Development As A Tool…

‘Development As A Tool Of International Institutions
For Marginalisation’

By Vasudha Dhingra

02 September, 2008
Countercurrents.org

MURPHY, CRAIG, Global Institutions, Marginalisation and Development (New York: Routledge, 2005). Pp. xi + 191 + Index. Price not indicated.

Global institutions, marginalisation and development are terms that have dominated academic discussions and policy-level deliberations for quite some time now. As is well documented, the goal of achieving development by simultaneously integrating the marginalised sections of the society has remained a serious predicament of several developing and under-developed countries. The role of global institutions of governance in facilitating these two processes has remained crucial and contestable.

Murphy, in this book, has attempted to analyse these relatively recent themes, with otherwise blurred definitional identities, from distinct perspectives – such as developmentalist, feminist and Third World view – adding to the intellectual appeal of the book. The following themes find recurring mention in the book: world organisation and human needs; liberal institutionalism; social movements and liberal world orders; marginalised and the privileged, which expanse across questions of equality, justice and need in global political economy. One of the author’s emphatic depositions in the book is that inequality is the enemy of human development; it harms those at the bottom of hierarchy (p. 182). By asserting that inequality by itself contributes to the ill-health of the marginalised, Murphy, by implication, has tried to argue that economic equality is a precondition for realising other aspects of human development.

One of the pertinent questions that Murphy has tried to answer is whether the system of global institutions has been able to serve the world’s least-advantaged, or have they marginalised them further. In this context, he has elaborated the roles of some of the important international institutions — such as, the World Bank, the World Health Organisation, and the International Labour Organisation – and tried to analyse the rationale for their creation and compare it with their past and present performances in their respective fields. Suffice it to say that Murphy’s findings and analysis of these international organisations points to the glaring gaps between pledges and deliverance.

The book discusses a series of theories – international relations, feminist and developmentalist — which is a substantiation of the author’s painstaking and laborious efforts to blend theory with practice, and in turn, helping to provide a holistic picture of the subject under consideration. The effort includes wide ranging works from Maslow to Malthus to Mitrany to Marx to Gandhi to Tickner to Keohane, from liberalism to functionalism, and so on. (It is interesting to note that the author discredits Mitrany of introducing the functional approach in the study of international relations, and traces back its origin to Mary Parker Follett.) Such a rich and valuable application of theories also provides immense scope to the readers for critical investigation of the same.

Pointing to the weaknesses of liberal fundamentalism and liberal internationalism in the study of global political economy, the book brings into play Gramscian thoughts in explaining the world order, which, in the author’s view, is a synthesis of liberal, Marxist, and Realist social theories (p.45). Such an emphasis on Gramscian views is completely understandable keeping in mind the author’s association with a Gramscian-inspired “Italian School” which provides an alternative form of historical institutionalism.

The author has made some valuable arguments and drawn some relevant conclusions in this book. One of them pertains to the future of the world system at large, which, according to him, would be based on the understanding of the global political economy developed by the world’s most powerful individuals — corporate leaders and government officials in the strongest states. Though this may not seem to be of novelty, but what he says next is worth examining. He goes on to say that the worldviews of the world’s most powerful people would, in turn, be influenced both by the political action and the ideas of the social movements, and by the views of those who study global political economy (p.i). Be that as it may, while it is post-truism that social movements have had an impact on policy-making, in both developed and developing countries, yet it is also extensively known that this impact has not only been skewed but also that social movements operate in the same realist world where international organisations are agents of the most powerful states. It can be said that Murphy’s faith in social movements as agents of change should be measured in idealist parameters.

Within the context of global polity and global governance (which the author fittingly defines as a world-wide management strata sharing neo-liberal ideology) and what is called the ‘Information Age’, Murphy is apt in remarking that in the project of “cosmopolitan democracy”, the lack of realism does not come from the “democracy” in the cosmopolitan vision, rather from its cosmopolitanism itself (p.173). For most of the egalitarian movements in the developing world will continue to focus on local, national, and regional concerns and not so much on the global, at least till the next decade or more. He argues that only in those states which are democratic, egalitarian and wealthy (in which he includes Japan and some Western European states), is the programme of cosmopolitan democracy likely to be a priority. In much of the rest of the world, strengthening and reforming the state would be more relevant (p.174).

