DSA2016: Politics in Development
- Sarah White (University of Bath) email
- Sally Brooks (University of York) email
- Daniela Gabor email
- Elise Klein (University of Melbourne) email
- China Mills (University of Sheffield) email
The rise of behavioural economics, subjective wellbeing and psy-expertise signal a new politics of the personal in development. For some this is a radical way to reduce poverty, for others it individualises and pathologises the poor. What are the implications for development as a project of ‘empowerment’?
The rise of behavioural economics, the use of psy-expertise and studies of subjective wellbeing signal a new politics of the personal in international development. The 2015 World Development Report, 'Mind, Society, and Behaviour', explicitly aims to help development professionals instrumentalise psychological knowledge for economic development. Furthermore a specific concern about the neglect of mental health in international development led to its inclusion within the Sustainable Development Goals.
To some, the use of psychological expertise is a radical new way to reduce poverty, increase economic efficiency and promote wellbeing. Others are concerned with its re-inscription of universal, individualist constructions of personhood, its overt objective of 'correcting' individuals' decision-making, its abstraction of subjective data from their specific context, its implication that analysis of underlying structures is unnecessary. Furthermore there is a risk the psychological domain could be appropriated by political and economic actors, with neo-colonial implications.
This panel aims to generate a critical review of this phenomenon. Both empirically based and theoretical papers are welcome. Potential questions include: Why have particular psychological approaches become so popular, and what tangible effects are they having in development policy and practice? Are there alternative approaches within psychology that could usefully be mobilised? How does this new politics of the personal engage with more socially grounded approaches, such as analyses of gender, class, age/life-stage, or disability? To what extent does this uptake of psy expertise resonate or conflict with post-development critiques? What theoretical resources does analysis of this phenomenon require? And what are its implications for understandings of development as a project of emancipation or empowerment?
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Development policy and psy expertise: A review
Expertise stemming from the psy disciplines is incorporated increasingly into international development policy and practise. Through examining two areas of psy expertise, we argue that caution should be applied in using such approaches in development policy.
Expertise stemming from the psy disciplines (social psychology, child developmental psychology, psychiatry and positive psychology) is increasingly incorporated into international development policy and practise. Whilst some policy makers have seen the use of psy expertise as a new way to reduce poverty, increase economic efficiency and promote wellbeing, we argue that caution should be applied when considering psy knowledge in development policy.
This paper specifically analyses two aspects of psy knowledge used in contemporary development policy: the inclusion of mental health into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS); and the incorporation of behavioural economics in development policy, specifically in regards to shaping individual agency and decision making. Through this analysis, we explore how the take up of psy-expertise in developmental policy making marks the further individualisation and pathologisation of poverty. Also, when situated within wider power dynamics, subjugation and global capital, there is a risk that the psychological domain is targeted for instrumental purposes by political and economic actors, having neo-colonial implications.
Finally, we seek to historically situate what some have called the 'psychologisation' of international development. We will explore the accuracy of understanding this process as 'new', when in fact development has, since its inception, sought to shift and shape mentalities, and the discipline of psychology has long been tied to development and colonial projects.
Changing the mind and behaviour of the poor at work: Political subjectivity of low-end service workers in India's corporate sector
Soft skills training for psychological and behavioural change to enhance productivity of the poor has contradictory implications for their political subjectivity. It elicits discipline and servility, yet also unleashes new understandings of the self and society, and a critique of power and hierarchy
In upholding the importance of "mind, society and behaviour" in development, the eponymous World Development Report 2015 advances the view that monetary incentives are less critical than psychological and cognitive factors in shaping productivity and workers' motivation. The consequent emphasis on changing mindsets and behaviours is, however, already a significant feature of skill development initiatives that have been increasingly promoted in many parts of the world to tackle unemployment, especially among youth, as enterprise development has failed to solve the problem of livelihood generation. A key component of skill training is the inculcation of soft skills, including appropriate forms of attitudinal disposition and behavioural attributes, as well as emotional management of oneself and others in interpersonal relationships. These are promoted as effective tools to augment employability of the poor and ultimately contribute to social mobility. Counselling is now also a central feature of many workplaces, aimed to ensure efficiency and productivity through psychological competence. The highly contradictory implications of these practices for cultures of work and the political subjectivity of the poor are explored in this paper, with case studies from low-end service jobs in India's burgeoning private corporate sector. While the promotion of emotional labour, psychological resilience and behavioural reform of workers is aimed to elicit discipline, work ethic and servility, yet at the same time, emotional reflexivity and self-awareness, stimulated by organised training in soft skills, unleash new forms of understanding of the self and society, and give rise to a moral critique of power and hierarchy.
What are the policy implications of aspiration traps?
I address policy implications of aspiration traps to discuss under which conditions this behavioural approach can help to improve well-being and empowerment. There is a case for policy interventions that can enlarge subjective opportunity sets, but these must address material poverty and inequalities as well.
This paper proposes a critical discussion of the recently emerging aspiration (traps) literature. The main idea of this field is that inequality and poverty can influence decision-making through social, cognitive, and psychological processes, making individuals aspire to lower goals than to those that serve their interest best. It offers potential improvements of research and policy-making because it helps to understand individual behaviour better, but at the same time bears the risk of wanting to correct individual life goals, aspirations, and decision-making. Indeed most contributions seem to imply that policy interventions should aim at correcting or avoiding too low aspirations and aspiration traps.
I approach this dilemma by discussing under which conditions insights from this research can support well-being and empowerment. I oppose 5 different perspectives on the welfare implications of policy interventions addressing aspirations: the standard desire-fulfilment criterion and its behavioural extensions, a hedonistic perspective, Sugden's opportunity criterion, Roemer's equality of opportunity and Sen's capability approach. I conclude that psychological and cognitive processes can only be understood and addressed when their analysis is socially grounded and embedded in the respective environment, and as part of a policy mix. Behavioural approaches to development should not give the impression that poverty is not primarily an issue of unequal resources and opportunities.
Development initiatives in digital-based financial inclusion have grown since the financial crisis. Market failures are attributed to ‘risky’ consumers whose behavior can be ‘nudged’ in a ‘rational’ direction. Such initiatives enable ‘profiling’ of poor households as generators of financial assets
Policy initiatives aimed at 'financial inclusion' have gathered pace since the global financial crisis of 2008. This paper traces a discursive shift that attributed market failures, not to poorly regulated financial markets and institutions, but to individual consumers, in particular poorer, 'risky' consumers whose behavioural traits can and should be 'nudged' in a more 'rational' direction (World Bank 2014, 2015).
Behavioural economics, as interpreted by the World Bank and other donors, naturalises 'the market' while 'correcting' behavior of individuals so they can 'connect' to it. Efforts to extend financial inclusion to the 'unbanked' in the developing world exemplify this change of emphasis from 'making markets work for the poor' to governing market subjects. This paper examines the growing importance of digital-based financial inclusion as a form of organising international development interventions through networks of state institutions, development agencies and 'philanthropic investment' fintech companies. While such programmes are couched in terminology of including the (financially) excluded, poverty in the developing world is now cast as a new frontier for profit making and accumulation. The fintech-philanthropy-development (FPD) complex generates digital ecosystems that map, expand and monetise 'digital footprints'. This digital revolution offers the state new ways of expanding the inclusion of the 'legible', and global finance new ways of 'profiling' poor households into generators of financial assets.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.