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'Human-centred' development? Rethinking 'freedom' and 'agency'

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David Chandler is Professor of International Relations at the University of Westminster. His researches focuses on new forms of international intervention, particularly those projected in humanitarian, therapeutic, ethical and human rights language. His books include ‘Empire in Denial: The Politics of State-Building’; ‘From Kosovo to Kabul (and Beyond): Human Rights and International Intervention’; and ‘Bosnia: Faking Democracy after Dayton’.

Abstract: Today’s dominant discourses of international development increasingly focus on human agency as the measure of development in terms of individual capabilities. The individualized understanding of development takes a ‘human-centred’ or ‘agent-orientated’ view of the barriers to development. This paper seeks to critically engage with the view of the human and of human agency articulated within this approach. In this discourse, development is taken out of an economic context of GDP growth or industrialization, or a social and political context, in which development policies are shaped by social and political pressures or state-led policies. Foucault’s work on the disappearance or invisibility of power, particularly as articulated through the shift towards biopolitical frameworks of liberal governmentality – focusing on the irreducible decision-making subject – ‘the rationality of the governed’ will be used to critically engage with the capabilities approach. This paper genealogically draws out the changing nature of western discourses of development and the understanding of policy practices as promoting the empowerment of the post-colonial other in order to examine how development and autonomy have been radically differently articulated in discourses of Western power and how today’s discursive framing feeds on and transforms colonial and early postcolonial approaches to the human subject.

Paper available in advance. For copies please email Dr. Alastair Fraser (

This talk is part of the Centre of Governance and Human Rights Events series.

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