While discussing the prospects of global governance, the author also makes it plainly clear that no one has argued that everyone would benefit from liberalization and free trade. What is interesting to note is that the author’s conviction that everyone can actually benefit from the liberal magic if the wealth is redistributed to those immediately harmed. Such a view seems to resonate the Rawlsian concept of distributive justice. At the same time, he points at a development that has accompanied the process of global governance, namely, the rise of the global-level ‘private’ authorities that regulate both, states and much of transnational economic and social life. As the author rightly puts it, these non-government organisations (NGOs) and trans-national corporations (TNCs) have started playing an essential role in international governance as a consequence of the liberal fundamentalist marketization (such as by providing essential international public services at cheap rates).

It can be said without hesitation that Murphy has attempted a comprehensive study of approaches to the study of international relations and tried to establish a link between international organisations, development and peace.

Apparently Murphy wrote this piece of work keeping the students of international relations as its chief target of readership, and as such the book appears to be like a dialogue between the author and the reader. At various points, Murphy has tried to raise the consciousness of the reader – to not just think but also act on these issues. The author takes upon himself the responsibility of putting across the message of service to humanity to his readers. Thus, the larger (but concealed) agenda of the book is moral, evoking the thoughts of its readers about the sensitive questions so discussed and motivating them to influence decision-making forces. This unusual amalgamation of pursuing the readers through academic writing should not come as a surprise. For Murphy’s professional background has a big role in determining his venture to combine thought with action. Serving as historian in the United Nations Development Programme and as professor of International Relations at Wellsley College, the deliberations of the book come straight from the author’s own deep understanding of the issues considered. Throughout the book, across its twelve chapters, the author ‘speaks’ to, and questions, his readers in making them understand the seriousness of the issues involved in the discussion. The motive of the author behind this book is to encourage students and scholars of global political economy to do field work among the world’s marginalised — ‘to meet, mingle and know’ the people for whom the critical scholars claim to speak. Unless this task is undertaken, all other research in the field is likely to remain less effective. These ‘conversations’ are to encourage thinking-minds to ask important questions of the relationship between global institutions, marginalisation, and development, as also the manner in which we seek to assuage the growing inequalities within and across the global social world, thereby making it, ultimately, a peaceful world to live in.

And it can be said with ease that the author has been successful in brilliantly executing his thoughts and ideas in the book. In almost all the chapters the author refers to his personal experiences in dealing with the subject (beginning from his first job at the age of 19 when he was an undergraduate student to his grown-up profession as a professor) which makes for an interesting read. One can also find some attractive jargon used in the book — such as ‘liberal forgetting’, ‘fragmengration’, ‘glocalization’ (p. 140) — all of which add to the literary richness of the text. Also, the title of the book matches exactly with its content. The useful tables, a reference list and an index at the end, as well as no typographical error build up the production qualities of the book on the higher side.

As outlined by the author himself, the book is important for anyone with an interest in international political economy, global governance, development and the politics of North-South relations (p.i). To this, it can be added that for anyone with an interest in humanist approach to the understanding of international development issues, this book is a must read.

Though there is no dearth of literature on this topic, but the USP of Murphy’s book is (a). it makes for an all-inclusive work to relate (i) theory with practice, and (ii) important international institutions with their rationale and performance, and (b). it fills the “moral deficit” in the existing writings on the subject by helping to raise the consciousness of the readers to “do” something more meaningful on these vital issues of international concern. The novelty of the book also comes from the fact that the author does not buttress the conventional arguments on the subject, rather he offers a fresh outlook and assessment of the issues illuminated in the book. By arousing the sentiments — both intellectual and moral —of the readers, the author has done much more than a historian or professor is expected to do. The worth of such focused scholarship, undoubtedly, will remain extremely valuable for a long time to come.

Vasudha Dhingra did her MPhil in International Organisation from Centre for International Politics, Organisation and Disarmament, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She is presently a Research Fellow at Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad and researching on globalisation and urban governance in India. She can be reached at vasudha.dhingra@gmail.com.

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1 Comment

Filed under books, Development, Globalization, IFIs, Multilateral Institutions

One response to “Development As A Tool…

  1. asma

    Good review…NeoGramscians in IR are an interesting lot (more on that later)

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