Poststructuralism is all around us


I came across this talk on TED this evening. If you haven’t heard of TED, it is a really amazing initiative with free talks from a very wide range of sources; academics, experts, entrepreneurs, activists. Unfortunately it is a bit trendy so you may find yourself faced with a talk by Bono, but don’t hold that against TED- there are some fantastic ideas and very informative presentations. This one by Jessica Jackley struck me as quite applicable to our course and some of its underlying themes. I think Jessica would find that post-structuralism resonates with some of her own ideas that she has presented. In particular I was struck by her points about the stories we are told about ‘the poor’. The idea that it is stories that shape how we consider the world and take action within it is something you might have recognised from our readings as discourse. In particular here, the concept of ‘the poor’ as miserable, hopeless and dependent is a dominant story or discourse told to those in developed countries from a young age. I think there is often a sense of guilt at our own comfortable lifestyles and a feeling that the problem is too big for us to be able to really make a difference, and we often assuage that with donations or petitions that we do not consider too carefully. The binary relationship of donor/receiver is a powerful way that our understanding of people in developing countries is shaped. It has become common in Western countries to donate to various poverty reduction programs and many of us unthinkingly support them without considering the power implications that underlie those transactions. We especially do not stop to consider what understanding of the ‘poor’ we are ascribing to and helping to perpetuate.

Later in the course we will be discussing poverty, aid and development and tackling issues about the dominant discourses that inform these issues, and we will be critically discussing concepts like ‘development’. It is certainly possible to critique the idea of microfinance as a development strategy and Jessica (as we all do) will still ascribe to certain ideas about people living in developing countries, but I think she makes some very good points about thinking for yourself- trying to see with your own eyes, listen with your own ears and question the stories that have been constructed into truths in the developed world.

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