World Development

World Development today is a contested concept, and one that provokes debate across the board. Culture Wars is bringing together reviews of books and the arts, to engage with everything from globalisation to slum cities, from consumerism to international aid.

Questions dealt with throughout these reviews include: following massive economic growth from China and India, are we seeing a new distribution of power on the world stage? How should we respond to the perceived costs of development such as global warming and the erosion of communities? And what are the best models for growth?

Saturday 28 December 2013

How Deeply the Fish Knife Cuts: Coloniality and its Discontents

A response to ‘Decolonial Aesthesis: From Singapore, To Cambridge, To Duke University’ by Walter Mignolo

We are not merely products of the sum of the societal forces which mould us; we have the ability to make out for ourselves the circumstances that surround us. We are will, and that is why we are more than them all.

Tuesday 1 October 2013

A humane vision

How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia, by Mohsin Hamid (Hamish Hamilton 2013)

The real problem of the novel lies in the title: it implies that it is indeed possible to get filthy rich in Asia, and that Asia is indeed rising. This is an illusion, certainly for Pakistan and probably also for India, and here I can say that my criticism of Hamid is not really specifically aimed at him but also at the other members of the current illustrious crop of Western-Asian writers like Mohammed Hanif and Aravind Adiga, all of whom I admire greatly

An endless, oddly glinting daydream

The World of Extreme Happiness, Shed Theatre, London

There’s a touch of the Wizard of Oz to this show, both in design and plot. An exceptional girl, Sunny (Katie Leung), sets off from the countryside to the city, in search of factory work. She meets friends and foes along the way but is ultimately dumped back into reality with one hell of a thud.

Monday 28 January 2013

Encountering modernity

From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against The West and the Remaking of Asia, by Pankaj Mishra (Allen Lane 2012)

Even with the facts in hand, it is a fantasy to expect that those who reject universalism - or who advocate its violent and oppressive forms - will be converted without the conscious efforts of human beings to persuade them. From the Ruins of Empire, beyond all the great names, famous battles and obscure sects that adorn its pages, can perhaps be read as a defence of the importance of argument and debate, or, at the very least, critical engagement.

Friday 10 August 2012

The London Olympics… as seen from the other side of the world

A Chinese student reflects on what the Olympics mean to the Chinese at a special period in their history

In this Olympics, we saw much more ever than before of individual Chinese athletes. Their tears, sweat, heartbreak. It is not overstating it to say that Chinese athletes do the hardest things to please the whole country, but many in the country are never satisfied. People debated and argued with each other bitterly on the internet. Everyone is questioning and trying to find answers… including me.

Saturday 7 July 2012

A less jaded age

The Search for Immortality: Tomb Treasures of Han China, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

This chain of cosmic interdependency reflected the social hierarchy on earth, so the tombs of emperors and their officials were grandiose in order that their status would be duly acknowledged in the spiritual realm; if they were not, then the ranks of masses beneath them would have faced uncertainty after death, and would have wasted their lives observing official rituals.

Saturday 19 May 2012

A surplus of subjectivity and conviction

A History of the World Since 9/11, by Dominic Streatfeild (Atlantic Books, 2011)

After the invasion, once it was shown there were only weapons of prosaic destruction ‘the administration decided it was best to assume they had never been there’. The compound where the conventional weapons were stored, in Yusifiyah, near Baghdad, was by-passed by the Americans, and then comprehensively looted by insurgents. One source in the book estimates that of the violence following the invasion, 90 per cent was facilitated by this looting.

Tuesday 8 May 2012

‘Dialogue is the objective of dialogue.’

Chinese writers and controversy at the London Book Fair

If the exclusion of authors disliked by the Chinese government was a necessary condition for the British Council’s programme to go ahead, so be it. Whether it in fact was necessary is a separate discussion to have; what matters is that some established writers visited from China to exchange ideas about new literary genres, globalisation and e-publishing, and to search for commercial opportunities.

Monday 9 April 2012

‘They’ll expect everyone to work as hard as they do.’

China: Triumph and Turmoil, Channel 4 television, March 2012

Ferguson’s familiar political agenda of ‘free market, strong state’ dovetails nicely with his rather static view of political culture as the determinant of Chinese society-state relations. And yet a moment’s reflection on the arguments he presents over the course of this series reveals just how unnecessarily confined are the horizons of this historian’s gaze when he looks to the future.

Sunday 11 March 2012

Stash All Old Things!

Song Dong: Waste Not, Barbican, London

It would be a mistake to interpret ‘Waste Not’ as a straightforward critique of the materialist ethos of consumer culture, or as drawing a parallel between the drab uniformity of the Maoist era and the homogeneity of globalised consumerism. More profoundly, it hints at the possibility that material abundance can free us from the kind of tyranny that possessions have over us in times of scarcity.

Friday 16 September 2011

Will the Chinese really eat the West?

How The West Was Lost: Fifty Years of Economic Folly - And the Stark Choices Ahead, by Dambisa Moyo (Allen Lane, 2011)

The book is full of the discourse of winners and losers, victors and vanquished, races to be won, opponents to be outmanoeuvred, markets to be cornered. The author would no doubt consider this to be simple realism, premised upon a world with finite resources (how depressing), but one has to ask, does the world really need another book which implores nations to better impoverish one another?

La mort de l’Europe

The End of the West: the Once and Future Europe, by David Marquand (Princeton University Press, 2011)

Marquand reduces democracy to being a way of adjudicating between competing claims of individuals who just won’t get along, much like a marriage guidance counsellor - or a judge. It means ‘accepting difference, rejoicing in difference, and negotiating difference’. Marquand stresses the complexity of modern life and proposes democracy as a tool to manage competing identities and differences.

Friday 8 July 2011


At Home in Japan – beyond the minimal house, Geffrye Museum of the Home, London

The facts to be learned range from the curious (we learn that towels are ‘very popular generic gifts’ in Japan, and most people therefore have far too many) to the crazy (‘It is also common to eat a bean for every year of your age’), and they document everything from rubbish collection etiquette to gardening habits.

Friday 24 June 2011

Should the United States help drive global development?

Delivering Meaningful Results in Global Development’, a lecture by Dr Rajiv Shah, LSE, London, Tuesday 14 June

USAID is currently undertaking several projects around the world, two of which Dr Shah spoke about in considerable detail. One of them is helping impoverished places in Africa, and elsewhere, to decrease the percentage of malnourished people while aiming to stimulated their economy at the same time.

Friday 27 May 2011

The economics of don’t meddle and muddle through

The Age of Instability, by David Smith (Profile Books, 2010)

Not making decisions, not having a long-term strategy, ditching theory and rationality: all seem to be virtues for today’s economists. Economics post-crash seems like a codification of messy pragmatism: to be anti-theory now in principle. Leaving us, of course, with things just the way they are.

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