Fragments of Development: Nation, Gender, and the Space of Modernity

Fragments of Development: Nation, Gender, and the Space of Modernity

by Suzanne Bergeron

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By tracing out the intersection between the imagined space of the national economy and the gendered construction of "expert" knowledge in development thought, Suzanne Bergeron provides a provocative analysis of development discourse and practice. By elaborating a framework of including/excluding economic subjects and activities in development economics, she provides a rich account of the role that economists have played in framing the contested political and cultural space of development.

Bergeron's account of the construction of the national economy as an object of development policy follows its shifting meanings through modernization and growth models, dependency theory, structural adjustment, and contemporary debates about globalization and highlights how intersections of nation and economy are based on gendered and colonial scripts. The author's analysis of development debates effectively demonstrates that critics of development who ignore economists' nation stories may actually bolster the formation they are attempting to subvert. Fragments of Development is essential reading for those interested in development studies, feminist economics, international political economy, and globalization studies.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780472021567
Publisher: University of Michigan Press
Publication date: 01/22/2009
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 216
File size: 288 KB

About the Author

Suzanne Bergeron is Associate Professor of Women's Studies and Social Sciences at the University of Michigan, Dearborn.

Read an Excerpt

Nation, Gender, AND THE Space of Modernity

By Suzanne Bergeron
Copyright © 2004

the University of Michigan
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-472-11403-0

Chapter One Narratives of the Nation: Modernizing the Global South in the Space of Development

If we were to think in terms of a "binding agent" for development are we simply not saying that development depends on the ability and determination of a nation and its citizens to organize themselves for development? -Albert Hirschman, The Strategy of Economic Development

The relations between people and the nation, the nation and the state, relations which nationalism claims to have resolved once and for all, are relations which continue to be contested and therefore open to negotiation all over again. -Partha Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World

Open almost any international development report, country study, or academic paper dealing with development in the global South, and you are likely to find nations being represented as self-contained and natural economic entities. Models of development generally take for granted that each nation under study is discrete: connected, certainly, to other countries through trade, migration, and other forms of economic and cultural exchange, but a conceptually distinct unit nonetheless. These conventional representations are, however, rarely seen as just that: conventions. Models, statistics, and narratives of national economies are used as if they are simply practical and value-free ways of organizing economic knowledge about the global South. But economic representations never simply mirror an external reality. Their objects are at least partly constructed by the discourse that describes them. They are an effect of social, political, and cultural processes of representation that development theory both reflects and reproduces.

In this chapter, I provide an introduction to the ways that development theory has constructed the nation as an object of inquiry. I examine the historical and institutional context in which "development" emerged as a national project in the mid-twentieth century. While other writers have examined the construction of the national project of development, it has mainly been in the context of its growing irrelevance in an era of neoliberalism and globalization. In contrast, the main purpose here is not to locate the "real" economic space of "local economies," "national economies," "regional economies," or "global economies" but rather to think about what ideas about space and economics do and what kinds of social and political effects these have on development theory and practice. The naturalization of a relatively closed national economy in the post-World War II era is therefore approached here not as the correct (or incorrect) identification of the boundaries of the economy but rather as the convergence of a number of influences that defined it as a particular sort of "imagined (economic) community" that functioned as both a space of economic regulation and imagined community of shared economic interests.

Such influences include changes in economic theory during the early part of the twentieth century that constructed a vision of the national economy as a legible object for state control and regulation, the role of the nationalist struggles of former colonies in framing development strategies and practices, and the influence of Enlightenment ideals of sovereignty and self-determination on the imaginings of development economists and political leaders. These reinforced and were reinforced by other key aspects of the discourse of development, such as its tendency to use anthropomorphic metaphors to define the nations of the global South as children that need to "mature" and catch up to the modern countries of North America and Western Europe (Nandy 1983). These threads came together to support a powerful structure of meaning in development theories and practices. It is nonetheless a structure fraught with its own tensions and instabilities, and these tensions are explored in the pages that follow as well.

