“Estranging” ourselves from mighty monologues: Beyond developmentalism and ‘The Economy’

By Gisela Ruiseco.

Most of us see the world, inevitably, through hegemonic lenses. Even if wanting, or rather needing,
to create something new, it is difficult to discern when we are reproducing old logics, and when we
can disentangle from them, and to what point. Specifically, to imagine economies beyond the
hegemonic narratives about “the economy”, including all encompassing ideas about development
and underdevelopment, can be quite difficult. As it has been said already, it may be easier to
imagine the end of the world.

Concerning the notions of development/ underdevelopment, and in spite of decades of
deconstructing these narratives (for example Arturo Escobar) -or of the possible realization that
development is actually bad business for the Global South-, most of us (regardless of from the
Global North or the South) still perceive humanity as neatly divided up into developed countries
and “the rest”. This amazingly heterogeneous “rest”, i.e. the majority of the world, is seen as full of
underdeveloped populations (!) which haven’t managed to catch up, with immature and archaic
cultures. A world bursting in diversity is understood as consisting mostly of myriads of problems,
which still have to be solved by the experts informed in the Global North. Experts who hold the true
knowledge in Economics needed for future glories… which are always, precisely, in the future.

Modern industrial Western civilization’s (self-)perception as humanity’s forefront is pertinacious.
Maybe as a first step to counter this historical outrage, it is important to “estrange” us (concept from
E. Lizcano) from such “common senses”. Or, inversely, from our narratives about the Global
South’s inadequacies. I have described somewhere else how the Zapatistas bring us to a self-
recognizing moment, startle us, when they offer to help Europe out, concretely the “rebellious
Europe”. We are inevitably surprised, that “they” could be helping “us”. Or, another example of a
resulting estrangement which distances us from our imaginaries: one can mention the amusing film
or pseudo-documentary “The Feast of the Chicken”, which reverses anthropology’s attitude towards
the culturally Other: Austrians and their customs are “discovered” and interpreted by an African

A different way of estranging us from apparent timeless truths, is to discern their historical contexts.
For developmentalism this has been finely done by post-development scholars (like the mentioned
Escobar). Our economy’s regime of truth can also be brought to its revealing historicity and cultural
contingency. K. Polany (2018/1946) brings us to fully realize the extent to which our modern
market economy is a grain of sand in humanity’s history. He speaks of the appearance of “the
market”, and of laissez faire as a trauma in humanity’s history. For, before modernity, “all societies
known by anthropologists and historians restricted the ‘market’ to merchandise in the strict sense”.
That is, labor and land were not included as merchandise, a view which today could seem bizarre,
or rather: backward. This matter-of-factness actually had to be imposed, also globally, and not
without violence. Further, as Polany points out, in the European context and until the second quarter
of the 19th century, markets were still subordinated to society.


Today, that markets should determine all policies and politics has become a difficult to contest
norm. As Polany maintained, “phenomena such as those strictly transitory and characteristic of the
market era have come to be considered timeless facts, and therefore, transcending our own time”.
It is actually fascinating to witness how easily we humans can come to live in myths created by
ourselves, moreover in such a short period of time. And the myth, the powerful hegemonic
imaginary, defends itself quite effectively: this is confirmed by the fact that contesting the truth of
the markets today, of development, of growth, an ever present monologue, can appear quite
menacing to the establishment.


Economics, the discipline, can be understood as being the product of local knowledges transmuted
into global designs¹, but which remain culturally and historically contingent. Its universalization,
analogous to developmentalism’s, is not only abusive, it is also ambitious:

Classical political economy was a late entrant among modernist discourses, but its
ambition was hardly modest. It proposed to do no less than layout ‘laws’ for human
interaction in that domain of society in which the requisites of material well-bring and
survival were regulated and determined. (John B. Davis)

We spoke before of the economy’s “regime of truth”, regarding the privileged positioning of the
markets. Once more delving into history, we can see that this truth is only recently as monolithic as
it seems today. For an inner plurality is not strange to economics. A. Heise explains how economics
was in a state of paradigm plurality in the early XXth century, and how heterodox economics was
marginalized by the mainstream neoclassical economics during the Cold War era. According to him
“a plurality of paradigms must (…) not only be tolerated but also regarded as healthy for the
discipline” given the characteristics of economics as a non-experimental science.

Further, fundaments of modern neoclassical economics have been profoundly questioned, revealing
paradoxes and delusions². It could be, ultimately, not so difficult to estrange us from economic
truths. They should actually be losing some of their solidity, as the present crises play their part in
unsettling the established.

If questioning present economic dogmas is of vital importance, to do this profoundly, i.e. not
reproducing our logics, would be essential. The plurality of the discipline, of which Heise speaks, is
still an ethnocentric plurality. And the question remains: How can we reconvert globalized
European designs back to their local contexts, to become once again one of many possible
knowledges? How to penetrate the social science “economics”, with its ideas around growth and
development, in its common sensical truth, its hubris, and bring it to plurality? How can we widen
the scientific approach to acknowledge Other knowledges, in the sense of the Pluriverse without
arriving at an “anything goes”? Maybe one possible way is to go step by step, acting locally, as the
knowledges are local (see for example Page West, 2018).

Humanity is so amazingly rich, in its history but also in its present. And economics is so amazingly
poor in its vision of humanity, of history, of the living world. To return validity to non-western
knowledges, localized, plural knowledges, could give us the opportunity to stop the destruction of
life on this, our beautiful planet. For we need Other knowledges to counter the “common senses” of
Economics and Development which have ultimately brought us to our present life threatening
multiple crises. To “estrange” us from our contemporary truths is perhaps a first step towards an
opening up in direction of pluriverses of possibilities.

Gisela Ruiseco is s social psychologist originally from Colombia. She is presently a student at R&D’s Online Master on Degrowth. She has experience in academic writing on the themes of decoloniality and critique of developmentalism, and is currently writing about environmental topics on her blog fueradelmito.
The opinions expressed in the text do not necessarily reflect those of R&D, but are those of the author.

¹ Concept taken from Walter Mignolo
² For an excelent review of these see Coscieme et al., 2019