|Essays on Food, Hunger, Nutrition, Primary Health Care and Development (AVIVA, 480 p.)|
|9. Multidisciplinarity, Paradigms and Ideology in Development Work|
98. The question that flows naturally from the discussion so far in our attempt to foster genuine development is: do we need to escape from our narrow paradigms, the ones we originally acquired in the bosom of our profession? If the answer is yes, the next question is, naturally, how? By finding a cozy niche in our paradigms, we tend to lose our more adolescent critical approach to the world around us. Our consciences are not always born with a rebellious ethos. Our ideological ingenuity - sometimes equated with a well-intentioned, naive romanticism - is usually the product of a very concrete political and historical moment, one that is rather comfortable for us (78). Leaving that comfort is what it is all about...
99. Many of us are unhappy for not doing what we think needs to be done to overcome underdevelopment. Does this mean we have not pursued our ideals, surrendering to an outside reality we think we cannot change? Is this part of an accommodation we choose? We too often get involved more in what is academically interesting than in what is important for the people we are trying to help, thus losing articulation with local realities.
100. Adopting a new unified paradigm may well be the first step to take in questioning some very basic values underlying the development process. But to members of any professional guild it is a gigantic task to show their paradigm to be wrong or only partially right, as was already argued. It is an even more gigantic task to show that the paradigm is wrong because the ideology behind it is wrong and its values are not providing guidance to successfully solve the problems behind the reality being observed. Herein lies the challenge for us toward our peers, namely helping the group we belong to take such a step and prove the present dominant development paradigm wrong. The risks are foreseeable: Being accused of incompetence when applying new and wider concepts, traditionally outside the accepted paradigm, or of treason or unorthodoxy when integrating with the paradigm(s) of a different discipline. Under these circumstances, repressive actions are often taken against these young absconders (79).
101. The defence of a paradigm by guild members usually becomes as important as the defence of their ideology, the former basically being the same ideological defence disguised in professional and scientific justifications.
102. How can we, then, ventilate our frustrations within our profession? The key question is whether the dominant paradigm accepts the idea of dialectic change. This not infrequently being the case the task of committed development professionals would be to highlight and pinpoint existing and always upcoming contradictions to then push for their resolution. This needs to be done, among other options, through open criticism of the validity of field research in development and of the often biased interpretation of its results, pointing out how out of context with the reality its conclusions are.
103. The role of thematic discussions multidisciplinary in nature, has been highlighted by some as a means to break the isolation of individual paradigms in an effort to come up with new, wider, more valid ones (22). The question remains, though, whether these discussions will be able to bridge the ideological gaps within the group and if not, whether a lot of energy should be devoted to this effort. Several issues come to mind when pursuing this line of thought: What are the potential gains from such thematic discussion and what can be expected from changing our co-workers and peers? Is trying to change them worth our time? Or should we devote all our energies to work directly with the communities to help them bring about real changes and development from below? Can we accelerate the pace of history when changing the global, paradigmatic, ideological, and political checks and balances? If yes, what kind of new responsibilities do we need to lake on and at what level(s)? There certainly is a role for an avant-garde raising a rallying call to transcend narrow paradigms and helping to create awareness by waving an anti-technocratic banner. The preceding does not have to be posed as an either/or issue, though. By articulating an alternate paradigm, with an explicit ideological basis, we can challenge our peers as well as contribute to the conceptual work that moves the struggle along by working with ideas that empower the people when applied in concrete situations.
104. On the structural, political issues we need to move from the normative should be done to more effective and pertinent actions actually being taken actions in which we can make a positive contribution. So far, we have been more successful in airing these issues in the literature (as in this very article...) than affecting real policies that point in the right direction of overcoming the major contradictions of underdevelopment. We are slowly coming out of the closet, true. We may even become mainstream, but we run the risk of becoming one more passing fashion if we do not link analysis with action and more immediate demands (21).
105. On this very issue, one often finds questionable advice for our colleagues, as for example in a recent editorial of Development International: Development professionals nearly always work in a context where policy is set by others usually political figures who do not gain their positions by adhering to professional standards, but through some form of power transfer, be it ballots or bullets. Thus, it is often difficult - and sometimes positively dangerous - for professionals to subscribe to the higher cause that gives them their identity; the policy makers may set a course that frustrates development. How, then, should professionals relate to policy? They can hardly be expected to commit occupational suicide by subverting policy directives. Much of the good advice in this regard is obvious: Find out all the facts; make sure policy makers have access to these facts; clarify all the options and their consequences; serve as the champions of rationality in the decision-making process, not so much by talk as by example. Logic, objectivity, scientific fact - these are the tools of the professional. Development professionals must employ these tools and no others. (80). Now, this is hardly enough! Nor is it exactly coming out of the closet... Decision-makers arms cannot be twisted by rationality - except their own...