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Publication Details

Rist, G (1999) The History of Development: From Western Origins to Global Faith. UCT Press & Zed Books: Cape Town : 1-276.

This book is a fascinating attempt to explain the continuous success of an ideology which has so obviously failed in practice. Despite evidence to the contrary, politicians and the development community still mostly believe that economic growth will create new jobs, that international debts will be repaid, and that through globalization we can achieve prosperity for all.

This intellectual history of the concept of development examines the theories and strategies which have held sway during the last fifty years - dependency theory, underdevelopment, the "basic needs approach", structural adjustment, human development and sustainability. Given that levels of poverty and environmental degradation continue to grow in many countries North and South, Gilbert Rist asks why it was that the world continued with this project for so long.

'If you want to understand the ideological forces that have shaped North-South relations for half a century, you need this remarkable book.' - Susan George

'At a time when globalization and humanitarian interventions are taking over from development, this book should help us understand why development has led so many well-intentioned people astray…. It presents complex debates with great clarity, provides an excellent opportunity to get acquainted with the literature and should prove essential reading for students and others interested, or involved, in development.' - Marie-Dominique Perrot, IUED

'There is no comparable book available in English.' - Professor Martin O'Connor, economist

'Compelling and exciting reading…. Rist's book, written with deliciously mild irony, is an account of the most crucial moments in which the rites of a belief embraced by millions were elaborated and canonized.' - Olga Nieuwenhuys, European Journal of Development Research

'A much needed corrective to the work of the cheerleaders of the newly globalized order…. This book does an outstanding job.' - Jan Knippers Black, Journal of Developing Areas

'An excellent and challenging book…. It should be required reading for all interested in development, and particularly the economists among them.' - Peter de Valk, International Journal of African Historical Studies

'This book is one of the most astute of its genre available today…. [It] is exact in its scholarship and profound in its clear account of the philosophies and consequences of the Western example.' - Rapport


1. Definitions of Development

2. Metamorphoses of a Western Myth

3. The Making of a World System

4. The Invention of Development

5. The International Doctrine and Institutions Take Root

6. Modernization Poised Between History and Prophecy

7. The Periphery and the Understanding of History

8. Self-Reliance: The Communal Past as a Model for the Future

9. The Triumph of Third Worldism

10. The Environment or the New Nature of 'Development'

11. A Mixture of Realism and Fine Sentiments

12. The Post-Modern Illusion: Globalization as a Simulacrum of Development

13. Some Thoughts on What is to be Done

14. The Struggle Against Poverty: Slogan and Alibi

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