development geography

Gendered inequality

Nina Laurie

That other form of development is what I’ve been looking at in the Andes in the context of what they call buen vivir or good living – which isn’t always about accumulation and excess.

Nina Laurie is Professor of Development and the Environment at University of Newcastle. Her roles include the founding director of the Developing Research Network and the Latin American and Caribbean Studies at Newcastle University. In 2015 she is Ron Lister Visiting Fellow in the Geography Department of Otago University.

Talking points

I’m interested in how inequality in the world is gendered in particular ways. How poverty affects men and women, boys and girls, differently. And different types of men and women, boys and girls.

Now I’m focused on different visions of development, how particular understandings of development are produced, and who gets marginalised in that process.

I’ve been working with returned trafficked women in Nepal – and I have to say is the most challenging work I’ve ever done…there is very little support for these women.

And (because they can’t get citizenship without a male family sponsor)…many of them are stateless in their own land

Now there are going to be very real issues in Nepal (post earthquake) of access to water and housing, and how the need will be not lose sight of the long term important agendas such as the issue of who has citizenship in the context of the very real everyday needs of suffering people.

Understandably meeting those basic needs take over, but the new constitution is needing to be ratified – that framework of rights for all is fundamental.

International development came post Second World War, the reconstruction of Europe. The Marshal Plan…if you give people money you are going to stop them becoming communist.

A lot of our understandings of international development are framed still through that old Cold War mentality of Eastern Europe contaminating the rest of the world. Cuba…Latin America.

Stopping poverty to stop the domino effect from Cuba.

We’ve gone through all sorts of different approaches to development: the big projects of the 1960s – dams and infrastructure; to a focus on grassroots, self-help; then the focus on governance issues in the 80s and 90s – particularly in Latin America return to democracy in countries like Chile and post civil war situations.

Now we have a different world. It’s not just a bi-polar world, not even north and south… and all of this has thrown uout what development means for me. I am happy to use the term Development Geographer, but I don’t see it in the same way as I used to.

I’ve been teaching a course Changing Development: Changing Actors…and what that is about is to think through the context in which development is not what it has been and who are the new actors who are shaping development.

Indigenous people…new actors in development. But we also have to recognise that some of the new actors that are getting power are some the very old actors, like, for example, the military. (Much of…) the UK aid money that has gone into Afghanistan under the development budget is in the control of the military…the reconstruction scenarios mean that the military are having a big role in development.

Development in the form of reconstruction has become a career path for ex-military…many areas are post-conflict zones, so you need that level of understanding, they bring a sense of logistics, of managing big movements of people or materials. Yet that reduces us to a very narrow understanding of development is about things, and not about people or ideas or different ways of doing things.

That other form of development is what I’ve been looking at in the Andes in the context of what they call buen vivir or good living – which isn’t always about accumulation and excess.

But you have to careful not romanticise indigenous development, it’s almost as if we’re looking for a hero and a perfect answer. Development is multiple, it’s always contested. We need to get away from the notion of development is always progress, and that’s where the tension is.

I think our understandings of development are broken, and maybe even the term. But what we replace it with is what I’m trying to work through at the moment.

The big institutions have been propping up a very particular understanding of development in which people get excluded from having a voice.

Good living could be in all sorts of directions, it could be about staying still.

Because racism is so strong, the assumption was that in order to progress socially, you needed to become socially whiter – you needed your children to be professionals.

When we say development is broken, that isn’t just about development, you need to understand long legacies of racism, the realities of post-colonial Bolivia, where modernisation is dream that was never completed but is still there and draws people to it – everybody wants their own big water project, their own infrastructure but it has never been completed. But they have these aspirations.

(Is a desire for growth an inevitable response to desires and aspirations?) I think that is a spiritual question. There are alternative models to that. But I don’t have an answer to that at the individual or community level. At a national level, what we have now is alsmot as if neoliberalism became inevitable – you couldn’t question it.

In Peru we’re seeing the inevitability of the extractive model… it is booming on the back of a mining concession boom. It is a complete return to an extractive model of development.

There are other models. We need to hear other voices about the other national development imaginaries that we can have. Where there alternatives to the modernisation through extraction agenda, or where people have said “no we don’t want that”.

Geographers are born not made.

Geography is the appreciation of the relationship between the physical and social environment.

I can’t go somewhere without wanting to know about it.

Increasing recognition of the big challenges – like climate change, water scarcity, broken understandings of development – geography has a core place for trying to come up with some of the ways for understanding what’s going on and maybe some of the pathways out of some of those things.

(On Peruvian fishermen/farmers making the best of a bad situation) Yes, but it is really interesting not just that we make the best of it in the here and now, but it becomes the foundation narrative, about their community, their story, their history. The narrative is constantly linked back to the collective memory about how we were and who we were, and how we came together and how what we did to that environment – how we interacted with it is as important as what everybody else has done.

Sustainability for me used to be about the physical environment…now it’s a lot broader, it’s about knowledge production – forms of producing knowledge where everybody gets a say.

Network of relationships between people and having access to voice and seeing things and making connections, verbalising one’s desires and hopes.

Those binoculars where a window in on the two parts of development, the shrinking snows, but also this woman that sees them (the glaciers) daily, but through the binoculars she saw them in a different way…the everyday life that goes on underneath that informs the dreams and the hopes and the aspirations that those communities have.

(Is sustainability a luxury?) It is contingent on time and place. I don’t think any of us have the luxury of not thinking about the long term future.

Sustainability is about using those binoculars to turn a lens on both the physical and the social as intertwined at any moment.

(Activist?) Activist academic. That is where my gifts lay. I go out on protests and things like that, but my gifts are in ensuring that the research projects that I do engage in ways that provide space for marginalised people to have voices.

(Does being an activist academic conflict with notions of objectivity?) Absolutely, but then I don’t think that research or science is objective.

(Motivation?) Passion. Passion for hearing voices that otherwise aren’t heard.

Not having voices heard is my take on injustice.

(Challenges?) Having had opportunity of fellowship, having reflected on contribution and where I’m going, I want the next stage f my life to not be something I sleep walk into.

(Miracle?) Pre-earthquake Nepal. It’s heartbreaking.

(Advice?)Take stock and think and listen before we speak.