic work and violence and associates children’s early enter into the world of work, and taking on a significant burden of unpaid care in the home with lower health outcomes and difficulties in accessing decent work as an adult. So there are plenty of reasons to explore the costs children are paying under neoliberalism.

Children who do unpaid care work, which is often invisible in communities and uncounted in national statistics about work, are particularly vulnerable to changes in the family economy, as more women enter the labour market in unstable and poorly paid jobs, especially in countries where state provision of services and welfare is thin and sometimes shrinking. For this reason, we have been researching the impact of care work on children. Just now we are at a stage of devising a research project to do empirical work that will test our theoretical framework. We will focus on developing a pilot study of child carers in Mexico. This project will build on our previous work on the costs of social reproduction (Rai et al, 2014) and on children’s work poverty and children’s rights in Latin America (Grugel, 2013, 2015, 2017).

Child labour in general is highest amongst poorest households. For these groups above all, the privatization of public sector services, rapid changes in labour markets, rising levels of rural-urban and international migration, the expansion of women in work and the rising numbers of old people undoubtedly lead to changes in domestic roles and increase the burden of care that falls to young people. However, the dynamics within households and communities that lead some children to take up unpaid care work are still poorly understood. We know that adults sometimes socialize some children for care work, with girls more likely to become carers, and the failure to address gender discrimination also means that girls face a greater burden of unpaid work. This burden of care almost certainly accentuates other barriers to education and other services, thereby heightening gender inequalities and human development losses. The consequences of the gendered dimension of unpaid care work by children, although potentially highly significant, remain under-explored.

Existing studies of child care work in the global South draw from three main approaches:

  • Resilience - approaches that explore the potential of child carers to construct positive social identities and their social competence through work. Despite the focus on children’s wellbeing, however, this framework can offer a “convenient escape route” for policy-makers (Rugalema, 2007).
  • Rights – approaches rooted in the child rights paradigm, suggesting that a recognition of the rights and status of children as carers would enable their interests to be better protected. Despite its importance, the rights approach fails to connect children’s care work sufficiently with gender and development and scholarship on unpaid care work and the care economy.
  • Social Reproduction – a framework that locates care giving in the context of reproduction and sustenance of life in a changing global political economy. A key feminist concept, social reproduction has nonetheless been applied to children’s unpaid care work only sporadically.

We intend to go beyond these approaches and identify the costs child carers pay, and which children pay them, in order to design interventions that will reduce those costs. We accept that care work may bring some compensations to child care workers, in feeling valued, for example, emotional closeness or via making an economic and social contribution to the household as resilience approaches suggest. But neither these benefits nor consenting to caring responsibilities, in themselves, offset the costs children pay, including health, educational, skills and social losses that affect both their immediate wellbeing and negatively impact on their future lives.

Drawing on Rai et al (2014), we call these costs ‘depletion’. The likelihood and scale of depletion child carers experience is affected by their age, gender, scale, nature, context and regularity of care work. It can be analysed qualitatively by comparing the lives of child carers with similarly position children who do not have care responsibilities, and it can be quantified by measuring the gap between the outflows of their care labour in relation to the inflows of resources they can access -medical care, emotional and social support, education, leisure, income earned and time. We describe strategies to offset them as ‘mitigation’ and ‘replenishment’ and we see it as vital that policy makers at the national and international level understand their responsibilities in supporting replenishment, above all.

In our research we therefore ask:

  • Who cares? How do the children’s care responsibilities vary with gender, age, household structure and place? How do routes into care differ between and within social and cultural boundaries? Do households, local and national state, health, education and migration systems act as ‘domains of complicity’ in allowing some children carry out care work and if so how do they operate?
  • What are the human costs of performing care labour to children? How do children experience depletion through care work? How do they evaluate their own experiences? What might be the gains made by child carers and how can these offset depletion and be more effectively harnessed and recognized?
  • How can states and international organizations best address these costs, support child carers effectively and replenish the losses they experience? What are the barriers to successful and effective support for child carers and the introduction of policies that would reduce their burden of care and how can they be removed?

