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.