On development – a lecture at KTH.

Royal Institute of Technology

This week I had the opportunity to give a lecture for a class of architecture master students at KTH (the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology). My lecture was a part of a course focusing on architecture and development projects, and development issues are clearly something that many of you have been thinking about. I really enjoyed meeting you and hearing your thoughts and reflections.

We discussed what “development” actually means. Many of you brought up that development can be a double-edged sword. Change can bring improvement, but it can also destroy important traditions and make us forget knowledge that we once possessed. One person brought up that development actually can mean learning from the past and going back to technologies or habits that were more sustainable, but that we at the moment have lost. I think most of you agreed that development has to include equity and a fair division of resources. You also brought up that development, for example democratic development, can not be forced from the outside. To be beneficial, development has to be anchored in the societies themselves.

We talked about whether sustainable development is important for you personally and how our privileged position in the world perhaps insulates us from feeling the urgent need for change. One of you pointed out that you have experienced very warm summers and changing weather that really brings home the reality of global warming. Even if we do not (yet) suffer hardship, our experience of the world around us is changing.

The class of master students, KTH

I spent some time talking about the state of the world today, the hopeful and encouraging fact that life is improving for so many people, as well as the more worrying trends of increasing inequity in the world and the fact that the environmental situation is becoming more and more dire. (Just this past week, a new report was released by WWF documenting that the number of marine mammals, birds, reptiles and fish has decreased with about 50% since the 1970s.)

We then moved on to talk about the concept of development itself, reasons why development project fail or prosper, the millennium development goals and the new sustainable development goals/agenda 2030 that is likely to provide a road map for future development work. In the end, I told you a bit about the project that I worked with in Nepal, a rural development project that focuses on organic farming and that has been very successful. 

I want to thank you all for a very nice day and wish you the best of luck with your projects! Thank you very much also to Ingrid and Alexis, both for inviting me and for sharing so generously your knowledge and experience.

More information:

Statistics on the situation in the world today: http://www.gapminder.org

A Ted talk that introduces the concept of environmental justice: http://www.ted.com/talks/majora_carter_s_tale_of_urban_renewal?language=en

The video introducing Agenda 2030: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ntRnq_U13Eo

Art project, Where children sleep: http://jamesmollison.com/books/where-children-sleep/ and http://www.today.com/slideshow/today/where-children-sleep-a-moving-look-at-what-kids-have–and-lack-44077710

The Living Planet Report 2014, by WWF, for the ‘amazing and terrifying’ graph with the small green box that combines sustainable development and global footprint: http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/all_publications/living_planet_report/

Also from the WWF, the Living Blue Planet Report 2015 for the statistics on marine life: http://ocean.panda.org.s3.amazonaws.com/media/Living_Blue_Planet_Report_2015_08_31.pdf

More information on the Swedish development cooperation: http://www.sida.se/English/how-we-work/about-swedish-development-cooperation/


The book with the critical quote on the history of development is called
Planet Dialectics – Explorations in Environment and Development
by Wolfgang Sachs, 1999

The book with the quote on development as increased opportunities is called
Development as Freedom
by Amartya Sen, 1999

The book by an anthropologist who discusses the constraints of aid projects and how they shape policy in the context of an aid project in Lesotho that could not work with the root causes to poverty since the root causes were in South Africa and the project were taking place in Lesotho is called
The anti-politics machine
by James Ferguson, 1994

Wikipedia has a pretty good summary of the key concepts of the book: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Anti-Politics_Machine

There’s another anthropologist that has written a similar critique, with is also good. I would, however, recommend James Ferguson first. The other book is called Cultivating development – an ethnography of aid policy and practice.
David Mosse, 2005


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