We will use qualitative and quantitative data to establish the factors that make harm most likely (for example, the care tasks, number of hours, degree of isolation or exposure to violence etc.), a profile of who cares and the routes children take into care work. This in turn can help us address these issues to explore what needs to be done to in terms of what Diane Elson has called 3Rs – to recognise, reduce and redistribute the social reproductive work carried out by children who care and encourage states to take action and accept their responsibility to improve their lives.


GRUGEL J. and L. Fontana (2017) ‘Deviant and Hyper Compliance: The Domestic Politics of Child Labour’, Human Rights Quarterly (forthcoming November).

GRUGEL J. and L. Fontana (2015) ‘To Eradicate or To Legalise? The Politics of ILO Convention 182 and the Debate on Child Labour in Bolivia’, Global Governance 21(1), pp. 61-78.

GRUGEL J. (2013) ‘Children’s Rights and Children’s Welfare after the Convention on the Rights of the Child’, Progress in Development Studies, 13(1), pp. 13-30.

RAI, S.M., HOSKYNS, C and THOMAS, D., (2014), 'Depletion: The Costs of Social Reproduction, International Feminist Journal of Politics', 16(1), pp 86-105.

December 15, 2016

Modern Challenges to Islamic Law: Shaheen Sardar Ali’s Tribute to the Dihliz

text islamic law

By Madiha Shekhani

‘At the dihliz one is offered multiple panoramic visions dotted on the horizons beyond one’s immediate proximity’ (Ali, 2016, p.2)

Within the current political climate Islam faces several multifaceted challenges – it can best be described as a highly charged, contested, and misunderstood concept. Interpretations and prescriptions of the Islamic legal systems have become a major point of contention not only within Muslim communities, but other circles as well. Talks of the compatibility of competing interpretations, compatibility with the ‘modern’ world order, and the legal tradition’s equation with democracy, human rights, gender, development, etc. have become quite common. On the one hand, Islam as a source of a legal system has been objectively critiqued, whereas on the other, it has been victimized by dogmatism from both ends of the ideological spectrum.

Conversations on the topic often fall short when the Islamic legal system, its history, and prescriptions are viewed as unified or monolithic entities, which are static in nature and somehow disconnected from other histories, cultures, and identities. To understand fully the depth, plurality, flexibility and, most importantly, the shortcomings of system, it must be viewed in its entirety. The contemporary encounters of Muslims and non-Muslims with Islamic traditions is quite varied, and Modern Challenges to Islamic Law is Shaheen Sardar Ali’s ode to this diversity of interpretation and experience.

Shaheen Ali is one of the highly celebrated female scholars from Pakistan. Honored with prestigious awards on both national and international platforms -- such as the Aizaz-i-Fazilat, a renowned Presidential Award in 1992 and the British Muslims Annual Honors in 2002 -- she remains at the top of her field. As one of the 100 most influential women in Pakistan (according to The Women Power 100), she has not only contributed to research and academia, but has been an active figure within the government, and has chaired projects dedicated to betterment of women’s status in society.

Currently a vital part of the Warwick School of Law, she has been widely published and her work has contributed to crucial research areas such as Islamic law and jurisprudence, human rights, and women and children’s rights. Modern Challenges is yet another prized contribution she has made to the field of study.

Her work benefits from the years of experience she has had as a researcher, practitioner and a Muslim woman who has witnessed first-hand the multiplicity of Islamic traditions, and the internal and external challenges that it faces. In her words the book ‘aims to bring to the fore the diversity within Muslim communities, and the various cultural and linguistic lenses through which they perceive and experience their religious traditions’ (Ali 2016, pg. 2).

She begins and ends her book with the very impactful metaphor of the dihliz, loosely translated to denote a threshold or an in-between space. The metaphor is used to introduce the reader to the intellectual stance that underlies the book. As per my understanding, the point of vision from the dihliz is such that it enables one to best understand various intersections. It is a position where one is far enough, yet not entirely disconnected, from the structure to best appreciate how it has been constructed – the various foundations it stands upon, the pillars that hold it up, the aesthetic ways in which it has been embellished, and the disconnects and cracks in the system.

