Call for Abstracts: Re-Thinking, Re-defining, Re-positioning: “Development” and the Question of “Alternatives”

Development Days Conference, Helsinki, 27.02.-01.03.2019

Critiques of development of the last three decades have clearly pinpointed the many flaws in the way development is theorised and practiced (Escobar 1985, 1992; Esteva and Prakash 1997, 1998; Ferguson 1990; Kothari 2005; Kiely 1995; Munck 1999; Rahnema and Bawtree 1997; Sachs 1992; Schuurmann, 1993; Ziai 2012, 2016). We are well aware that established and conventional ways are leading to a dead end.

This may be the reason why debates about development are constantly claiming to rethink and re-position established ways of defining and practicing “development”. Attempts are proposing “alternatives”, meaning new actors and approaches, and formulate challenges to conventional ways. The suggested “alternatives”, however, seldom constitute more than a re-branding of conventional methods of development that are based on colonial power relations and hegemonic structures. The alternatives fail in fundamentally questioning underlying paradigms from a decolonial and critical perspective.

This session explores “alternatives” as they are variously defined by conference organisers, donors, and researchers from a decolonial and critical perspective.

We invite contributions dealing with one or more of the following questions:

  • Is it time to abandon the term “development”, rather than continue attempts to redefine alternatives to it? Is “transformation” an adequate substitute concept and, if so, why?
  • What do “alternatives” really mean? From whose point of view? Who defines the “other” choice and for whom is that choice? Alternatives to what and by whom? – Does “alternative development” imply special/specific ontologies, research paradigms and methodologies?
  • How do we as researchers (and practitioners) practically approach issues of alternative knowledge (co-)production, expertise and representation? Whose knowledge counts and why?
  • Can alternative approaches and actors receive institutional recognition, how, and is it important or would be more relevant to work beyond state-based institutions?
  • Are there practices of alternative/transformative projects that have worked fostering changes on human rights, social and environmental justice etc.?

To do justice to the topic, we are organising an “alternative” format. We therefore invite contributors to send us a blog-style reflection of not more than 350 words covering one or more of the questions above.

Selected participants will then be asked to prepare a poster or some other kind of visualization (arts are very welcome!). During the session we will do a walkabout of all pieces before coming together in a plenary discussion involving all contributors and session participants. Please note that in this session there will not be paper presentations!

Please send your reflections to:

Kristina Simion, The Australian National University (
Paola Minoia, University of Helsinki, (
Julia Schöneberg, University of Kassel, (

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