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  • Writer's pictureSwarnima Kriti

Pluriverse - A Post-Development Dictionary: A Book Review

When it comes to talking about development, the discourse seems to be skewed in favor of those who coined the term. The third world, although being marred by the ‘developmentalist’ ideological framework, something which is next to normal in these countries, it has been observed that the framework is empirically and experientially not suited to the contexts in which it is being imposed i.e. the perspective of the ‘third world’. It is a mutual realization of an emerging group of global citizens who are suggesting alternative paths towards a common future. A future with alternatives to the global developmental hegemony, a future which is more connected and rooted in the cultures and traditions of people. The alternatives are based on practices which have been successful in enabling alternate lifestyles, lifestyles which are ecologically, socially and culturally justified. Alternative practices are modern in their vision and grounded in their approach. They are approachable and inclusive of diversity. The amalgamation of such practices provides an option to choose a lifestyle which may potentially shape our common future. ‘Pluriverse: A Post Development Dictionary’ is a handbook of many such practices from around the globe which are both inspirational and at the same time forces the reader to think differently – think of alternatives.

The book is divided into three parts. It starts by introducing the developmental approach and the terms which are used frequently when discussing the developmental paradigm. The first section is labelled as ‘Development and its Crisis’. It brings to light the common experiences of people and communities across the world of dealing with the idea of development which have mostly been disappointing and worsened the social and economic conditions of many countries. ‘Development – for the 1 percent’ by Vandana Shiva puts forth the very problematic functioning of development – as it serves only the top one percent of the people, the elites and the rich, who not only control all the means of development but also make it very exclusive in nature. Years of constant imposition of the development project has enabled Latin America to develop a constantly growing critique of development. From questioning the consumerist way of life to defining development as ‘a modern way of colonial domination by the developed/colonial powers’, the critiques have been wide ranging. The critiques have established a need for moving away from the capitalist/consumerist and ‘developmentalist’ approaches to life across the globe especially for the ‘third world’. The first section thus sets up the need to discuss the problems of development and the reforms suggested for overcoming them.

The second section mentions the reformist solutions that were suggested by the global capitalist system to overcome the deficiencies of development which also came to be referred as the ‘development project’. Solutions in the form of ‘reforms’ were adopted to tackle the inherent deficiencies of the development which were broadly related to promotion of large scale consumerism, over dependence on global capitalist hegemony and the inability to deal with climate change which has mostly been a self-inflicted outcome of the development project. Solutions thus suggested were imagined to compensate for the deficiencies but it was noted that the so called solutions were in fact only new manifestations of the lopsided development project thus, the deficiencies continued to remain. The reforms in the form of sustainable development, green economy and climate smart agriculture along with development aid still remain problematic. Many of these solutions have not yielded any significant change in deferring the crises which the system was plagued by. Rather, some of the reforms might have worsened the impact of development on communities, climate and economies. As the idea of development is spreading across the world, it is being experienced by more people and the deficiencies are becoming more prominent. Although the solutions suggested have been incorporated as reforms in the development project, the nature of the solutions have remained dependent on the very deficiencies it was meant to cure. The solutions/reforms have not yielded the results which were hoped for. Despite this fact, the development project continues to operate and promote the reforms for a ‘better’ future completely ignoring the problems it has created in the past and it continues to override them into the future.

The third section, which forms the major section of the book, lists the various alternatives to development which have been thought of and practiced from all around the world especially coming from regions which were subjected to the development project – Asia, Africa and Latin America or the ‘third world’. The critiques of development have emerged from these regions and over the years, the same regions comprising various independent, autonomous communities and organizations have developed their version of alternatives to development. The third section titled as ‘A People’s Pluriverse: Transformative Initiatives’ is a collection of unique, contextual and grounded systems based on practices which enable lifestyles that are based on caring relationships, bonds, ties with among communities and with the surrounding environment. The practices provide an ideological departure from the realms of the capitalocentric ways of life which the development project promotes. It is a collection of experiences based out of years of coming together enabling exchange of ideas and practices which have made possible multiple alternatives to the consumerist idea of life as has been taught and imposed globally. Practices are the key to the alternatives. It is the practice of leading a life of sharing and caring, of conviviality and autonomy, of commons and communities, of ecology and ethics, of transformation and happiness. Practices invoking such ideas are essential to inspire people to move away from the ever degrading spiral of the ‘modern’, consumerist life. The last section of the book explains a wide range of phenomena and experiences born out of the alternative way of life and the possibility of them spreading across the globe. More than the alternatives, the section inspires a new philosophy of life. It broadens the horizons of the reader and has the potential to make them introspect and realize the possibilities of alternative practices and probably think of an alternative lifestyle.

Understanding development is important. The way in which it has shaped our individual lives and worlds is probably beyond recognition for most of us. Pluriverse brings an update on reality and makes one ponder over the meaning of development. The book also highlights the importance and the impact of practice especially its ability to transform people and communities. Although the practices mentioned are experiences gathered over different geographies, communities and philosophies, the quality which binds all of them together is the fact that the ideology of all the practices are connected in more ways than one. All the practices are context specific, community-driven by like-minded people, respecting cultures, traditions and are connected to their environments. Pluriverse in its true sense is a dictionary for the post-developmental era which may be a handy guide for practitioners and scholars of the modern world.

Post-script: The mentioned practices in this book reminded me of Chinhari: The Young India’s work. I could perhaps engage with the variety and depth in this book (especially the inspiring case studies) because of my association with Chinhari. Chinhari has been trying to build its own body of work through an engagement with its surroundings (both natural and otherwise). There is a drive in the young members of Chinhari, who are largely young women, to learn, associate and re-imagine their lives and environments. This has enabled Chinhari to build on an existing body of work which is both inspiring and heartwarming. I believe their willingness to re-discover a holistic life will enable them to build an alternative lifestyle based on a value system rooted in conviviality and ecological ethics.

Article written by:

Saurabh Chowdhury is working with the Centre for Development Practice (CDP), Ambedkar University Delhi (AUD). He completed his Master's degree in Environment and Development from AUD in 2016. Since then, he has been involved in various short and long term projects within the 'Sustainable Landscapes and Livelihoods' framework with multiple organisations which has given him the opportunity to interact with some of the indigenous tribes of Central India. His interest lies in engaging with collaborative, practice-oriented work involving grassroots organisations and communities. He is also a theatre enthusiast and loves the sport of cricket. Being outdoors and exploring nature is what excites Saurabh and he wishes to travel across the Indian subcontinent over his lifetime.

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