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Shifting Paradigms of Thought and Power: Problems and the Possibilities

By Alejandro Bendana |

Trying to get policy makers to think differently about development presupposes one of two options: a) that attaining development with and through social justice is simply a question of adjusting present policies, or b) that policy changes are not enough, what is required is a shift in paradigm. And a shift in paradigm requires a shift in power. Ideas are shaped by politics, and not the other way around. The “Free Market” is a political statement, not an economic one.

It is at the core of the dominant paradigm. We therefore must address the politics and the paradigm if we are to understand policy. The paradigm needs to be deconstructed as part and parcel of the construction of a new one. At the level of academics, unfortunately the multiplication of disciplines as such and the development-related discussions within them (and occasionally across them) often do not contribute to the type of understanding and conceptual clarity demanded by practitioners on the ground on the one hand, or policy makers in the Northern capitals on the other.

In the South observable social realities are such as to make sharp demands on the articulation of theory and models. However those same demands are often interpreted as threats by policy makers often more concerned with containing and eradicating those threats than in understanding the dynamics and determinants of development and conflict. The aid industry, for its part, tends to act within the limit that the rich country donor system imposes, which tends to coincide with the limits that are good for careers. The prospects therefore for a three way meaningful dialogue are dim, at least at this point in time.

Could a common moral ground form the basis for dialogue? Can we call ourselves collectively and individually to moral and social accountability? Are we brave enough to admit, as one international agricultural consultant did, that “it is individuals who cause poverty, underdevelopment and famine, by their actions, by their failure to act, and by their failure to speak up”.1 Dealing with the subject of impoverishment, war and injustice is not a 9 to 5 proposition. Global social reality must elicit a commonly shared pervasive sense of personal ethical outrage. There will be no constructive dialogue if we are not able to share a sense of outrage over how decisions and mindsets far from the “field” can kill (or save) many more times than wars do, particularly if we consider how many wars get started. Cannot passion and cold analysis combine to recognize that the current paradigm/power line-up is responsible for the untold direct and structural violence and suffering endured on a daily basis by a majority of the world’s inhabitants?

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