In her work Professor Ali has the same modus operandi, whereby she reiterates that there are several different views and practices none of which must be dismissed, so the entire structure can be understood and appreciated. Specifically being positioned at the dihliz or the passage way allows her to balance in a way where she presents her view ‘without apology, or dismissal of others’ viewpoints’ (Ali 2016, pg. 3). The multi-disciplinary and inter-cultural stance that she adopts is particularly impressive for it helps one realize that a field as variegated as Islamic law can best be understood when positioned at the dihliz, ‘where one is simultaneously inside and outside broader frameworks’ (Ali 2016, pg. 2).

She interacts with several facets of the legal system, both in theory and in practice, the paradoxes that lie within them, and how they have responded to internal and external challenges. Modern Challenges explores a broad range of themes under this framework such as Sharia, Islamic finance, the effects of colonialism on the legal traditions, and most interestingly the phenomenon of the internet fatwa.

Constantly cautious of the fact that the Islamic legal traditions are anything but linear, the basic premise of the book is that ‘Islamic law and sharia are inherently dynamic, sensitive and susceptible to changing needs… highlighting its plurality and its inbuilt transformative process (pg. 10). By explaining some facets of Islamic law in such a manner, Modern Challenges could help one understand how certain stringent presumptions regarding the archaic nature of Islamic legal systems, their incompatibility with democracy and social development have emerged. Her work lends voice to objective critiques and deconstructions of such dogmatic perceptions.

The pertinence of her book goes strides beyond the immediate topics that she addresses. The stance upon which her work is predicated must be appreciated for it could be the key to understanding several the complex debates today, and countering rampant dogmatisms. Respect for, and incorporation of competing views is a much needed practice not just within academia, but largely so within society. Her approachable way of writing gives many a chance to be inspired, and to wonder whether we too must position ourselves at the dihliz of the conundrums we attempt to solve.

The book was formally launched at the University of Warwick on the 14th of November 2016. The launch was led by an equally impressive cohort of panelists: Prof. William Twining, Professor Abdul Paliwala and Dr. Ziba Mir-Hosseini, chaired by Professor Shirin Rai.


Ali, Shaheen Sardar. Modern Challenges to Islamic Law. 1st ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016. Print.

November 29, 2016

Rethinking history with Gurminder K. Bhambra: The difference that Haiti makes

By Maria Olsen based on a talk given by Professor Gurminder K. Bhambra in the University of Warwick

“Any theory that seeks to address the question of ‘how we live in the world’ cannot treat as irrelevant the historical construction of that world”

(Bhambra, 2016 p. 2)


By placing Haiti centre stage in her research within the sociology department, Gurminder K. Bhambra explores the vital importance of accounting for the Haitian revolution in our understanding of the process of modernization. Modernity the way we all know it through our history books started with the French and American revolutions of the late 18th century, and we have accepted and come to terms with these historical events as the reference points for political change with the establishment of democracy and the prosperity of economic progress through industrialization. Both of these revolutionary historical events, although different, share the fact that they were substantially ‘democratic’, and therefore important events in our world history, associated with what has become known today as the social democratic welfare state embracing social and economic rights as matters of equality. Interestingly, Bhambra emphasizes that interpreting history in this manner does not have such straightforward implications. She argues that the academic focus on these revolutions has prioritized them for bringing modernity into being, and the Haitian revolution has been excluded as a part of the modern revolution for change. More importantly, she shows that when the Haitian revolution is addressed within the literature of prominent authors (e.g. Christopher A. Bayly in his book “The Birth of the Modern World”), it gets marginal attention as it is often referred to as an episode of the French revolution not necessarily taken seriously in its own right. As such, the core of her theoretical argument is: if we included the Haitian revolution and took it seriously what could we learn from it?


Were the North Atlantic revolutions really democratic?

Bhambra suggests that we need to rethink the impact of the Western revolution(s) on modernity and democracy by taking the Haitian revolution into consideration when thinking about the historical foundations of global change. This is not only because it happened around the same time as the American and French revolutions in 1791-1804, but also because Haiti offers an interesting insight to, and a break from, the dominant world history constructed by the West, including France and the US. By examining previous literature about the North Atlantic revolutions, she points out how these have been portrayed as the origin of transformation of world history and democracy, accompanied by a new understanding of equality. In addition, these revolutions were an uproar against authoritarian behaviour over insignificant others. Bhambra challenges this understanding by pointing to the limited franchise of the new democracies, historical events such genocide and slavery in US, and the colonies of France primarily conducted in the interest of white men. And yet, the revolutions claim their central role in the advancement of democratic values, which are much like a ‘gift’ that Northern Atlantic countries have given to the rest of the world. In contrast, the Haitian revolution in many respects went far beyond the French revolution, in particular in terms of emancipation and equality.

