The basic conflict of our times is to decide when to cling to the prescriptions of a failing paradigm and when to see through it and let it go. (P. Brook)

Written by   
Saturday, 10 October 2020 15:33

Human rights: Food for a let go thought  ‘HR and the development paradigm’


Human Rights Reader 548

[TLDR (too long didn’t read): This Reader is about the perverse effect of considering development a primarily technological challenge and the implications for human rights of the fact that socio-political thought has almost no place in the formal education of professionals working in development. For a quick overview, just read the bolded text].


Technology only fosters trends, not development


-Technological dreams lead to bouts of naivete.


1. Rules set by the prevailing development paradigm provide us with a source of comfort that obliterates our being critical and our looking at other key out-of-the-box choices --especially, once and for all, embarking on the pathway centered around human rights (HR).


2. Such rules, that mostly favor technology, lead to unequal access and utilization of the fruits of development interventions. Why? Because technology is inextricably linked to the society in which it originates and will be as socially just or unjust as the milieu where it comes from.


3. So, can I bring you around to recognize that the current structures in place have been functioning as impediments to true change? …that many of the new emerging institutions (and much of the SDGs) are old wine in new bottles? (Shiney Varghese)


When our technology outpaces our political imagination


4. Political imagination, to me, means going from the technical to the ethical to the ideological and the political. The correct diagnosis of the problems at hand is the key element; if the diagnosis is incorrect (and ignores HR…), all subsequent actions are irrelevant and wasted. Needed are more locally-relevant, low-level appropriate technologies. Only a crisis will bring this about. If there is no such, we may perhaps have to create one.


5. Hence, is there such a thing as the benign deployment of technology? Can technology grant almost all wishes? Well, welcome to the real world. The search for the technological silver bullet is perhaps suited for the American spirit. Americans are uncomfortable with the language of HR, of social responsibility and of social class; they think the latter is a Marxist (socialist for Trump…) plot. (George Will)


6. For the Northern development paradigm, ignoring of the political dimension of underdevelopment is indispensible to the peace of mind of its practitioners. “No need to try harder as much as to learn to think a bit differently and better understand what concretely needs to be ultimately accomplished”. Technological solutions pursue impact not equity. This is why ‘poor’ countries’ governments accept them so readily and eagerly.


7. We thus need new commitments to lines of analysis that have a chance of realistically changing things. Technology leads to a circularity in the analysis of underdevelopment’s causes. Technology is developed in the North in a vacuum. The North then imposes its adoption in the South when we should be fostering adaptations. This exposes the flagrant ethnocentric bias of the current development paradigm.*

*: Mind you: There will be no solution that rejects technology, only solutions that harness technology for the common good! (Jeffrey Sachs)


Except for rare occasions, critical socio-political thought has almost no place in the formal education of both Northern and Southern professionals


-Nowadays, the world is modeled after the popular journals (Facebook, today). The question we have to consider is after which journals (websites)…. (Graham Greene, Our Man in Havana)


8. The new generations have let themselves be dragged by fashions coming from junk and ever obsolete schools of thought. In their studies, curricula have left a vacuum with only a touch of nostalgia for deeper meanings. In its place remains a fragmented, more shallow (technocratic), syllabus. (Marcos Roitman)


9. Particularly in the North, universities have become specialized workforce factories. What remains to be worked out is whether this education trains citizens or simply a workforce …and nobody seems to be much disturbed by such a question. (Louis Casado)


10. This shift in the characteristics of academia has brought about a process of depolitization of science and a loss of critical thinking. Universities thus generate knowledge lacking in social meaning --and are further closed to criticism; they have become enterprises at the service of the productive apparatus; they have become factories of efficient professionals that are not deemed to require critical thinking; teaching/learning is to provide services as influenced by corporate norms. A new generation of fragmented thematic experts is produced devoid of the tools (and interest) to tackle what is happening in society as a whole with all its contradictions and class struggles. In such a silo situation, universities become service providers to the ‘free market’ with little to none of an analytic and critical function that ought to be a must for them. Moreover, the controls on faculty (and students) have spanned both the micro and the macro domains. (Pablo Suarez)


11. So, as much as we want to think otherwise, most of these graduates become Establishment. Remedy must lie in adopting an empowering education being aware of creating false expectations. Professional education having a technological logic displaces the needed philosophical and HR discourse and obstructs political expediency. It is a dialectical fallacy to miss the major contradictions in society and replace them by the minor (technological) ones.**

**: Efficiency, as pursued by the Northern development establishment concerns itself with matters of allocation (number of people reached). The HR paradigm deals with social justice and distributional fairness. An efficiency only focus leads to technically feasible portfolios; but where does it leave us socially?


It is a myth to think that development priorities can be based on valid scientific evidence only. But disregarding such altogether …?


12. What before a paradigmatic revolution for the scientific establishment were ducks afterwards became rabbits. (paraphrasing Thomas Kuhn) The problem we now have is that many politicians continue seeing ducks where scientists overwhelmingly see rabbits. …and time is running out. Kuhn made the above statement referring to the sciences, but it also perfectly applies to our social life. The new generations are not left with the possibility of waiting; they have the duty to act decisively to avoid major catastrophes. Only through their action will we have a chance to change the ways we have been living under a predatory capitalism as we have lived-under so far. (Fernando Ayala)


13. All this being said, beware that one can set morally desirable goals so high that they lie out of all realistic reach and lose all power to determine the direction of action. (Franz Nuscheler)


Bottom line

14. How and where is the process of overturning the old paradigm going to start? Where is the point of inflection that will start the tip over? Is it months, years or light years ahead? There is lots of space to travel still. No amount of information or mere awareness raising will lead to it. The problem is tantamount to changing power balances, changing ownership and control in the economic and the political sphere --the latter being the key long-term change needed for HR to get their chance…


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

Your comments are welcome at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

All Readers are available at



-Concerning the things that worry human beings, about some we can have an influence; about others we cannot. (Epictetus)

-Instead of rugged individualism, we need to create a new society within the shell of the old social justice philosophy, but within a philosophy of the new --which is not a new philosophy, but a very old philosophy, a philosophy so old that it looks like new. (Peter Maurin from his poem Yes! I am a Radical)

-Again here some of the never ending wisdom of Eduardo Galeano: your social media marketing partner
Email This Page