Manuel Castells on Reconceptualising Development

Manuel Castells on Reconceptualising Development

"The topic of our lecture today came out from the effort ... to rethink development on the basis of a number of empirical studies, interacting with different conceptions and different approaches to development. ... I try to cut across the distinction between theory and empirical research in society because I always have in mind what this means for the world at large: what this means in terms of policy, politics and change. This is based, on the one hand, on some reflection informed by theoretical frameworks and, on the other hand, by observation, and making sure the observation modifies the theory. I do this because my principle is that when theory conflicts with observation, you don’t throw away the observation: you throw away the theory.

We did in fact ‘throw away’ a number of theories. What I am going to present is not the surviving theories but theoretical approaches and insights that we reached after the process of filtering what we were thinking on the basis of observing. We know that ‘development’ has multiple meanings. This is important: it’s not just a terminological debate. Words matter. The world has been differentiating between ‘developed’ and ‘underdeveloped’ and ‘developing’ for a long time; and no one knows exactly what they mean anymore. ...[W]e decided to cut across all of this and see actually what’s happening in the world.

My analysis here will try to go beyond the usual approaches which are either descriptive (these are the processes of development), or analytical (how this can be understood), or normative (that which development should be), or apparently technical (which in fact say, ‘No, no, no, we’re not doing philosophy or ideology here; we just are technical: growth, economic growth or social development’). Well, in fact, values – fundamental values – are all included in the measures of calculation: they are embedded. So the way we calculate already conveys a certain number of values and assumptions.

To start with, I provide my own definition of development which I pretend is ideologically free – Wow! Imagine that: ideologically free! I do this not because it is non‐ideological, but for the simple reason that it can be filled in with different ideologies, and therefore, it is not my ideology: you all can put in your ideology and it works. And it’s open‐ended in terms of content.

I define development as the self‐defined process – self is important – by which humans, as a collective, enhance their wellbeing by creating the structural conditions for the expanded reproduction of the process of development itself, so enhancing their wellbeing and, at the same time, creating the structural conditions for this process to go on....

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