2016: Volume 47
Perhaps more than any other region or any other period of post-Cold War history, the Middle East since the Arab Spring constitutes a significant challenge to established ideas about development and its relationship with conflict. The failure of democracy movements, the collapse and rebirth of authoritarian regimes, the regional conflagration around Syria, new experiments with Islamism, and the return of geopolitics all, in one way or another, challenge these established ideas. The Middle East has always been something of an outlier within development thinking and practice: both the discipline of development studies and development policy have always taken sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America as their central reference points, not the Middle East. But with so much international attention currently on the Middle East, it is worthwhile examining what recent trends and events there tell us about development and the role of conflict therein; this is what is done in this IDS Bulletin.
Broadly, the articles consider myths around conflict and development about the Middle East region. These include: that there is a unilinear model of development; that low development and violent conflict are natural bedfellows; that there is an alternative rentier path of development; that fragile statehood is the main institutional cause of violence; that environmental scarcities are an increasingly important contributor to conflict; that countries need to pass a number of milestones on a democratisation pathway; that more humanitarian aid will contain the Syrian refugee crisis and that, following a period of ‘Arab Spring’, people’s agency has been defeated.
‘How does change happen?’ and ‘How should change happen and how can it be enabled?’ are key questions analysed in this IDS Bulletin, drawing on the Institute of Development Studies’ reflections on States, Markets and Society as a theme of its 50th Anniversary year.
The year generally, and this Bulletin issue specifically, looks back in order to look forward to future challenges and how to meet them. While the first part of this IDS Bulletin draws on a selection of archive articles to highlight key debates over the decades, the second part looks forward by drawing on contributions to IDS’ 50th Anniversary conference, which took place in July 2016. The roles and relationships of the public and private sectors and civil society have been central themes in analysis and action around the social, economic and political change that constitutes development. However, articles in this issue suggest that over-dominance of market forces over government, business and civil society accounts for many of today’s development challenges, and suggest a rebalancing of the current States–Markets–Society triad to give greater weight and influence to state and societal forces to those of the market. An agenda is also considered for new alliances and relationships, suggesting that cross-cutting themes and inter- and transdisciplinary approaches will be required – by international partnerships – to integrate high quality research with the knowledge of people working in state, business and civil society organisations, mobilising evidence for impact. In such ways, this IDS Bulletin charts some contours of a future map of development studies, in a new era.
At 50 years old, the Institute of Development Studies is ‘looking back, in order to look forward so too this IDS Bulletin aims to trace the history of certain topics in development studies by bringing together two generations of scholars – Research Fellows and students – to provide insight to our rich past and promising future. The nine articles in this issue represent this collaboration and consider the larger picture: Where is development studies today? Where has it come from? And what role have specific fields of research played in the development of development studies? Such an issue is certainly an ambitious task, since ideas in development theory and practice cannot be divorced from the broader assumptions, aspirations and beliefs of any given era.
Each article in this IDS Bulletin speaks to how topics in development studies have critically challenged the existing paradigms, particularly on expanding the focus of development from the ‘South’ to a universal approach. They all explore the intersectionality of different aspects to development, say the intersection of climate change and poverty, race and inequality, cities and violence. And also, reflective of the multidisciplinary approach to development in this issue, a wide range of topics are presented – from gender to urban violence to agriculture input subsidies – documenting how each of these have been tackled using a wide range of research tools, from ethnographies to econometric analysis.
With the formulation of the first ever internationally agreed stand-alone goal on gender equality, debates around women’s empowerment are at a critical juncture. This IDS Bulletin makes a timely contribution to our understanding of how ideas around empowerment have evolved and how we can move forward to expand women’s opportunities and choices and realise women’s empowerment in a meaningful way.
Even though the importance of women’s empowerment is widely accepted, it remains a complex concept that defies precise definitions and easy measurements. Together, the articles in this special Archive Collection demonstrate the depth and breadth of a nuanced analysis of empowerment that has come out of academic scholars writing at the cutting edge of this field.
The editors reflect on the interconnectedness of the economic, social and political components of empowerment. In doing so they highlight the significant gaps in policy and programming aimed at furthering processes and outcomes for women’s empowerment. Casting an eye to the future, they draw our attention to two relevant debates that merit further unpacking – that of inequality, and the question of how the Sustainable Development Goals can contribute to furthering processes of women’s empowerment and gender equality.
Ultimately this IDS Bulletin reminds us that empowerment – implying an expansion of opportunities and the power to make choices – can only be realised through a collective, rather than individualised notion of empowerment that focuses on addressing structural inequality and inequitable power relations, and gives primacy to women’s agency in negotiating and challenging these structures.
Open government and open data are new areas of research, advocacy and activism that have entered the governance field alongside the more established areas of transparency and accountability. In this IDS Bulletin, articles review recent scholarship to pinpoint contributions to more open, transparent, accountable and responsive governance via improved practice, projects and programmes in the context of the ideas, relationships, processes, behaviours, policy frameworks and aid funding practices of the last five years. They also discuss questions and weaknesses that limit the effectiveness and impact of this work, offer a series of definitions to help overcome conceptual ambiguities, and identify hype and euphemism. The contributions – by researchers and practitioners – approach contemporary challenges of achieving transparency, accountability and openness from a wide range of subject positions and professional and disciplinary angles. Together these articles give a sense of what has changed in this fast-moving field, and what has not – this IDS Bulletin is an invitation to all stakeholders to take stock and reflect.
The ambiguity around the ‘open’ in governance today might be helpful in that its very breadth brings in actors who would otherwise be unlikely adherents. But if the fuzzier idea of ‘open government’ or the allure of ‘open data’ displace the task of clear transparency, hard accountability and fairer distribution of power as what this is all about, then what started as an inspired movement of governance visionaries may end up merely putting a more open face on an unjust and unaccountable status quo.