Roundtable participants discuss global development

By Jens Tamang

The Institute for Global Citizenship’s 2008 International Roundtable filled the John B. Davis lecture in the basement of the Campus Center hall last weekend. Beginning Thursday afternoon, students, faculty, members of the outside community and others came to both consider and engage an important and contested area of the contemporary geo-political discourse. This was the fifteenth year that Macalester has hosted the series of scholarly lectures and discussion. This year, under the title of “Whither Development,” the Roundtable focused on the ongoing tensions between globalization, the expanding influence of international actors, and the social and economic development of the Third World.

The conference sought to answer questions such as “What is development?”, “What does the concept mean in the various regions in the world?” and “Is development compatible with globalization?” according to the brochure.

Professors from three American universities presented papers that discussed their own thoughts on the subject. A team of student and faculty panelists accompanied two of these addresses, presenting their own responses.

Last year, with a focus on globalization and music, the three-day event was held in the performance hall of the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center, appropriately enough. Prior to that year, the Roundtable was held in the Chapel. This is the first year since 2005 that the event was held in John B. Davis.

The conference commenced with an address by International Studies professor Ahmed Samatar, Dean of the IGC, and president Brian Rosenberg. James C. Scott, Sterling Professor of Political Science at Yale University, followed with a keynote lecture on “Globalization as North Atlantic Hegemony.”

Scott took a critical stance on the current phase of globalization.

“Indigenous identities are ill suited for state control,” he stated.

Scott held that any state control leads to domestic “de-vernacularization,” or a squelching of “local knowledge.” Additionally, he argued, globalization would lead to “Anglo practices” being “held up as cosmopolitan universals.”

A question and answer period followed the lecture. Some students, looking for a silver lining to Scott’s contention that the work of well meaning NGOs and other international actors were simply a new form of colonial rule, posed questions that searched for a positive side to international standardization.

“Can standardization incorporate local knowledge?” one student asked. Scott remained resolute.

“Local knowledge cannot be expressed with the language of standardization,” he said.

More debate followed on Friday, with Ravi Kanbur, T.H. Lee Professor of World Affairs, International Professor of Applied Economics and Management, and Professor of Economics at Cornell University. He spoke on “The Co-Evolution of the Washington Consensus and the Economic Development Discourse.”

During the question and answer portion of the lecture, a heated debate ensued when a student claimed that anarchy provided a sufficient form of governance, holding Somalia as an example of one state where it worked. Samatar, who is Somali-born and is an internationally recognized expert on contemporary Somali history and the rise of Islamic consciousness there, was unsympathetic.

Later that evening, Michael J. Watts, Professor, Department of Geography, at the University of California, Berkeley gave the Roundtable’s final address on “Oil, Development, and the Politics of the Bottom Billion,” which engaged Scott on several key points regarding the development discourse, and discussed the role of multi-national corporations in oil producing states. Scott, who is an expert on the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, focused his lecture on that area as an example of a familiar paradox in the development discourse. Resource rich countries, he said, tend to be underdeveloped, fragmented, and poor.