Gender meanings are an important influence on the way that the nation is imagined in development thought, but the existing literature on the concept of the national economy is notable for its lack of attention to gender. However, recent feminist research has drawn attention to the role of gender meanings as central to the project of nation building in the context of development (e.g., Anthias and Yuval-Davis 1989; McClintock 1993; Jayawardena 1986). For example, in the postcolonial imagination of nationalist elites, women were often designated as the bearers of "traditions" associated with the historical or mythical past of the nation, and one result of this is policies that were developed to encourage and support women's so-called traditional role. Much feminist analysis has focused on the impact of colonialism and subsequent framing of nationalism and decolonization on the discourses of gender and development in the global South. The influence of Western economic development theories and their narratives of the nation has also been examined in recent work in development studies, creating space for examining the related assumptions about nation and gender in these theories (Escobar 1995a; Parpart and Marchand 1995; Crush 1995). For example, the imagined community of the nation in development economics was, and continues to be, based on making much of women's work invisible through masculinist notions of economic activity and economic citizenship. And feminist analysis provides an epistemological framework for understanding how the modernist and positivist orientations of development theory have been based on gendered meanings that privilege the masculine characteristics of control, sovereignty, and progress in ways that have had effects on the way that national development was imagined. It also unmasks the various ways in which the social construction of gender collaborates with colonial discourse in representing countries of the global South as the feminized Others of the modern and autonomous developed nations and represents development as a masculine struggle for mastery, modernity, and control (Scott 1995).

In the sections that follow, I show how the modern conceptualization of the national economy created a link between economic development and the modern nation-state, both as a geopolitical entity and as an agent of change. The idea that the national economy came to constitute what James Scott (1998) refers to as a "legible" entity supported hegemonic postwar ideas about apolitical expertise in development theory and practice. Related to this is the way that ideas about the nation constructed economic identities via a sense collective well-being within the nation. By providing territorial coherence internally, economic theories and practices also traded on a particular set of notions about national sovereignty, which were in turn expressed in terms of regulating activities across territorial borders (Gupta 1992, 71).

Fixing the Developing Country Economy

The project of development, and the corresponding construction of the nation as the object of development policies, occurred in the context of an emerging world order that was characterized by growing tensions between the socialist and capitalist worlds and the break up of colonial empires in Asia and Africa after World War II. The "discovery" of underdevelopment at midcentury, coupled with a determination on the part of Western governments and social scientists to effect change, marked a new way of making sense of the world. As H. W. Arndt's (1987) history of development thought argues, poverty and hunger had certainly existed in Africa, Asia, and Latin America (as they had in Europe and North America) prior to 1945 but had not received a great deal of attention by world leaders or academics. Yet by 1950 thousands were waging war on underdevelopment from government offices, universities, and the United Nations, as well as newly formed Bretton Woods institutions such as the World Bank (Arndt 1987, 44). During these same years, development economics went from being the most neglected to the most studied branch of the discipline (Galbraith 1979, 26).

As is the case with the discovery of any new social problem and attempts to resolve it, underdevelopment brought into existence representations, discourses, and practices that in turn shaped the experience of development (Escobar 1995a). Included among these is the manner in which this project revolved around narratives of the nation as a naturalized economic unity. Economic progress was measured by a new statistic of national well-being, gross national product (GNP). The countries of the world were organized within some variant of a "national model" of the economy by the end of World War II (Banuri and Schor 1992). The North Atlantic capitalist economies had adopted a Keynesian stabilization and social welfare policy. The postwar Bretton Woods agreements set into place an international monetary system founded on fixed exchange rates, based on the U.S. dollar and backed up by gold reserves. This system of exchange rate stability supported international trade even as it rendered capital relatively immobile (given the lack of integration in international financial markets). It also favored national macroeconomic stabilization and planning. Insulation from external monetary fluctuations could be counted on by governments, which could implement fiscal and monetary policy accordingly. With the Soviet Union's attempt "to build socialism in one country," socialist development was also conceived of within this discursive framework of the nation-state as an economic unit, which, as Eric Hobsbawm (1990) points out, was a rather interesting turn of events given the internationalist bent of earlier Marxist approaches to economy and society. In this context the development of the global South was imagined by both the liberal and socialist camps as a process of national, state-led economic development closely linked with an ideology of national economic sovereignty (Arndt 1987; Preston 1996).

How development came to be conceptualized in this way is dependent upon a number of interrelated strands of thinking that are themselves contextualized within twentieth-century discourses of nation and economy. These include a logic of "authoritative intervention" emerging in the early twentieth century in the space of the economy; the impact of the example of Soviet socialist planning on economic theorists and Third World policymakers; the impetus toward protectionism in the name of national sovereignty, reflected, for instance, in the work of Latin American economic and social theorists; and the "pursuit of effective nationstatehood" (Myrdal 1968, 65) following decolonization and the creation of new nations in Africa and Asia.

