In Kent Glenzer’s talk on the Structural Pathologies of the Development Enterprise, he referred to an idea put forth by Dan Kahneman. It challenged the basic assumption of modern day economic theory: that we are rational actors. So much of our political and economic system is premised on the idea of rationality yet it is so easy to see, if we just took a step back, that our global patterns of consumption in the “free” market are anything but rational. The tenets of neoliberal capitalism have created a deeply divisive system that, at its core, puts profit above people. As a result, there was a need for various development policies, humanitarian aid and philanthropic initiatives to combat the onslaught against poor, marginalized populations. But unsurprisingly, the world order is so entrenched that what emerged was the development enterprise – a set of discursive plans and projects that only superficially and ephemerally addressed complex, longstanding problems across the world. To truly bring social, transformative action to a community, we discussed the absolute need for a project to be long-term, incremental and adaptable. Most ODA projects today use a single-loop model where there is one set goal and the project is deemed finished when the goal is met. But in reality there are so many variables and factors beyond our control that goals become obsolete or irrelevant all the time. We talked seriously about action research as a way to build an inclusive system that allows for periodic reflection and reevaluation of the community’s goals and needs.
What I loved most about his session was how Kent encouraged us to think creatively and critically about how we can move forward. Towards the end of the session he said “hegemony is not stasis.” Structures can be transformed. As peacebuilders an important characteristic is to remain optimistic and perseverant. In Rich Rubenstein’s session we talked about structural conflicts and hegemonic power structures, and how even international politics is based on rationality. But is it really rational to pursue power with so much ferocity? When deep human needs are denied, conflict arises. People need a strong cultural, social and emotional solution to their grievances, but what we are left with is a world where glitter and gold deludes us into filling those voids. War is endless because we fight over things that don’t exist – no amount of material or discursive gain can change an intangible endemic structure. How then, do we change the system in a way that is radical enough to make a difference yet humane enough to not cause so much suffering?