THE IMPLICIT MEANING OF LOCAL PRACTICES
trying to understand a local community, it is necessary to look
carefully into its daily behaviour. Ordinary practices may reveal
the kind of meaning which people give to life, economic matters,
social organisation and politics. By local practices we understand
: economic life, social and political organisation, architecture,
health, law, religion, agriculture, etc., etc. By "implicit
meaning" we understand the values, spirituality, cosmology
and symbolism which undergird visible practices. The political
economy developed in the West since Adam Smith can claim no universal
validity. There are other economic systems. Economics are embedded
(K. Polanyi) in a variety of different social and cultural realities.
In addition to that, there is a dialectical relationship between
local economics and local cultures.
presently dominant economic system, capitalism based on growth,
industrialisation, profit, etc. has been severed from values.
It has often become senseless and although it is remarkably efficient,
it is also often destructive in terms of social justice, environment
and cultural identity. It may, therefore be more vulnerable a
system than present-day triumphalism leads us to think. The crisis
of capitalism may be close to us, in the form of a crisis of meaning,
of values, of civilisation.
culturally-rooted alternatives to the dominant economic model
is closely linked to this economic system. Conceived as a ready-made
formula to be parachuted onto the countries of the South, it often
fails. Local people resist being "developed". This resistance
to development is done by inflicting failures on strategies and
projects. The dynamics of such resistance originate in peoples'
culture, in their sense of values and identity.
glib talk about "our world" and "interdependence"
is often used to occult mechanisms of domination of the North
on the South and is interpreted in terms of a uniform culture
to be imposed all over the planet and based on materialism, rationalism
and individualism. People resist this uniformisation through all
kinds of alternative attitudes (mentality) and practices (behaviour).
Thus the failure of development may be interpreted as evidence
of the vitality of peoples' identity and their sense of values.
economic practices (in the "informal sector", "folk
economics", strategies of survival, etc) are helping millions
of people to survive. They are rarely really "subversive"
of the dominant economic order. They should rather be seen as
plants growing in the cracks of the concrete wall of official
economics. They are often ambiguous, dependent, marginal and apt
to be co-opted. Yet they contain interesting experiences, perhaps
even suggestions for other approaches to labour, employment, saving,
production, competition, money, etc... They suggest that the axiom
of the homo economicus which undergirds modern political economy
is not universal. They show that approaches other than those of
unlimited growth and profit are possible. They may even usher
in a new paradigm for economies (Amitai Etzoni of Harvard would
call them socio-economics) and for "development". Other
factors and movements contribute to the search for a new paradigm,
both in the South and in the North : the green movement, certain
strands of women' lib, peace movements and those people who, like
ourselves in the South-North Network, look at peoples' culture
and spirituality as a matrix for social alternatives. This search
is also linked to attempts at macro-economics level to bring some
order and justice into the international scene, either through
challenging the debt-trap of the countries of the South, or through
an attempt to achieve gradual and selective strategies of economic
de-linking and collective self-reliance.
without hurting" ?
observation on existing economic alternatives to the "formal"
economic system leads us to:
- challenge the validity of development projects which are based
on narrow economic parameters;
- try and devise "development without hurting" (Albert
- criticise the epistemological and theoretical basis of modern
Western economic sciences, including their so-called "economic
- further empirical research in suburbs, slums and rural areas
so as to discover local dynamics and their own specific meaning
and modes of operating;
- support indigenous initiatives to reflect on one's own practices,
express ones' own concept of economics, resist, and invent alternatives
for a more humane life;
- look for partners with whom to build links so as to strengthen
each other South-South and South-North;
- devise analytical concepts to help ourselves, development agencies
and local NGOs in these tasks.
is necessary to stress the need for intellectual modesty, patience
and respectful listening to the others. One must also insist on
the fact that no one may claim to aid the other if he or she does
not accept the need to be helped in return. International co-operation
must become two-way traffic at last. The donor must recognise
his or her own short-comings and "poverty" so as to
be able to receive from and to be helped by the 'poor'. Without
this recognition of the West's own poverty, paternalism is inevitable.
This will lead to a new code for international co-operation, ushering
the post-development paradigm. What is being written here also
pertains to relations of Western Europe and North America to eastern
European countries which may be carriers of fruitful alternatives
and deep values.
and Development", n° 5/6, May 1991.