Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Anti-Development Thesis Or Counter-Development Thesis



This is also called Counterdevelopment Thesis (CDT). The origin of this thesis lies in the frustration of the failure of “trickle down” theory of 1960s and 1970s regarding economic development. This was essentially a non-western practice which was not based on the concept of “administered development”. So it was an alternative approach to development propounded by social scientists. Its central focus is that people can develop themselves if provided suitable atmosphere rather than externally forced to develop. A group of poor people can be organized on self help basis and could be aided by external change agents to help each other and the group as a whole in accomplishing some economic project which generates employment and income for all its members and help in their ‘all round’ development. This is the theme of anti-development thesis.

The conventional approach to development was accused often of being pro-capitalists and that the poor people figured last on its agenda while the counterdevelopment thesis had poor people as its central concern. In several field experiences the success of this thesis has been tested. Advantages of this approach to development are:

  1.      In a relatively small group it is easier to identify development goals & arrive at a consensus

  2.      Even non-market rules can be applied for the distribution of benefits among the groups members

  3.      The members have a stake in development so they are equally committed to achieve the objective

  4.      If anything goes wrong, it will directly affect the members and a voice will be raised for rectifying things

  5.      The members would develop their managerial skills also as they have to manage their work


In 1992, the South Asian Commission on Poverty Alleviation mentioned that due to complexities of the working of the political and administrative systems of the state, the local community based approach to development was far more suited than the conventional state led development. Commission pointed out “participation” as the remedy to cure the ills of the state led development approach. The trends which show the emergence of anti-development thesis are:




  1. Locally based small organizations in which people participate are coming up universally

  2. Voluntary organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are assuming more responsibilities in the discharge of developmental duties

  3. In the development literature also the importance of ‘participation is being in forceful terms

  4. The democratic political framework is being modified to give the people at grassroots more ‘voice’ and ‘participation’ in governance.


The term participation does not simply mean representation but it denotes the spirit of stake holding in the governance. It is the phenomenon through which people identify them with the process as their own with only little help from the enablers and facilitators. Participation makes the citizens ‘active stake holders’ in development from the ‘passive objects’.

In general, traditionally public administration has been concerned with ‘bureaucracy’ and ‘client’, people seem to have been put out of purview of administration. The counterdevelopment thesis puts people as the “actors” in administration especially the development administration. So, the role of citizens as participants in development is emphasized.

David Korten, who has worked at the grass roots level among the poor people has mentioned that there are two approaches to development. These are:

  1.       Growth centered development

  2.       People centered development


The growth centered development has its origin in the neo-liberal economics of the Western countries. It has been advocated by the institutions like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization. Korten strongly opposes the growth oriented ideology of development as it is perpetuating the misery of people.

He advocates people centered development which stresses on economic justice, inclusive development and the environmental sustainability.

Community based participative development has been stressed by a wide spectrum of schools of thought like free market, rolling back the state advocates of New Right etc. These ideologies stressed on the need to reduce the state funding on the social welfare programmes but to promote the alternative solutions through the market, voluntary  organizations, non-governmental organizations and the community based self help. The Human Development Report of 1993 has also commented that the people’s participation has become a central concern of our times. Community participation helps the public  programmes to be oriented towards those who are in the most urgent need of it. The  strategy suggested by counter-development thesis is basically educative in its approach  which stresses on ‘learning by doing’.

Anti-Development Thesis Or Counter-Development ThesisThe conventional development research by attaching importance to the technical  knowledge of the ‘outside experts’ over the indigenous knowledge of the people, has become ‘anti developmental’ because it prevents people from thinking and acting for  themselves. The counter-development thesis assumes that the poor would be able to  investigate into the reasons of their bitter conditions and would develop their own systematic thinking to improve themselves and to negotiate from a position of strength.


According to the counter-development thesis there are different forms of community/organizations representing collective action. Their features are:

  1. They are basically grass roots organizations that are economic in nature which  undertake income generating activities with the help of internal resource mobilization and little outside resource and knowledge support.

  2. These organizations can be “pressure groups” also which assert the social, economic and gender rights of the under privileged population.

  3. Some organizations may act in specific areas like health, education, culture etc.

  4. Some organizations stress on the holistic development of the human personality by emphasizing on economic and social development along with the spiritual advancement.

  5. Some organizations function for the cause of environment and sustainable development by working in areas like organic agriculture, water conservation, social forestry and coastal fishing etc. Social activists like Rajendra Singh, Subhash Palekar, Medha Patkar etc. have worked in such areas.

  6. Some undertake participatory campaigns to make people realize and think about their living conditions and environment.





Counter development thesis lays stress on ‘community participation’ rather than ‘popular participation’. The former means direct involvement of people especially the poorest ones & more disadvantaged section of population in local developmental affairs while the latter relates to the appropriate mechanisms through which people are involved in the social, economic and political life of a nation.

Counter-development thesis emphasizes on authentic rather than pseudo participation. The former involves the community as a whole in all the processes of the local development while the latter involves it only for the purposes of implementing decisions already taken at the national or international level. This approach to development emphasizes on spontaneous rather than coercive or induced participation which is based on use of force and allurement etc. The spontaneous participation is characterized by people’s voluntary and autonomous action unaided by government or any other external agencies though this form of spontaneity is rather ideal and generally a push from the government or leaders is required.

Active community participation helps rebuild community cohesion and instills a sense of dignity into the community. People gain confidence and steadily emerge as the real actors in the development process. Development is not something which can be done to or for a person but must be done with them.

Criticism of Anti-Development Thesis


Despite the much shown optimism regarding participation, the concept of community based development in an essentially inegalitarian social structure remains a questionable proposition. The idea of community development filling up the vacuum created by the withdrawal of state from the area of social development is a bit utopian. James Midgley explains it is quite naive to assume that state involvement in social development is superfluous and in under developed societies the communities on their own could solve all the problems like poverty, unemployment etc. Also it is equally naive to believe that the highly centralized structure of bureaucracy would have cordial relationship with the local community and that political elites, administrators and professionals would readily give their powers to the local communities. Despite these doubts raised about the efficacy of the participatory development, it is still a fact that stories of collective efforts towards economic betterment of society have been quite successful and are exemplary. The main criticisms of the counterdevelopment thesis are:






  1. Conflicts and rivalries are not uncommon even among the poor and the underprivileged. Dr. Ambedkar was against the Panchayat Raj due to the reason that the traditional village life in India was divided based on the caste, class and community. The utopian idea of frictionless society is not what actually the  ground reality in the developing nations is.

  2. External intervention in the form of social workers or political activists has been found to be necessary to start the participation of the people. Participation is not spontaneous as should the condition be ideally.

  3. It is assumed that the poor will do ‘continuous activism’ to keep a vigil over different developmental process however the poor who have to toil hard to even earn their living cannot be expected to do it always.

  4. Community participation to be really effective needs social structural changes at the domestic and international levels as the socio-economic layers of the society are too unequal e. g. Marx believed that participatory development within the framework of capitalist mode of production is not possible, it can just give an illusion of solution.


So, for the participatory development to be successful there are certain preconditions. These are:




  1.      Presence of political will at the higher echelons favouring community participation I

  2.      Presence of bureaucratic will at the field level to part with power and to help the community efforts.

  3.      Emergence of a “cohesive” and “capable" community which could take up the responsibility for people development





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