An Inquiry into the Roots of the Modern Concept of Development

Development policy rests on the conceptual division of the world between developed and underdeveloped countries. The article argues that this dichotomous way of splitting the world into one collective self, on one side, and a collective other, on the other, pertains to the category of what Koselleck has termed “asymmetrical counterconcepts.” Moreover, many of the characteristics of our modern concept of development directly derive from older counterconcepts or dichotomizations e.g. the idea that the underdeveloped can, in principle, “develop” and that developed countries should assist others in developing themselves. In this essay some historical examples of such dichotomies are examined, with a special emphasis on the civilized-uncivilized conceptual pair and on the idea of civilizing the “Barbarian.” The recapitulation of past dichotomies not only unearths the historical influences on the idea of development. Above all, it contributes to a better understanding of its present-day complexities.

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