Bhambra draws attention to the main feature of the Haitian revolution: it was sparked by the enslaved people fighting for self-emancipation. One interesting question one might ask is, emancipation from whom or what? Several authors tend to see the Haitian revolution as a direct result of the French revolution. However, Bhambra argues that it was exactly because of its status as a former French colony that Haiti did claim emancipation. It sought emancipation from France, which in many ways problematizes the notion of France as the source of liberty and equality and brotherhood. The Haitians renamed the island according to indigenous history, proving their independence from French colonial power. Bhambra points to Haiti being the first Republic whose constitution made skin colour no bar to political participation. Interestingly, the American and French constitution did not have this degree of racial equality. In fact, Bhambra points to their constitution being racially unequal in terms of political access. It is striking how the Haitian constitution embraces the core of democracy, namely equality, by unlinking citizenship from race, whereas the Western powers which have been acknowledged as democracy’s torchbearers actually did quite the opposite.

Failure to acknowledge Haiti in our understanding of Europe

Building on the important discovery of racial equality in the constitution of Haiti, Bhambra addresses the need to reflect on the implications of omitting the Haitian revolution from the debate of equality when we actually have a lot to learn from it. When we think of the history of citizenship, which is the core of the concept of equal opportunity, we often think of rights as automatically given initially to white males with property, then to men without property, later expanding the same privileges to women, and then embracing the nature of universalism by including rights of migrants. However, Bhambra claims that citizenship is a category that is pre-racialized. She shows how in 1972 France acknowledged full racial equality even though the French perception of equality is based upon the notion of “us“ and the “other”. She mentions debates by the French during the revolutionary period about whether to include black men as citizens by offering them the right to political equality. Even though it was thought that racial equality should be part of French constitution, this was short-lived and lasted only for a brief period, ending with Napoleon’s ascent to power. Bhambra argues that this shows a more complex history, and that citizenship was never a universal concept. Through the omission of the Haitian revolution for independence one ultimately excludes a more comprehensive understanding of citizenship built upon the Haitian constitution embracing the inclusion and representation within the state of people of all kinds.

Haiti served as an inspiration for many who sought to resist European powers. For its brilliance in offering an even more equal and libertarian outset in its constitution than either France or America, the country paid a heavy price for its independence. One example Bhambra mentions is the 20-year-long economic blockade by France, the US and other European countries persuaded to do the same. Because Haiti was the most productive colony of France, punishment followed independence, and for that Haiti needed to pay compensation of 90 million gold coins to lift the trade ban which France had imposed. This means that over 21 trillion dollars were paid by Haiti to France for over a century. This is money which could have been used to rebuild the country. Incredibly, there has never been compensation to the enslaved people of Haiti, only to the French slave owners. Ultimately, Haiti payed France for emancipating themselves from the slavery France had established. One can then ask oneself the question: Where does the wealth from France and US come from? Bhambra argues: from the lives of the Haitians. Haiti has been perceived as a failed state, but it has been produced as such by France itself. Punished and undermined for its revolution rather than appreciated for the benefits of providing a different understanding of equality and emancipation. In many ways we owe Haiti for our liberation. Bhambra argues that we need to address the unfairness in the system and that if we do not do this, we cannot understand corruption within this system. Ultimately, corruption in many ways is the relationship of Haiti to France.

Bhambra sends a strong message for a clearer understanding of our historical foundations and concepts such as revolution, democracy, equality and citizenship. Haiti is one puzzle piece to the larger whole of our world history, questioning central elements in our current understanding of how the world has come into being. Bhambra gives new life to the importance of rethinking concepts of our histories. The importance of the Haitian revolution makes us rethink historical processes, and the origins of revolutions as well as their impact on modernity and democracy. Indeed, we need to take the Haitian revolution seriously, and, Bhambra suggests, we have to show the implications of undermining Haiti and demand reparations for its people. Our wealth and privileges rest on Haiti and it is up to all of us to bear responsibility of that.


