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Orientalism and African development studies: the ‘reductive repetition’ motif in theories of African underdevelopment
Third World Quarterly (2005)
  • Stefan Andreasson

Contemporary Africa is generally depicted as a ‘failure’. ‘Progress’ has eluded the continent throughout the twentieth century, and despite new ways of thinking about the reasons for failure and possibilities for success, allusions to the ‘natural weakness and incapacity’ of Africans and their social realities remain evident in theoretical, policy and political discourse on development in Africa. The practice of ‘reductive repetition’, as identified by Abdallah Laroui and Edward Said, has been imported into African development studies from Orientalist scholarship. Reductive repetition reduces the diversity of African historical experiences and trajectories, socio-cultural contexts and political situations into a set of core deficiencies for which externally generated ‘solutions’ must be devised. In the field of development studies, the notion of development is introduced to Africa as deus ex machina. In this article, modern conceptualisations of development are challenged in three steps. First, it traces the history of development discourse over the post-Berlin Conference colonial and post-WWII development eras, suggesting that while rhetoric of racial and cultural inferiority has been transformed the notion of African deficiency remains at the conceptual and discursive levels. Second, the primarily liberal idea that ‘development for all’ is possible is challenged as being an ecological and economic, and therefore also social, impossibility. Third, given the problems of growth-based development the article suggests that modern development theory ought to give way to post-developmental thinking which challenges standard a priori assumptions regarding rationality, linearity and modernity, thus offering some modest hope for a move ‘beyond’ the current development impasse.

  • Orientalism,
  • development,
  • Africa
Publication Date
Citation Information
Stefan Andreasson. "Orientalism and African development studies: the ‘reductive repetition’ motif in theories of African underdevelopment" Third World Quarterly Vol. 26 Iss. 6 (2005)
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