Sergio Belda Miquel received "PhD with distinction" award from Universitat Politècnica de València

25/05/2017
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Sergio Belda Miquel received "PhD with distinction" award from Universitat Politècnica de València, for his thesis "Del gerencialismo a la política: explorando las características, los espacios y los procesos de construcción de una práctica transformadora del desarrollo y la cooperación", realized at INGENIO [CSIC-UPV].

This thesis, presented in 2015, in the Doctoral Program in Local Development and International Cooperation, analyzes the following aspects

Within the field of development management, an emerging critique to the aid system has gained prominence. It focuses on how the dominant language and logics in the aid sector have depoliticised the issues of development, thus reducing them to purely technical and managerial problems. These problems are supposed to  be  managed  by  experts,  who  are considered to have the capacity of total control over development processes. This trend, which has  been  called managerialism, avoids  issues  of  political  economy,  power  or  conflict,  and assumes the logics, values, discourses  and procedures of the private  sector (focusing then on issues as “efficiency”, “products” or “impact” of development projects). In this process, development  organizations  become  mere  service-providers,  they  have  been  co-opted  by  the global neoliberal agenda, and their actions serve to reinforce unequal power relationships.

From this analysis, it is possible to obtain insights for rethinking development and aid, reframing them as complex, political  and  intrinsically  conflictive  processes.  Moreover,  some critics to managerialism also suggest that a (re)politicised perspective on development and aid should also be transformative, and that development organizations should recognise and value alternative  systems  of  knowledge  and  personal  and  societal  projects;  should  contribute  to examining alternative development models, beyond productivist capitalism and market-driven liberal  democracy;  and  should  place  bottom-up  processes  of  change  at  the  centre.  The research  also  departs  from  the  idea  that,  within  the  aid  system,  a  small  and  scarcely  visible group  of  people  and  development  organizations  are  trying  to  promote  alternative  discourses and  practices  of  development  and  aid  that,  instead  of  reinforcing  the  advancement  of  the neoliberal global agenda, are challenging it.

From this standpoint, the aims of the thesis are, on the one hand, to explore how a political and transformative practice of development and aid could be characterised; and on the other hand, to explore how this political and transformative practice is taking place, and how it could be promoted in different spaces.

The research explores three spaces in which these practices may be taking place and could be promoted,   approaching   case   studies   in   different  environments:  1) in formal education, addressing  the  learning  process  in  a  Master’s  degree in development  management; 2) in the practice of development itself,  addressing  how  learning  takes  place  in  informal processes through  the  relationships between  Spanish  development  organizations  and  their  partners  in Latin America; 3) in the adoption of a new management approach in development organizations, specifically exploring the processes and implications of the adoptions of a rights-based approach in Spanish organizations. The  methodology  used  is  essentially  qualitative, based  on  secondary  data  and  primary  data  obtained  through  personal  interviews and group discussions. Given the exploratory nature of the study, its aim is to propose concepts and hypotheses, identify the dimensions of the subject and processes under study, and propose possible connections between them.

Results suggest that the characteristics and the processes that lead to a political and transformative practice of development and aid are not completely separate issues. They bothentail the necessity of placing the following issues at the centre of the discourse and practice of development: the quality of relationships within and between organizations, valuing horizontality, democracy and openness to participation; the importance of building and working on common political perspectives from which to plan  and  interpret  the  actions developed;  to  approach  and  support  grassroots  and  social  organizations,  as  long as they represent  the demands  of  citizens  and  promote  transformative  change;  to  attend to the multiple dimensions (rational,  emotional,  experiential) of individual and collective change; to develop  attitudes  such as flexibility,  adaptation,  dialogue, criticism and reflexivity, especially on how power relations are operating.

The thesis also reveals that this political and transformative perspective is intrinsically problematic, full of contradictions, tensions and paradoxes. Far from being resoluble, the work suggests that these tensions should be accepted and dealt with, as they are part of the intrinsic nature of development and social change.

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Belda Miquel