Bhambra, G. K., (2016) ‘Undoing the Epistemic Disavowal of the Haitian Revolution: A Contribution to Global Social Thought’, Journal of Intercultural Studies, 37:1, 1-16

Image: Toussaint L'Ouverture, a key figure of the Haitian revolution, holding the Haitian constitution.From U.S. State Department [public domain], available at: https://history.state.gov/milestones/1784-1800/haitian-rev.

November 07, 2016

Manifestos for Brazil

By Aistė Jotautytė, manifestos by students in Theories and Issues in International Development

The students of the Theories and Issues in International Development module had a group task to create party manifestos. We were all 'participating' in elections in Brazil, and each group had to adhere to a certain theory of international development: modernization theory, dependency theory or structuralism.

Modernization theory

Some of the most influential works in this theory were produced by Arthur Lewis and Walt W. Rostow. The theory offers the view that economic growth is the focal defining characteristic of economic development and it can only be achieved through industrialization. The theory entails a linear transformation of a traditional society into a dynamic, capitalist economy and argues that it is possible to identify universally applying dominant characteristics of this process. An essential element of modernization here is the emergence of an entrepreneurial capitalist class.


Dependency theory

Associated with Paul A. Baran and Andre Gunder Frank, dependency theory suggests that the prospects of the development are determined by a country’s position in the international economy. Industrially advanced countries have been able to use today’s underdeveloped countries as sources of cheap raw material and as markets for their goods, which has led to patterns of unequal exchange. Resources flow from the 'periphery' (underdeveloped states) to the 'core' (wealthy states), which increases the accumulation of capital in the developed countries and in turn perpetuates the underdevelopment of the poorer states. This situation is very much historically determined, since the unique characteristics of the periphery and the core states result from colonization in the past. Therefore, it is difficult to escape the dynamics of the periphery unless a state cuts its links with the world market.




Founded by Raoul Prebisch, the theory focuses on the structural aspects impeding states’ economic growth. The theory rejects conventional trade theory and argues that the way forward is through transformation of domestic economic structures. This can be done through a major government intervention in the economy to fuel the industrial sector. Developing countries should aim at inward-oriented development, decreasing the reliance on the export of raw materials, at the same time reducing their dependency on the trade with already industrialized countries.


Who would you vote for? Comment below!

October 29, 2016

Shireen Hassim at Warwick: New Politics of Intersectionalilty

by Anni Piiroinen, based on a talk by Shireen Hassim at the University of Warwick on 27 October 2016, 'Intersectionality: Making Sense of Difference in African Debates'

dear history

Intersectionality is the word of today. It has become something of a traveling concept that has been applied with ease to diverse contexts. Coined in the United States originally, it has spread globally, including to South Africa, where it occupies a central stage in political conversations of the moment. In South Africa the concept became hugely popular last year with protests of Rhodes Must Fall, a campaign demanding the removal of a statue of the colonialist Cecil Rhodes from the campus of University of Cape Town. The concept has escaped the confines of academia and extended its reach into popular culture, where it has signalled a new wave in emancipatory politics.

Intersectionality refers to the way different identity categories, such as gender, class, race, age and sexuality, overlap, and how this creates particular forms of oppression that cannot be properly understood or addressed without looking at them in connection to each other. For instance, the oppression experienced by a black working-class woman is likely to be very different from that experienced by a white middle-class woman. Indeed, originally the call for intersectionality was a reaction against the white sisterhood feminism of the 1970s. The term was coined by an African-American legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 as an attempt to solve a particular legal problem. The case Crenshaw was dealing with was Degraffenreid v. General Motors, where a group of black female employees sued General Motors for racial and gender discrimination. The problem they faced was that the case did not fit the single ground principle of the American justice system, according to which a person had to base their case on only one form of discrimination. The women of Degraffenreid v. General Motors therefore had to state that they were discriminated against either for their gender or for their race, not both. This obscured the interaction of these forms of discrimination and denied the particularly vulnerable position of African-American women. In Hassim’s words, it was a case of 'legal idiocy'.

