Developing development

By Matthew Rech

Writing a couple of weeks ago in the New Scientist, Ethan Watters describes the exportation and globalisation of mental illness and its treatment. Focusing on the particular example of post traumatic stress disorder, Watters suggests that whilst “mental illnesses are not evenly distributed globally, and do not take the same form from place to place”, it is perhaps one of the greatest achievements of globalisation that such “culturally distinct expressions of trauma” are not only conceptualised through, but incorporated into, a homogenous, American version of mental illness.

A further case study of Watter’s report is the example of the treatment of mental illness after natural disasters, wars and genocides: all notably ignorant of “the local idioms of distress”.

Using the recent devastation of Haiti as something to help us ground these ideas, it is interesting to think of Watters’ exportation of mental illness alongside more general discourses of aid and development. Writing in Geography Compass, Andrew McGregor provides a review and history of post-development studies, with a special emphasis on an ongoing struggle to “demystify and challenge the taken-for-granted goodness and vagueness that has surrounded development since its inception” (1699).

Although necessarily going beyond the theme of mental illness here, McGregor usefully describes post-development “from its early angry incarnations to its current experimental and optimistic mood” (1688), and lays the foundations for a more grass-roots, practice-based approach to development. Such an approach would mean debunking reified structures of meaning and practice (not unlike the application of anglo-american conceptions of mental illness), and ‘couching the study of post-development in the languages of hope and possibility’.

Read McGregor A (2009) New possibilities? Shifts in Post-Development theory and practice. Geography Compass. 3. 5, 1688-1702

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About matthewrech

Matthew Rech is a doctoral student in Geography at the University of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. His current research focuses on military recruitment practices associated with the Royal Air Force. Whilst primarily rooted in the sub-discipline of Critical Geopolitics, the project draws heavily upon key conceptual debates in cultural geography, cultural studies and aesthetic theory. The methodological approach emphasises the more-than-representational qualities of military recruitment, and the particular ways of seeing that make recruitment effective. Matthew attained his BA in Geography in 2007 and his MA in Human Geography Research in 2008, both at the University of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. Previous dissertations have focused on systems theory and environmental policy, and the social effects of natural disaster.

3 thoughts on “Developing development

  1. Oguntoke Olusegun

    Mental illnesses in Africa do not appear to follow Watter’s report since many of such are linked to substance abuse, frustration associated with poverty and psychosocial manipulations.

  2. Badrus

    Civilization and development bring in the developing world not only tv sets, computers and music but also new illnesses which deserve to be studied .

  3. Badrus

    To be more precise we have to mention that developing countries need a new SOUND development both for people and for environment.


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