The Global Working Group “Beyond Development”: An Introduction
Miriam Lang, Ashish Kothari and Mabrouka M’barek
Our world is facing unprecedented challenges: the rise of the political right in many countries, a historical level of environmental destruction and loss of biodiversity, a crisis of the political mechanisms of decision making, which go along with liberal, representative democracy, abysmal levels of economic inequality building on those of gender, caste, race, and ethnicity. At the same time, there never have been so many displaced people forced to leave their homes and in search of a new opportunity for their lives. We face new kinds of wars, increasing militarization and territories ruled by anomic violence.
This multidimensional crisis faced by our world is rooted in the very civilizational foundations that patriarchal capitalist modernity is built on:
- on its firm belief that modern science and technology are the privileged means of solving social and ecological problems;
- on the scientific and technological domination of Nature (seeing humans as separate from it), conceived only as a pool of “natural resources”;
- on the assumption that well-being depends on the accumulation of material goods; on the framing of humankind according to the ontology of homo economicus, an overall rational, profit-maximizing, and individualistic being;
- on the enshrinement of unlimited economic growth as the axis of the social and economic organization;
- on the tendency to commodify all aspects of life;
- on the atomisation of society into self-seeking individuals, spiritually and socially alienated in many different ways.
These bases have not only produced a specific set of problems, but they also shape the possible solutions that are envisioned, and often only aggravate the status quo. This explains why the current crisis has often been characterized as a civilizational crisis.
The current unprecedented levels of inequality also hinder broad agreements toward possible solutions, as the biggest fortunes in the world can appropriate themselves of a large share of all kinds of media, think tanks, academic spaces of knowledge production and public opinion. The solutions at hand for this multidimensional crisis, which has been called civilizational as it includes some of the epistemic pillars of western modern civilization (for example the culture-nature-divide) tend toward large scale technological, market and management fixes which are likely to worsen the situation (e.g. geoengineering against climate change).
At the same time, in many places of the world different societies have existed at the margins of modern capitalism and practiced different, more sustainable modes of living. Nevertheless, they are constantly exposed to the threats of capitalist modernization, intensified extractivism and wars, while their possible contributions to addressing the multidimensional crisis are systematically made invisible by cognitive injustice, as they are usually represented as non-relevant, poor, backward or residual ‘fringe groups’. Recent research though confirms that communitarian and peasant societies (including indigenous peoples) still feed 70 percent of the world and are largely responsible for conserving the biodiversity that still exists. Simultaneously, many new practices and concepts that present systemic alternatives have also arisen from the ‘belly of the beast’, so to speak.
Similarly to our friends from Radical Ecological Democracy, we believe it is crucial to consolidate networks and durable spaces for reflection, knowledge production and emancipatory pedagogies that project systemic change toward social justice, regenerative Nature relations, dismantling patriarchy and colonization, sustaining cultural and knowledge diversity, and building grassroots people power. The Global Working Group Beyond Development has committed itself to this task by gathering/producing knowledge around possible paths of solutions and making local/global dynamics and crisis phenomena more visible to global social movements.
The Global Working Group includes around 30 engaged researchers, movement-based organizers, activists and popular educators from all five continents, not only people from different disciplines or schools of thought can converge, as ecologists, unorthodox Marxists, decolonial thinkers, feminists, and others. In our group, we also seek different kinds of knowledge to converge in a dialogical or ecological relation. We firmly believe that only-academic perspectives originated in western epistemologies are necessarily incomplete, and have to recognize the paramount value of the multiple ways of knowing and being inherent to other civilizational horizons that persist on the margins of capitalist modernity, especially in the global South. This is why the diversity of our group from its very composition is a clue to its form of knowledge production. The human diversity in terms of geographies, cultures, epistemologies, and schools of thought within the community that this working group is building configures the grounds of a unique way of knowledge production on the basis of reciprocal exchange.
The Working Group is an independent and self-organized collective operating with the support of its participants and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. Its partnership with the Radical Ecological Democracy (RED) network is appropriate, for this initiative has also attempted to generate, collate, and promote systemic, radical alternatives to the currently dominant system. Over the last few years the RED approach, now also reflected (along with other complementary approaches) in the Global Tapestry of Alternatives (www.globaltapestryofalternatives.org), has challenged the structures of oppression and unsustainability, and provided a platform for the expression of people- and nature-centred praxis from around the world. Rather than duplicate efforts, it therefore was found useful to synergise the two initiatives.
In our first three years of the Working Group, we have looked at the intersections and entanglements of class, race, gender, caste, coloniality and depredatory relations with Nature. Our group so far has produced two publications, a series of public events and a third publication is underway. While the first book focused on emblematic experiences of multidimensional transformation in different continents which are read from the above mentioned broadened intersectional framework, the second one, titled “Stopping the Machines of socio-ecological destructions” reflects our collective debates about the challenges to deepen democracy, to rethink relations with the State in the current phase of capitalist depredation and the role of the left in socio-ecological transformation, ending with a collective reflection around solidarity and internationalism in the 21st century. The third book, Cities of Dignity: Urban transformations around the world, which is currently being edited and is expected to be published before the end of this year, puts its focus deliberately on urban processes of transformation, as increasing urbanization is one of the world’s greatest challenges.
The latest issue we have committed to is to deepen our understandings around the crisis of democracy and possible responses that can get us out of the crisis. Online debates on this are launched today on the RED website.
Miriam Lang teaches at Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar, Ecuador. She uses decolonial and feminist perspectives to study political ecology.
Ashish Kothari is a co-founder of Kalpavriksh, India and works on development-environment interface, biodiversity policy, and alternatives.
Mabrouka M’Barek is a former member of the Tunisian National Constituent Assembly. She helped draft the country’s new constitution in 2014.