In South-Africa intersectionality was originally used as a critique of black leftist politics as well as white feminism. The former had focused largely on black men’s experiences in postcolonial times and the mission of restoring black manhood. Attention was given to black heterosexual men, while others were pushed to the margins. Indeed, black solidarity was developed by restoring patriarchy and reasserting black men’s control over women. In terms of feminism, South African intersectionality attacked the Angelina Jolie-esque white woman savior feminism which saw black women as victims.

Intersectionality thus allows us to see types of oppression and power that would not be visible otherwise, and makes space for new forms of political organisation. However, there are several caveats to the concept as well. Sometimes its critical potential has been diluted by reducing it to an appreciation of pluralism and diversity. This usage, which has been particularly prevalent in the United States, ignores the importance of power structures and leaves them unquestioned. The difficulty of talking about structural power is apparent in the way class is often left out of analyses of intersectionality. This is perhaps connected neoliberalism’s crisis of representation, whereby political representation is delinked from economic organisation of society. In new social movements, political subjectivity is more individualised than it was in traditional collective political identities. These changes challenge familiar ideas about class and make it more difficult to construct a political project around a shared class identity. Another potential risk of intersectionality is creating such high levels of specificity that issues may be individualised, making it difficult to see what people have in common anymore and organise around those commonalities. The intersection may indeed become very 'crowded' as an increasing amount of axes of oppression are included.

Despite these risks, intersectionality is a deeply interesting and exciting feature of contemporary politics, articulated by young the breakers of traditional boundaries. Whether it manages to effectively challenge existing power structures remains to be seen. The statue of Cecil Rhodes may have come down, but other structures of power, more invisible in nature, are still intact.

Image source: African Gender Institute, available at: <http://agi.ac.za/news/rhodes-must-fall-how-black-women-claimed-their-place>, licence available at: <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/za/>.

October 25, 2016

From Millennium to Sustainable Development Goals

by Edouard Leonet, based on seminar discussions of 'Theories and Issues in International Development'

Branded as the ‘world’s biggest promise’, ironically enough the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have disappointed many. In a rush to make sure the badge of human development remained on the UN bulletin boards, the MDGs were put forward by a small group of bureaucrats from the UN in the 1990s. With human development as its key objective, the international community agreed on unanimously working towards eight broad goals that centered on eradicating poverty, hunger, and improving basic living conditions. The purpose of the MDGs was to bring the international community together to support countries embarking upon a journey towards a mutually agreed upon definition of development.


The feasibility and practicality of the MDGs has long been questioned and after their deadline in 2015 it has largely been agreed that the MDGs failed to elicit any statistically significant results on the global level. However, several sources also suggest that the MDGs have made a difference. Most of the sources put forward by the UN often adopt a rather positive and optimistic tone regarding the end products of these goals. Agreeably, success stories from the cult of the MDGs have emerged, and as indicated by some statistics these successes are record breaking.

However, taking a closer look at the MDGs allows us to see that even though global statistics and averages may make these goals seem feasible, on a national and local level their effect has largely been unequal and variegated. The MDGs put forward a very generalized view of development needs as perceived by the Global North and one the main reasons of their failure could be attributed to the fact that they did not take into consideration how each country has its own distinct economy, society and history applying to different development needs and priorities. More so, development strategies under this program are not cognizant of the various socio-cultural and historical sensitivities of different countries, which largely contribute to the success or failure of the strategy. Additionally, when speaking of the utility of the MDGs one must take in to account the fact that although the sound of eradicating global poverty sounds rather honorable and gallant, there is a rich political underbelly to this form of combatting underdevelopment. In the midst of such shortcomings the entire plan was also handicapped by flawed and static methodologies of data collection and indicators.

Another reason put forward for the failure of the MDG’s was that their achievement was focused on inputs as opposed to outputs. Nations were too preoccupied with aid and donor targets that what missed were any real observations of the results that this was providing. The actualization of development was overshadowed by the commitment to development and as such, the inputs to the MDG’s were much more obvious than any outputs.

