Exploring the Eclipse of Equality

Is Conflict Resolution a Form of Development? Anticipating the World Development Report

In Development on June 8, 2010 at 3:53 pm

I had the opportunity to attend a roll-out session of the upcoming World Development Report, and as many of you know, there is to be a direct focus on the negative impacts of violent conflict on development in the document. The process of developing the report is still underway and the authors are not ready to release or circulate any of the findings, but I do not think that I am revealing anything inappropriate when I suggest that the major argument of the upcoming WDR will be that conflict is to various extents incompatible with meeting the Millennium Development Goals.

Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of the meeting to discuss the 2011 WDR was the uncanny resemblance of the meeting to a seminar on conflict analysis and resolution. The topics being discussed and the ways in which those topics are handled are very much in the mainstream of what many of us are doing, and if there is a sense  that CR and the World Bank are working in opposite directions, it is not well founded. I can honestly imagine that there are great opportunities for our students to add much to the conversation on how violence and development are related, and on what should be done about it.

If there was something missing in the bank discussion, I would say that its relates more to a sense of how the Bank’s mission has become as much political as it is economic. Keep in mind that the World Bank is a bank. The goals of the organization are to fund projects in the developing world that will bring a reliable return. The authorities in the institution are primarily economists and the habits of mind of that discipline dominate the scene. To remark on just one of my pet peeves, there was a perfect tendency to refer to statistical modeling as econometrics. Of course there is a field called econometrics, but the overlap with it and more general statistical work is so profound that this comes off like claiming the Pythagorean theorem as econoanalytics.  This would be trivial if it was not so revealing, because if fixed effects models can be treated as a sub-field of econometrics (while the cutting edge work on hierarchical linear modeling HLM was developed by specialists in educational sociology) one can imagine how concepts and theoretical sensibilities will translate (see Lyotard’s concept of the Differend).

I could sense a palpable discomfort in the room from those who were only coming to realize how their work is ever more coming to look like an applied branch of political science. the focus on conflict states and political violence is not native to pure field of economics, even to he practical and applied folks that one finds in the bank, but there is good reason to hope that we are on the verge of a rapprochement. The truth is that many World bankers are becoming political economists and they don’t care much as long as you recognize them as economists. The work is quite similar in many respects. After all the main external collaborators in the venture come from PRIO.

One thing that we in CR should  start to articulate clearly is the ways in which conflict resolution work can be measured and introduced as variables into these larger conversations.  Although, the forum established quite clearly that violent conflict is incompatible with orderly development, I did not get a sense that there are plans to fund conflict resolution projects to react to this challenge.

The obvious question for me was, now that you know, what are you going to do about it? Perhaps there are plans to do quite a bit, but this is where we come in. Those of you who are excited about a practical career should put your heads together and imagine which kinds of projects could be funded and presented as para-development ideas. I think that if you do this well, you will find a willing audience in the World Bank over the next few years.

The Millenium Development Goals are set for evaluation in 2015. The connection between challenges in meeting these goals and the impact of violent conflict is now well known and about to become part of the conventional wisdom. There are several years ahead of us in which budding conflict resolvers have an opportunity set before them to share their expertise with the world. Carpe diem.

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