Development as Buen Vivir: Institutional arrangements and (de)colonial entanglements

[Katherine Walsh, Society for international development, 2010]

In a world long organized around the western capitalist principle of living better and its correlate: having more‘development’ is a term and concept with a historically weighted significance. For many, it is, in essence, the‘paradogmatic’ (not just paradigmatic) frame against which the Global South in general and Latin America in particular have both measured themselves and been measured. It is the developed West against and, at the same time, the model for the rest.

Such a framework has served not only to envelop humanity and the human condition in the lineal ideas of civilization and progress, but also to entangle modernity further with its underside: coloniality. That is, with a matrix of global power that has hierarchically classified populations, their knowledge, and cosmologic life systems according to a Eurocentric standard. This matrix of power has legitimized relations of domination, superiority/inferiority, and established a historical structural dependence related to capital and the world market (Quijano, 2000). In this sense,‘development’ has always signalled more than just material progress and economic growth; it has marked a western model of judgement and control over life itself.

The central question I would like to pose is whether and to what extent this model and its institutional arrangements are in a process of transformation. Does the shift towards new social and sustainable forms of development break with and shrug off the past? How can we understand the emergence in the Andes Region and Ecuador in particular of buen vivir, living well or collective well being, as the guiding principle for a new regimen of development? In the 2008 Constitution of Ecuador, this new regimen is defined as the organized, sustainable, and dynamic ensemble of economic, political, socio-cultural, and environmental systems that guarantee the realization of buen vivir. Development, 2010, What does such regimen suggest and afford for development’s (de)envelopment? These are the guiding questions for what follows.

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