Kevin Jon Fernlund:
"In fact, the reaction of the postmodernists and the anti-globalists to “developmentalism” (the idea of development had been reduced to an “ism” or an ideology) closely resembled the earlier critiques of cultural evolutionism by Mead and the cultural relativists. Except that the postmodernists were deeply suspicious of science and capitalism, two of modernism’s greatest achievements. In the words of Carolyn Merchant, a radical ecologist (not ecologist who is radical but theories of radical ecology), “Science is not a process of discovering the ultimate truths of nature, as he Enlightenment thinkers would have argued, but a social construction that changes over time. The assumptions accepted by its practitioners are value-laden and reflect their places in both history and society, as well as the research priorities and funding sources of those in power.”
Who was in power? According to the anti-globalists, it was the elites in the Group of 7 or G7 countries—France, Italy, Germany, Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada. After having been involved in two world wars, these countries decided to abandon competition, which was costly and destructive, and embrace cooperation, which allowed them to govern the world for their own immense economic and political benefit. The differences, then, between more advanced and less advanced countries, between the rich and the poor countries, between the North and the South hemispheres (divided along the “Brandt Line,” a global version of Turner’s frontier of social development), were due not to cultural evolution but to global systems of inequality —imperial and neo-imperial systems that had been created by the West to extract wealth from, as well as to lord over, the Rest.71These feelings and views were especially pronounced among intellectuals in Latin America, a region that had experienced the wrenching “lost decade” (La Década Perdida) of the 1980s. Barbara Weinstein, a specialist on Brazil who was president of the American Historical Association in 2007, pointed out that with this decade—in which the economies of Latin America, including that of Mexico, fell behind and deep into debt — the Enlightenment notion of progress came un-der the harshest scrutiny.
According to Weinstein, the “crisis of the 1980s catalyzed a more radical, thoroughgoing, root-and-branch offensive against the very idea of development.” Post-modernists or post-development thinkers, Wein-stein notes, took the position that development was a discourse that needed to be deconstructed, choosing to ignore that development was actually a process, as the empiricist Haq had shown, which could be objectively measured. These critics also attacked “developmentalists of every stripe for representations of the so-called ‘developing world’ as landscapes of unrelieved poverty, misery, and backwardness, and for set-ting up Western standards as the universal benchmarks for economic, political, and cultural success.”
Perhaps the strongest rejection of Western development or the Eurocentric notion of progress came from the Mexican anthropologist Guillermo Bonfil Batalla. In 1987 in what amounted to a manifesto, which called to mind Gandhi’s anti-colonial views, thundered: The recent history of Mexico, that of the last five hundred years, is the story of permanent confrontation between those attempting to direct the country toward the path of Western civilization and those, rooted in Mesoamerican ways of life, who resist. The first plan arrived with the European invaders but was not abandoned with independence. The new groups in power, first the creoles and later the mestizos, never renounced the westernization plan. They still have not renounced it. Their differences and the struggles that divide them ex-press only disagreement over the best way of carrying out the same program. The adoption of that model has meant the creation within Mexican society of a minority country organized according to the norms, aspirations, and goals of Western civilization. They are not shared, or are shared from a different perspective, by the rest of the national population. To the sector that represents and gives impetus to our country’s dominant civilizational program, I give the name “the imaginary Mexico” .... Imaginary Mexico’s westernization plan has been exclusionary and has denied the validity of Mesoamerican civilization.
A bitter Batalla had turned Sarmiento on his head. Nevertheless, the leaders of Mexico rejected these ideas, choosing instead the free market, as the surest way out of the country’s economic predicament. Mexico signed the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1992, which was revised in 2020 and renamed “the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement,” and in 1994 joined the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Another strongly worded rejection of development came in 1995, the same year that the World Trade Organization was founded, from yet another anthropologist: namely, the Columbian anthropologist Arturo Escobar, who wrote Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World. Escobar, whom Weinstein calls “highly provocative,” condemned efforts to develop the Third World as “ethnocentric and arrogant, at best naïve.” Instead of lifting up the peoples of the Third World, he alleged that Western-led efforts brought about “massive underdevelopment and impoverishment, untold exploitation and oppression.” He equated “developmentalism,” the mindset of the powerful over the power-less, with “orientalism” and “Africanism.” Escobar cited the “debt crisis, the Sahelian famine, in-creasing poverty, malnutrition, and violence” as only the “most pathetic signs of the failure of forty years of development,” going back to President Truman’s Point Four Program."