The MDGs don’t necessarily measure what is of crucial importance. By way of illustration we can use goal number 2: “achieve universal primary education”. The way they measured the success of this goal is by looking at the enrollments rates. This will allow you to know how many boys and girls have attended school but what this goal has failed to do is to go deeper into the problem and possibly look at the quality of learning. There is no point of having 100 % enrollments rate when millions of children go through school but come out without basic literacy or numeracy skills. Education should only be judged by what students learn, not by attendance.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is much more of a universal set of goals, to be achieved by every nation. While the MDGs disproportionately focused on making changes in the developing world, many of the MDGs set out objectives that both the developing and the developing world should strive to achieve. Most strikingly, the SDGs are a bigger set of goals, with the number of objectives rising from eight to seventeen. These have also been broken down into manageable goals, so while there are more overall, the targets to be achieved are more specific and contextual. The reformulation of what changes need to be seen in the world have led to the inclusion of a number of environmentally focused SDGs and also a more socially focused set of goals that tackle all aspects of development necessary to achieve success. Overall, the Sustainable Development Goals offer us a better-rounded set of goals that encapsulate all of what is needed to ensure sustained development globally.



As more countries signed up to get behind the SDGs, there appears to be more unity in reaching a successful level of change than was evident with the MDGs. With more countries backing the goals, we can be optimistic that a greater effort can be made to reach the targets set out. It has also become clear through the SDGs that these goals cannot be neatly compartmentalized – all are interlinked and we cannot talk about some without reference to the others. These interactions and connections have led to more collaboration between institutions working in each area, which is a definite move in the right direction to produce meaningful change. However, the specific targets of the SDGs are low, so while they may work in the sense of achieving their targets, the actual impact may be difficult to see in practice. While we are hopeful for the future, only time will tell whether the Sustainable Development Goals will make a meaningful change to the world.

1) Image source: UN City Copenhagen, http://un.dk/about-the-un/the-mdgs

2) Image source: UN, http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2015/09/why-should-you-care-about-the-sustainable-development-goals/#prettyPhoto

Profile: Shirin M. Rai

shirin.jpgI studied in Delhi University and then came to the UK on a Cambridge-Nehru Scholarship to do my PhD on Chinese politics. After my doctoral work, I came to Warwick to teach a course of ‘Comparative Communist Systems’. I started the MA in International Development (first known as Globalisation and Development) in 2002 and it has been flourishing since then. I have had the privilege to teach students from many countries and from different social and cultural background, which brings a richness of experience to our classrooms.

As far as my research goes, my current work has three strands: feminist international political economy, gender and political institutions and politics and performance. On feminist political economy I work on issues of the everyday – work, space and violence. I recently developed a concept of depletion through social reproduction (IfJP, 2014) through which I analyse the costs of doing social reproductive work, how this might be measured and transformed. On political institutions, I have worked with the UN on gender mainstreaming, UNDP on women’s leadership in local politics and am currently writing a book on women in the Indian parliament. I have also published several articles and two edited collections on performance and/or politics where I explore how performance in and of institutional and informal politics are co-constitutive (Routledge, 2015; Palgrave 2014).

In my spare time (?!!) I like reading literature and listening to music, watching films and going to theatre and of course spending time with my family and friends.

Upcoming events

February 2019

Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa Su
Jan |  Today  |
            1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28         

Editorial team

Edouard Leonet
Anni Piiroinen
Sailja Jain
Maria Elena Olsen
Madiha Shekhani
Aistė Jotautytė

If you wish to contribute to the blog, please contact thinkdevelopment.editors@gmail.com. We are always looking for articles, essays, photos and videos dealing with different aspects of global development.

Search this blog


Most recent comments

  • Thanks for the article. Very interesting insight to value chains and how they work today. Keen to se… by Juha Piiroinen on this entry
  • Really insightful perspective Sylvia. Aspects and traces of Orientalism and western superiority in f… by Madiha Shekhani on this entry
  • Hi Anni, thank you for the question, it's actually quite important to highlight what you've mentione… by Madiha Shekhani on this entry
  • You mention the internalisation of inequality by women workers, but hasn't there also been instances… by Anni on this entry
  • S flink du e! Bravo by Kristine on this entry

Blog archive

RSS2.0 Atom
Not signed in
Sign in

Powered by BlogBuilder