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“Global Development as Relationship: Dependence, Interdependence or Divide?" Reflections on the DSA conference


Reflections on this year's DSA conference

blog post by Lata Narayanaswamy, Kate Gooding and Anne Tallontire

Three CGD members took part in this year’s Development Studies Association Conference “Global Development as Relationship: Dependence, Interdependence or Divide?” which took place 7th and 8th September at the University of Bath.

Here they share some of their reflections on the conference, which explored as its theme the forms of relationship that are valued, enacted and denied through current processes of international development. Click here for conference blurb.

Dr Lata Narayanaswamy, POLIS

“I am a member of the NGOs in Development Study Group of the DSA. What was extraordinary about the conference, which may be unique in many ways for an academic conference, is how many practitioners were in attendance. These were people working in development-oriented roles as part of both the private and third sectors. Bringing together this diverse set of stakeholders raised urgent questions for all of us committed to broad goals of human development and social justice. Discussions centered around the practical challenges development practitioners face when attempting to tap into academic research. Despite in many instances being former academics themselves, they shared the real uphill battle of having donors recognise the value of research. This challenge is further exacerbated by the reality of their day-to-day operations, which are circumscribed by narrow measures of effectiveness, managerialism, results-based management and payment-by-results frameworks. At the same time, academics were equally keen for their own research to support the work of development practitioners, whilst still maintaining their independence to engage in critical scholarship that challenges the very mainstream development frameworks and orthodoxies that so often constrain practice. One theme that emerged forcefully in these discussions – common across practitioners and academics – was how to address inequality and power imbalances. How do we engage in development research and practice that is inclusive of marginalised voices, concerns and innovations? Central to these questions is the tension around whose knowledge counts, a question that could be usefully unpacked, I think, given the rise of BRICS, South-South cooperation and changing aid modalities, as the world embraces the challenge of implementing the SDGs.”

Dr Kate Gooding, Leeds Institute of Health Sciences

“One aspect of the DSA discussions that I noticed was the interest in realist evaluation. The thesis that won this year’s DSA prize examined the potential to combine realist evaluation and RCTs (randomised control trials), and I had several conversations with academics and NGOs who were working on realist evaluations or interested in exploring this approach. The realist idea of ‘what works for whom in what circumstances and why’ is clearly getting attention within development. Leeds is a leading centre of thinking on realist evaluation (see, and some CGD members are using realist approaches (for example, work in the Nuffield Centre for International Health and Development). We have lots to contribute to the ongoing discussion and learning in this area.

I was also struck by the number of NGO staff attending the conference, which seems to have increased significantly over the last few years (though I’m relying on memory and haven’t checked the participants lists). NGO-academic partnerships have been discussed at the DSA for at least two decades, but this collaboration does seem to be of particular interest to both sides at the moment. Discussions about NGO involvement with academics often seem to arrive at the same conclusion of ‘potential for mutual benefit but risk of clashing priorities’. It was great to see this year’s session on NGOs bringing a different focus and raising new issues, as shown in Lata’s reflection”.

Dr Anne Tallontire, Sustainability Research Institute

“Unfortunately I was not at DSA for as long as I would have liked, but it was great to bump into former colleagues as well as meet new people.  I was asked to chair a session entitled “Primary commodities and emergent employment” which was not really about either!  What the papers shared was a concern with food value or supply chains and how they touch down in local contexts, or alternatively are embedded in the politics, culture, and economic relations of complex economies, as well as how environmental change may influence these chains.  I got some valuable feedback for my emerging work on ‘building up resilience in supply chains’ which I presented with a fair trade slant, asking what fair trade relationships can tell us about resilience.   I was encouraged to deepen my critique of supply chain management thinking and to think more about vulnerability.  The second paper in the panel considered impacts of private standards for processed food set by large retailers in high-income countries on economic development variables.  The quantitative analysis was over my head, but it raised some questions on causality and also the role of local level institutions in enabling producers to meet standards – a factor often overlooked in chain-based studies.  The final paper was a reworking of a classic analysis of the cotton sector in Tanzania that stimulated lots of discussion about political economy analysis, the crucial role of farmer organisations and how sectors are prioritised, or not, by government.  The schedule for the second day of DSA looked really interesting especially panels on private sector which made me want to get back involved in the DSA’s Business and Development Study group… one day!”