Development Theory and Its Threatening Other

Author: Adam Clark, Newcastle University, United Kingdom
Published: September 2015

Citation: Clark, A. (2015). Development Theory and Its Threatening Other. IAFOR Journal of Politics, Economics & Law, 2(1).


The "other" of development is usually taken to be the developing world. Underdeveloped societies are portrayed as somehow deficient compared to the West, and the need to remedy these deficiencies legitimises Western intervention in the world of the underdeveloped Other. Be that as it may, it does not explain the existence of a field called development studies. To do so, the present paper deals with another aspect of the identity of "development", namely, how the existence of development studies as a discipline is justified. Development theory must be able to differentiate itself from other possible fields which could name and describe the Third World. This is no idle question: in the 1980s the academic position of development theory was severely undermined during the so-called "impasse" (Schuurman, 1993). The field's reclaiming of lost ground since the 1990s is, this paper argues, closely linked to the "othering" critique aimed at neoliberal development. That "othering" – by which an alternative is turned into an opposite – has proceeded on the basis of same rhetoric utilised by postwar modernisation theorists to differentiate their fledgling field from alternative conceptualisations of social change. In this paper it shall be argued that as a consequence our image of "neoliberal" development has ceased to represent anything that has ever been a consensus at the World Bank or IMF, its supposed bastions. Rather, it has been given the pre-existing characteristics of development theory's "threatening Other".


development theory, neoliberalism, the threatening other