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Development Studies – a personal reflection on the beginning

The Department of Sociology turns 75 years and celebrates by looking back in history.

Abdulhadi Khalaf is a senior researcher who joined the Department of Sociology in 1966. This is his account of how the subject of Development Studies has evolved at the department since its inception.

A man in a white shirt

In 1962, Sweden made its official entry into the international aid sphere following the adoption of the Swedish Parliament statute 1962:100.[i]  The law stipulates that Swedish international aid should strive to assist recipient countries in four areas:  increasing their resources, fostering economic and social equality, achieving economic and political independence, and promoting the democratic development of their societies. Those objectives, together with its reputation as a neutral country, helped Sweden to carve its niche in the international aid sphere. Recipient countries of Swedish aid were selected carefully according to their political and ideological proximity, as well as in response to the vagaries of public opinion in Sweden. Those factors also impact the volume and forms of aid to be offered, or not offered.

Over the years, those objectives of 1962 were modified and added on. A paradigm shift occurred in 1997[ii] when Sweden started harmonizing its aid policies with those of other Western donors. That shift happened following a period of dramatic geopolitical developments including the end of the Cold War, the Swedish financial crises of 1990-94, and Sweden's membership in the European Union in 1995. As a part of that shift, Sweden and other Western aid donors began to attach conditions to their aid. To qualify for aid, recipient countries must meet a list of conditions including the harsh measures of structural adjustment programmes vigorously advocated by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank during the Debt Crises of the 1980s. [iii]

Following the start of its international programs, the Swedish government turned to its professional resources as well as to the universities to recruit personnel and consultants to help administer the international aid budget and select its recipients. Universities, including ours, became venues for training and recruiting Swedish personnel to manage, oversee and evaluate aid projects.

At Lund University, notes Lindberg (1989), there were already, since the 1960s, lively environments for international studies partly facilitated by the Swedish scholarships offered to foreign students. [iv] As in other university towns at that period, Lund was home to a variety of activities of solidarity with different liberation movements in the Third World. Many local groups, networks, and organizations were already actively engaged in voluntary endeavours to help some of the newly independent states combat poverty and the legacies of colonial rule.

Towards the end of the 1960s, our department started offering ‘special courses’ focusing on Third World issues. Students’ interests in those courses have varied throughout the years. The arrival in the 1970s of young students and scholars escaping from military rule in Argentine and Chile has expanded the perspectives of both syllabi and research in our department. In 1977, this department started an academic forum dedicated to development studies. Within that forum and adjoining fora, several research projects dealing with Third World issues were started by senior researchers and PhD candidates. The diversity of the academic output of those projects is attested by the more than twenty PhD theses and scores of journal articles, research papers and reports generated since 1997.

Since its inception, international aid has been the subject of serious debates in and outside academia.[v] The more I reflect on its trajectories and geopolitical contexts of aid practices, the more I become awed by the foresight of two postgraduates at this department, Göran Djurfeldt and Staffan Lindberg. In a book edited by Gunnar Myrdal et.al. (1968), they authored a chapter based on their experiences while doing their fieldwork in India. In that chapter, Göran Djurfeldt and Staffan Lindberg were able to boldly proclaim that
“… there are reasons to suspect that Swedish aid policy does not fulfil its own objectives, that it does not lead to economic development in the long run, does not contribute to social equality and does not contribute to social development in a democratic direction. Perhaps the Swedish development aid is largely a qualified form of quackery that contributes little to solving the real problems of the developing countries." [vi]

That was a bold and farsighted statement by the two colleagues. Luckily, they did not give up but continued their research and teaching endeavours and became renowned professors in their fields. Fifty-five years later, we know that they were right and that their prophecy could, with slight modifications, apply to most of the international aid sphere. While this is a source of satisfaction and pride, one cannot overlook the sad realisation that today’s students of Development Studies, under its various designations, continue to study the same problems that their predecessors grappled with seventy or sixty years ago: poverty, hunger, inequality, corruption, authoritarian rule, displacement, and so on. Some are less acute in one country or region but are more acute in another country or region.

  1. Kungl. Maj:ts proposition nr 100 år 1962, Kungl. Maj:ts proposition nr 100 år 1962 Proposition 1962:100 - Riksdagen (accessed 2023404).
  2.  PROP.1997/98:1 UTGIFTSOMRÅDE7,  https://www.regeringen.se/contentassets/093a2523a04c43ca83d6b2e21d9e508…; (accessed 20230404).
  3. Bracking, Sarah (2018), Structural Adjustment Policies, The International Encyclopaedia of Anthropology.Routledge, Structural Adjustment Policies (wiley.com) https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118924396.wbiea2141  (accessed 20230404).
  4. Lindberg, Staffan, (1989) ”Svensk sociologi om Tredje världen — en översikt”, Sociologisk Forskning, 26:1   https://www.jstor.org/stable/20850951 (Accessed: 20230404).  (Accessed 202305015)
  5. See, for example, Riddle, Roger C., (2008) Does Foreign Aid Really Work?, Oxford University Press.
  6. Djurfeldt, Göran and Lindberg, Staffan, (1968) ”Bistånd och jämlikhet. Erfarenheterna från byutvecklingsprogrammen” in Myrdal, Gunnar et.al., (1968), U-hjälp i Utveckling? 14 forskare och samhällsvetare om Sverige u-landpolitik och utvecklingsbistånd, Wahlström & Widstrand, Stockholm, pp.73–4.