Most analyses of the embrace of the national model of the economy within the dominant paradigm of development argue that it is strongly if not completely linked to the then-ruling assumption that economic outcomes should not be left to market forces alone (Arndt 1987; Preston 1996). In principle, development policy could have been imagined as something that was primarily directed by local communities for themselves, or by the Bretton Woods organizations, or even by the relevant colonial powers in the case of much of Africa and Asia. But with the exception of the handful of European colonists who did not want to relinquish their colonial territories and some Pan-Africanists, the only imaginable and legitimate agent of intervention was the national state: conceived, as exemplified in the Hirschman quote at the beginning of the chapter, as the common will of a nation's people to develop. Such imaginings were not limited to the circles of anticolonial nationalist movements in the South but were part of the way that Western economic development theories made sense of the world. And, as it turns out, such imaginings were not limited to state-led models but became part of the way that many economic liberals justified their free market-oriented policy prescriptions as well (Helleiner 2002; Bergeron 1996).

The enframing of the national economy in the development imaginary is the product of changing notions of the economy that had occurred between the 1920s and 1950s. A wave of economic crises culminating in the Great Depression and the decline of empire in the West, together with the development of new managerial techniques that were thought to be transferable to the state, led to a reimagining of government involvement in the economy and, with it, a new view of the object of that intervention (Mitchell 1998, 91). With the development of econometrics and macroeconomics, the term "economy" came to refer to the structure of relations of production, circulation, and consumption within the space of the nation. This structure was viewed as self-contained and subject to its own dynamics. The 1936 publication of Keynes's General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, which marks the beginning of modern macroeconomics, provides an early encounter with the idea that the nation is a manageable economic unit represented in terms of aggregate data (production, employment, price level, and investment). Keynes makes a case for macroeconomic stabilization and growth policies. But in order to do so, he also has to present the national economy as a legible object, one subject to the manipulation of experts and government policy.

The invention of econometrics during this period also aimed to picture, in a single mathematical model, the interrelated processes of the economy. Jan Tinbergen, a pioneer of econometrics and macrodynamic models, explicitly defines the economy in this manner, reinforcing representations of this object as separate and legible. In a 1935 article he refers to two elements in a business cycle model, the first being "the system of relations which defines the structure of the economic community to be considered in our theory" and, second, the outside influences on this structure (Tinbergen 1935, 242 emphasis added). Factors such as population growth, social and cultural forces, other countries, and, especially, the force that was most able to affect it-the state-were defined as external to it (Mitchell 1998, 91). Though the new macroeconomic theories of Keynes and Tinbergen did not explicitly theorize boundaries of this "structure of the economic community" as the nation-state, the aggregates of unemployment, investment, and GNP had a spatial referent that was always already the nationstate (Radice 1984, 121).

While the notion of the economy as a distinct, disembedded domain of social life had existed since the eighteenth century, this idea that an economic structure formed a self-contained object subject to its own internal logic, affected by certain outside influences, and in part constructed through its association with the nation as a community was a new one. However, only a handful of scholars have argued that ideas about the functioning of the economy in the space of the nation changed in the early twentieth century. Among them, Timothy Mitchell has offered the most comprehensive account of the emergence of the national economy as a new object of state manipulation and control. Using Foucault's notion of governmentality -the processes by which the state develops new tactics of management over its population, which include portrayals of social life as responsive to government policy-Mitchell explains that the creation of the economy as a self-contained manageable object with fixed geospatial boundaries represents an instance of the state increasing its managerial control in the twentieth century.

While Foucault locates the creation of the economy as an object of state control in the name of national well-being within the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Mitchell argues that this earlier object is in fact very different from the one that emerged during the early twentieth century. The idea of social intervention carried out in the name of the common good has its roots in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century discourses of social control (Rabinow 1990). British and French censuses undertaken in the eighteenth century by statisticians like Adolphe Quetelet and Jean-Antoine-Nicolas de Caritat Condorcet, for instance, had the goal of defining the social body of each nation, filtering out the individual particularities to derive general facts about the population. As historians of science such as Ian Hacking point out, the idea behind these national statistics projects transferred a medical notion from the individual body to the body politic, giving rise to a set of measures, assessments, and interventions aimed at diagnosing and curing the national social body as a whole (1990, 22-39).


Excerpted from FRAGMENTS OF DEVELOPMENT by Suzanne Bergeron
Copyright © 2004 by the University of Michigan . Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents

\rrhp\ \lrrh: Contents\ \1h\ Contents \xt\ \comp: set page numbers on page proofs\ Preface and Acknowledgments Chapter 1 Narratives of the Nation: Modernizing the Global South in the Space of Development Chapter 2 Mapping Modernization and Growth Chapter 3 Coloniality, Modernity, and the Nation-State in Dependency Theory Chapter 4 Structural Adjustment and Its Discontents Chapter 5 Development and Globalization: Toward a Feminist (Re)Vision Notes Bibliography Index \to come\

Library of Congress Subject Headings for this publication: Development economics Philosophy, National state Economic aspects, Feminist theory

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