2010: Development Paths: Values, Ethics and Morality
Download the conference programme (PDF)
This one day conference provided an opportunity for colleagues to reflect critically upon fundamental concepts of development in terms of both objectives and processes. The past twelve months have led many in our community to critically reflect on the values, beliefs, behaviours, ideas and relationships that we hold as we undertake research intended to support the progress of societies. But what is progress ? The constructive challenging of deep-seated assumptions about development often get submerged in the minutiae of policy driven which distort the complexity of development.
This conference aimed to provide a platform for the exposition of plural standpoints reflecting a diversity of values, ethics and moral positions. The conference will focus on four key questions:
- What is the ethical basis for creating better futures for the lives and worlds of others?
- To what extent are essentially relativist positions presented as universal; and are fundamental principles, such as rights, justice and freedoms, ethnocentric in how they are defined and applied?
- Are any new universals emerging?
- What alternative values, ethics and moralities could usefully inform development theory and practice?
- In policy terms we all have to reassess our place in a rapidly changing world. In Development Studies, we have a duty to retain a degree of critical independence in order to address global problems and plural standpoints rather than only be confined to OECD rationales (ethical or pragmatic) for being concerned about other parts of the world. In a world of relativisms alongside possible new emerging universals, how should we reflect upon our own ethical basis for development practice?
Can the West only buy a ‘hearing' for its ideas within resource poor societies (for example, through the aid relationship and other forms of leverage)? Elsewhere in the post, post colonialist world, are we likely to have declining purchase if we do not demonstrate an understanding for the sovereign values of others and a willingness to change our own values, priorities and behaviour as part of the engagement with others? Nowhere is this question more obviously appropriate than for climate change. But do other lesser examples of Western behaviour (whether it is high divorce rates, excessive drinking and drugs use, racism, or just plain individualistic selfishness and consumer indulgence) undermine any ethical basis to advise and guide others? We want to take stock and listen to accounts of what different people around the world think, value and strive for.
We might hear about:
- preferences for family and immediate relationships rather than individual success through acquisitiveness
- philanthropy and caring, alongside intolerance and othering
- happiness and its expressions through rituals and festivities
- the rationale for marriage systems other than monogamy
- the rationales for differentially allocating nutrition within families and communities
- the boundaries between childhood and adulthood, and what that means
- who and what roles are valued in local communities
- the challenges for global collective action
We could hear about:
- sophisticated systems of sustainable natural resource management as well as continuing ideas about cargo
- how local movements articulate their values and preferences over their resources, identity, ownership and autonomy over their definitions of development
- concepts of health, who is entitled to it, organic remedies
- more about how urban adaptations are emerging, and the consequences of cultures bumping into each other
- how the coming together of different cultures and ethnicities moulds and transforms communities, attitudes and moralities
We may hear about:
- complex moral universes, distributing justice by gradations of intimacy
- anger: cause and consequence
- poor and desperate people coping with shame and indignity through intense belief and identity values
- a range of standpoints about what justice is, and how it occurs
- how diasporas are becoming more important than nation states for identity and the obligations and responsibilities that accompany identity
The longer conference in 2011, which the DSA hosted in the UK for EADI (The European Association for Development Training Institutes), continued some of these themes - and what they might mean for new behaviours, alliances and relationships - under the working theme of 'In Search of New Universals and Narratives in a Fragmented World'.