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Chapter 1 - From Progress to Development

from Part I - Origins of the Development Episteme

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 October 2020

Corrie Decker
Affiliation:
University of California, Davis
Elisabeth McMahon
Affiliation:
Tulane University, Louisiana
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Summary

Enlightenment philosophy introduced the notion that social evolution and progress resulted from scientific inquiry and technological advancements. This view evolved out of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment idea that all societies progressed in a linear fashion toward modernity, the pinnacle of which was European civilization. In this construction “modern” or “progressive” societies were those that mimicked European cultural, social, economic, and political structures. Western missionaries’ efforts in the nineteenth century to bring “Christianity, commerce and civilization” set in motion a progressive ideology that led to modern development practice in Africa. These three words captured the Enlightenment ideology of social progress, the capitalism of the Industrial Revolution, and the mating of Christian doctrine with secular social Darwinian ideas. By defining poverty as a lack of access to capitalist systems “modern” societies defined any cultures not fully participating in capitalism as poor. These concepts are the bedrock of modern development theory. They presume that Western civilization is the highest form of social development, that all societies must progress in a linear fashion to attain this status, and that development will come through an economic transformation that will reshape social and cultural aspects of societies.

Type
Chapter
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The Idea of Development in Africa
A History
, pp. 19 - 38
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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