Redistribution of wealth and resources has been a common theme in the study of development over the ages. At the sixth annual Al Berry lecture at UTSC on September 26, Princeton University Professor Jeremy Adelman aimed to bring attention to “the concentration of wealth and income” and its stresses on our “togetherness.”
The event was organized by the Centre for Critical Development Studies. Al Berry, professor at UTSC and the namesake of the event, invited Adelman, one of his former students, to speak about how the current model of development may be dangerous to the global community.
Adelman spoke about how the growing interdependence of countries on one another made them more vulnerable to inequity. He claimed that “as the world was being laced by railroads, cables, and free trade, it was also producing more stratification.”
The professor detailed how the convergence of countries with one another “promoted hierarchy,” creating a dichotomy between the Global North and South.
“Everything is now development,” Adelman told The Varsity in an interview at the event’s pre-lecture reception. “All of the grand challenges that the planet faces, whether it’s climate change or the global migrant crisis, are, at root, issues of development.”
As a historian, Adelman advocated a historical perspective when approaching development in other countries. He noted that as the world became more interdependent, the competition for economic success spun out of control. Evidence of inequity could be seen in the fact that as economic development progressed, Indigenous people were globally “excluded from their land that was made valuable to the public.”
According to Adelman, since the nineteenth century, the study of development has been one of debate.
Debate arose when people looked at the successes of development, such as poverty decline and increased literacy rate, and forgot about the inequalities within these development efforts.
Adelman criticized what he sees as the hypocrisy that comes with developmentalism. He explored the idea that development “was just a new form of empire,” for it seemed to favour the European bourgeoisie. He outlined the delusion of “foreign expert syndrome,” stressing that a Western or linear model of development may not work everywhere.
According to Adelman, models of development required dramatic solutions for underdevelopment such as “breaking unequal trade” and “overturning feudal forces.”
Yet this harsh approach has reaped little benefits. Adelman suggested that the Global South started “a new history,” separate from the Western model of success and development.
One thing Adelman said he has done to tackle these inequities and promote a humanitarian way of thinking is by running the Global History Lab at Princeton. “It’s an online course in which my graduates interact with undergraduates and learners in other parts of the world, including refugee camps and Middle Eastern Africa.”
Adelman told The Varsity that the theme of his studies is “always global, and our fragile togetherness, in spite of the whole rise of nationalism, and nativism, and tribalism.” His goal is “to keep the global horizons open and to teach that to students.”
Redistribution of wealth to close the gap between the “haves and the have-nots” and remodeling development would bring the the global community closer to equity, said Adelman.
For Adelman, the importance of all this is that “how we handle our fragile togetherness will shape the lives of generations to come.”