Participation and Sustainability

The environmental movement had a significant influence on promoting par­ticipatory approaches. Early development practice did not have a strong sense of the problems of global ecology and strongly emphasized big, energy­intensive infrastructure projects (from which many development agencies and private sector companies derived financial benefit). The emergence of the “small is beautiful” (Schumacher, 1973) and green movements also provided powerful critiques of both the liberal and the Marxist views of development and pressed for more holistic approaches to the complexities of wealth and poverty.

This coincided with the emergence of a strong movement for international human rights that went beyond arguments for a tolerable basic standard of liv­ing and included the rights to self-determination, freedom from coercion, gen­der equality, the rights of children and fetuses, and the rights of ethnic groups.

Together, these movements have had a leavening effect on the macro­development strategies in donor states because the states were gradually forced to pay at least lip service to gender, environment, and human rights issues to maintain any kind of ideological legitimacy. This has coincided with events within the wealthy funding countries, which are experiencing their own complex internal dynamics. These days, accountability, efficiency, downsizing, participation, and competitiveness are the watchwords of business, and these ideologies have filtered into the public sector generally and into development agencies in particular. Simultaneously, at the other end of the political spec­trum, there are increasing attacks on foreign aid as a useless waste of money on people whose poverty is their own fault, an ideology that takes us back to the 1950s. Neoliberalism is alive and weil in development work. These processes are not surprising since, in advanced capitalist societies, the distance between the rich and poor yawns wider each year.

At this point in history, all the lines between approaches have become increasingly blurred. Liberal and Marxist approaches were easily distinguished before, but now liberal approaches have appropriated much of the language of Marxist, feminist, and ecological analysis. NGOs have complicated the ideo­logical scene with a huge number of agendas driven by a wide variety of ide­ologies, running from Christian evangelism to the rights of infants and trees. This complex situation has created an environment in which development organizations are forced to restructure themselves, redefine their methods, and try to find new modes of operation, and into this breech a few development practitioners have inserted more participatory approaches to development.

Source: Greenwood Davydd J., Levin Morten (2006), Introduction to Action Research: Social Research for Social Change, SAGE Publications, Inc; 2nd edition.

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