When better worlds collide: historical essays on the politics of international development and social science

Change log
Park, Albert Sanghoon 

This thesis is on politics, but of a very particular type. Tied to our very perceptions of existence and ways of life, it stems from deeper differences and entanglements. Exacerbated by post-Cold War globalisation, said politics is explored here in the contexts of international development. Positing a better worlds problem, it asks how to realise a better world amidst a conflicting plurality of them. Whose ideas matter? Is it more reason or might that define whose better world is right? Structured into three essays, it trials a historical approach using development's English-language academic historiography as an intellectual history archive. Capturing better worlds as ontological, moral, and epistemological systems or logic scaffolds, essay one thus finds a growing liberal scientific positivist scaffold underlying historical development journal articles. In contrast, essay two traces distinctly Marxist scientific positivist scaffolds underwriting Cold War-era development history books. Finally, essay three adds a new post-structuralist scaffold that manifests in post-Cold War postdevelopment theory. Constituting the most extensive study of the Anglophone development historiography to date, these essays produce three overarching findings. First is the dominant influence of the three observed scaffolds, which reflect the politics surrounding their own places and times. Resulting in a highly fragmented and polemical historiography, its visions privilege local over global priorities; more about a Western New Left than a purported Third World. The second finding thus illustrates an embedded development. Resituating its theories in society highlights their production in Western social science for consumption around the world. Extended to the third finding of a development game, it highlights a politics inextricable from development theory as well as its underlying social sciences. Culminating in a larger metaphysical geopolitics at play, it ties to a politics of science, knowledge, truth, and expertise—including the political role of the university. The thesis thus closes by outlining a larger programme across interdisciplinary, international, and theory-practice divides. Ultimately, it entails returning with greater hindsight to the start: the search for a way to navigate our deeper entanglements and rising tempers in the twenty-first century.

Fennell, Shailaja
international development, development studies, development theory, social science, sociology of knowledge, sociology of scientific knowledge, history and philosophy of science, history and philosophy of social science, history of science, history of social science, philosophy of science, philosophy of social science, intellectual history, global history, diplomatic history, history of development, historiography of development, politics of knowledge, politics of social science, politics of development, geography of knowledge, geography of development, sociology of development, science and technology studies, science, technology, and society studies, critical international studies, critical international relations, critical geopolitics, metaphysical geopolitics
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge