Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Development Agent’s Toolkit, review

On November 6, 2007, a CU Boulder undergraduate political science major, Brendan Snow, defended his honors thesis before several CU professors, including me. The thesis, The Development Agent’s Toolkit: An Integrated Approach to Development, was one of the very best honors’ theses that I have ever read in 32 years of college teaching, and was certainly the longest, at 342 pages, including footnotes and bibliography. Brendan’s thesis uses Ken Wilber’s work to provide a conceptual framework necessary to help development agents and agencies take note of “blind spots” in their approach to a particular country or problem within a country. Typical blinds spots for agents/agencies working within social science methods are the interior domains of individuals and communities, that is, the first-person experience of individuals and the shared world-space of cultures. Economists and political scientists typically focus on phenomena in the right-hand quadrants, that is, the publicly observable behaviors of individuals and social systems. Without an adequate understanding of the culture for which a development agency proposes a particular intervention, or of the personality structure of the individuals with whom agents will be dealing, however, chances for success will go down. People will at times walk away from opportunity if they feel misunderstood or even insulted.

A full account of Brendan’s highly ambitious and largely successful thesis cannot be undertaken here, but here are some observations. Brendan’s excellent literature review includes works by noted scholars in the development field, such as Eric Beinocker, William Easterly, Ronald Inglehart, Christian Welzel, Jeffrey Sachs, Amartya Sen, and Joseph Sitlitz. Brendan singled out Inglehart, who has written two books that overlap in important ways with Wilber’s three-stage developmental model: traditional/premodern, modern, and postmodern. See Inglehart, Modernization and Postmodernization, and Inglehart and Welzel, Modernization, Cultural Change, and Democracy: The Human Development Sequence. See also Scott M. Thomas, The Global Resurgence of Religion and the Transformation of International Relations.

In addition to providing a toolkit based on the AQAL model, Brendan also attempts to develop integral theory by bringing it into productive dialogue with complex adaptive systems, especially as studied by economists. According to Brendan, it is important to see that complex adaptive pressures are at work in all quadrants, not merely in the LR (social systems). See Samir Rahini, Complex Systems Theory and Development Practice.

Although focusing on development work of the kind undertaken by the UN, International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank, Brendan’s thesis would be highly useful to integral ecologists, and to anyone working within an integral framework. Given growing environmental problems, especially global warming, economic development must be carried out with constant attention to limiting use of carbon fuel, perhaps especially coal.

You can reach Brendan Snow at:

No comments: