In the last two weeks I started reading two books whose premises I specifically disagreed with.
The first is “Participation: the new Tyranny” by Cooke and Kothari. They assemble a team of scholars to question the norm of participation in development. Considering that I’ve applied to work for a “Support Centre for Participatory Development” next year, it’s fair to say I don’t agree with everything that they write. However, the book has been enlightening. The authors argue that participation rests on the:
…naivety of assumptions about the authenticity of motivations and behaviour in participatory processes; how the language of empowerment masks a real concern for managerial effectiveness; the quasi religious associations of participatory rhetoric and practice ; and how an emphasis on the micro level of intervention can obscure, and indeed sustain, broader macro level inequalities and injustice.
Rather than an orthodox critique (an evaluation from inside the camp), their work is heterodox; challenging the norm of participation. They conclude: “any meaningful attempt to save participatory development requires a sincere acceptance of the possibility that it should not be saved”
The second book is Kevin DeYoung’s “What is the mission of the Church“. He contends that an overemphasis on missional living and social action has diluted the church’s primary role of verbally proclaiming the gospel of Christ. He writes:
“We want the church to remember that there is something worse than death and something better than human flourishing. If we hope only for renewed cities and restored bodies in this life, we are of all people most to be pitied”
As an international development student, I see more of a complementarity than a dichotomy between telling people about Jesus and practically helping them. However, DeYoung raises a red flag, warning me of a tendency to overemphasize one side of my mission at the expense of the other.
The reason I’m writing this is not to boast about how open minded I am. I’m only two chapters in to each book, so I’ve hardly begun to engage with their arguments.
What strikes me is the way in which they disagree. As I mentioned, Cooke and Kothari take a heterodox position, parking themselves firmly outside of the accepted way of doing development. DeYoung, on the other hand, stays firmly committed to the church, only critiquing its current state. He is orthodox in multiple senses of the term.
So when do I cross that line? At what point do I no longer recommend reform, like DeYoung, and instead promote reinvention or revolution, as Cooke and Kothari do? An example for me is the Sustainable Development Goals to be finalized this September. At this point they’re not looking too useful. Will my response be one of “reform and adjust”, or will I find myself outside the camp?
Have you ever read a book that you disagreed with?