Oslo Summer School in Comparative Social Science Studies 2004


Dreamworld and Catastrophe: The State in the ' Third World '

Dates: 26. - 30. July 2004

Lecturer: Professor Stuart Corbridge,
University of Miami, USA and LSE, UK


The participants:
Jenny Cadstedt, Alessia Clemente, Pia Eriksson, Øivind Hetland, Eirin Hongslo, Linda Johansson, Erik Kennes, Sergey Kostyushev, Inka Kaakinen, Emilia Liljefrost, Lalli Metsola, Marianne Millstein, Zvika Orr, Elin Selboe, Amit Kumar Shrivastava, Augustine Soosai Siluvaithasan, Elin Sæther, Majid Takht Ravanchi, Sarvendra Tharmalingam, Heini Vihemäki, Wolfgang Zeller, Guro Aandahl and Professor Corbridge.

•  Objectives

Susan Buck-Morss has argued recently that both the USA and the USSR engaged in the twentieth century in utopian projects of 'developmentalism' that produced social catastrophes for the majorities of working people. This striking, if in key respects misguided, comparison between 'the first world' and 'the second world' provides one point of entry for this course, which is centrally concerned with the roles that 'the state' has played in the organization of social and economic life in 'developing countries'. Another, and perhaps more obvious point of entry is provided by James Scott's accounts of the dangers of 'high modernism' in an age of developmentalism, or the efforts by many governments in the twentieth century to engineer social progress and the taming of nature. Finally, it is an important objective of the course, as well, to consider how development policies - and politics - might be made to address what are considered to be instances of pervasive 'state failure' in poorer countries. The course has practical as well as theoretical ambitions, and although it will sometimes be centred on India it will also take in debates on East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa .

Basic Readings


•  Lecture Outline and Corresponding Readings

Lecture 1

The Invention of Development Studies

We begin the course by looking at the invention of Development Studies in the middle part of the twentieth century. Arturo Escobar maintains that 'the discourse of development' must be understood in terms of the broader ambitions of the US and the West during the years of the Cold War. To what extent do we agree with this suggestion, and why (why not)?

Essential readings:

Lecture 2

Dreamworld and Catastrophe? The High Modernist State

We now review Buck-Morss's thesis and the more specific arguments of James Scott. How should we define 'high modernism' and what are its likely effects? What are the strengths and weaknesses of this model? What does it mean to talk about 'seeing like a state': what conception of the state does this imply?

Essential readings:

Lecture 3

Developmental States

In development studies there has been a good deal of attention to the merits of 'hard states' or developmental states. What do these terms mean, and what did Gunnar Myrdal have in mind when he wrote, in the 1960s, about 'soft states'? South Korea and Taiwan are often acclaimed as developmental states. Why? Do these countries provide us with models of development than can be transported elsewhere?

Essential readings:

Lecture 4

State 'Failure' I: Food, Freedom and Famine

Conventional wisdom has it that states have 'failed' people in poor countries more often than they have succeeded in providing development or empowerment. The failure to ensure that citizens have enough to eat might be read as an extreme case of state failure, and in some respects this is the argument that has been developed by the Nobel prize-winning economist and moral philosopher, Amartya Sen. In this session we review Sen's accounts of food and freedom, and his exchange entitlements model of the production of famine. As ever, we do this partly with an eye on what this might tell us about the state in the ' Third World '.

Essential readings:

Lecture 5

State 'Failure' II: Corruption

A second example of 'state failure' is that of corruption, which is sometimes understood in terms of a more general model of predatory states and rent-seeking behavior. What do these terms mean, and why are they contested? How does Transparency International seek to measure corruption, and to what extent can its definitions be considered to be 'Eurocentric'? What evidence is there to suggest that corruption hurts poorer women and men most of all, and how might it be combated?

Essential readings:

Lecture 6

State 'Failure' III: Territoriality

In this session we consider state failure in terms of the incapacity of some governments to achieve command over the territories that they would presume to govern. Jeffrey Herbst has argued that this is a particular problem for post-colonial states in sub-Saharan Africa . He makes this argument for two reasons, one of which has to do with geography and demography (the problems of achieving control over extensive and low-density settlements), and one of which has to do with the post-war international system (the insistence of aid donors on dealing only with so-called nation-states). Herbst's argument has provoked a good deal of commentary, and we shall consider it in some detail.

Essential readings:

Lecture 7

Seeing the State

In this session we return to Scott, but turn his formulation upside down. We now ask what it means to talk of 'seeing the state'. Which state agencies and officers do poorer people in eastern India commonly see, and how are these sightings mediated by gossip, memories (including paper copies of state documents), experiences of waiting in line (queueing), and so on. How are these sightings gendered, and with what consequences? How do NGOs help to structure some sightings of the state? How might an emphasis upon the diversity of the ways in which poorer people 'see the state' help us think practically about questions of development policy and politics?

Essential readings:

Lecture 8

Reforming the State I: Decentralizing and/or Downsizing

It has recently been argued that state-poor relations can be improved by bringing 'the state' into closer proximity to 'the people', for example by means of decentralization, deconcentration or devolution. This would address the so-called principal-agent problem, and would not resort to a much more ambitious agenda of downsizing the state. But perhaps that agenda is the proper one? Deepak Lal argued in the 1980s that what "the Third World needs most is less government". Why did he make this claim, and how might we seek to respond to his arguments?

Essential readings:

Lecture 9

Reforming the State II: Participation and Good Governance

Two further ways of improving state-poor encounters, or encounters between development projects and their intended beneficiaries, would include the agendas of 'participatory development' (so strongly pushed by Robert Chambers, among others) and of 'good governance'. But what do these agendas consist in, and what reasons are there, if any, for thinking that they might challenge established systems of power and authority?

Essential readings:

Lecture 10

Reforming the State III: Politics and Power

And so to politics, so often the word or practice that is not named in mainstream development policies. Is it the case, as James Ferguson has argued, that such policies work to extend bureaucratic power over new state 'subjects', and do so precisely by avoiding (or chasing away) issues of power and dominance? How, then, might we think about 'political society', and the merits of conventional leftist struggles for state power (or power over the state)?

Essential readings:

Further readings

The Essential Readings listed above can only hint at a much broader set of literatures. Listed below are a few more key texts for anyone who wishes to read further.

•  The lecturer

Stuart Corbridge has interests in the fields of international political economy and development studies, and for about 25 years has carried out fieldwork in mainly rural areas of eastern India . His books include: Capitalist World Development: A Critique of Radical Development Geography (Macmillam, 1986); Debt and Development (Blackwell, 1993); Mastering Space: Hegemony, Territory and International Political Economy (with John Agnew, Routledge, 1995); Reinventing India: Liberalization, Hindu Nationalism and Popular Democracy (with John Harriss, Polity 2000 and OUP [second edition] 2003); and Jharkhand: Environment, Development, Ethnicity (with Sarah Jewitt and Sanjay Kumar, OUP, 2003). Together with Glyn Williams, Manoj Srivastava and Rene Veron he has recently been researching and writing a book for CUP (2004) to be called Seeing the State: Governance and Governmentality in Rural India. With these co-workers he is also busy trying to set up The Institute for Alternatives, an NGO which will work with small groups of poorer villagers in Sahar Block, Bhojpur District, Bihar , on issues relating to state accountability and the enforcement of citizens' legal rights.

Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy.

Main page - Oslo Summer School 2004