Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Alternative Development Practice: The Role of Personal Conceptions of Development and Self-Understanding

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posted on 2021-11-13, 22:27 authored by Harris, Dan

It seems to be a favourite past time of development studies lecturers to begin their courses with the question: “What is development?” This old chestnut invariably serves its purpose of challenging and complicating our understandings of development and stimulating a good deal of debate. It is rare however, if this question is ever followed by any real guidance on how to answer it or consideration of what the answer might mean for one’s practice. For those seeking an alternative development practice in the context of a ‘development’ that grows ever more theoretically complex and morally ambiguous, I argue that engaging with and answering this question at a personal level is of vital importance.  Within development studies, debate continues to grow over the definition of development’s ends and means, and over who controls it, defines it and benefits from it. In particular, alternative development approaches originating from Another Development thinkers of the 1970s are concerned with challenging the conceptualisation of development by opening its interpretation to multiple value systems and realities. At the same time there is an increasing awareness of the ‘primacy of the personal’ (Chambers, 1994 p3) through the implication of personal ethics and awareness in development practice. I argue that the combination of these factors gives rise to a personal challenge for alternative development practitioners to engage with and understand their own conceptions of development. A challenge that practitioners are not equipped to meet as they lack the conceptual and methodological tools required to move from abstract development theory to concrete practice.  In response to these challenges my research draws on my personal experience as an intern in Latin America and employs an innovative auto-ethnographic methodology to examine the potential of development ‘theorias’ for orientating alternative development practice. Theorias are personal conceptions of development that allow practitioners to work with their own understandings of good change and structure these in relation to development and development practice. Employing reflective practice methods, I draw on my own experience as a novice development practitioner to investigate the elaboration of development theorias and their consequences for alternative development practice. The results suggest that theorias could provide practitioners with appropriate ‘tools’ with which to reflect upon, work through and explore personal conceptions of development as the basis for alternative development practice. My research indicates that theorias could also form the basis of an ‘alignment based approach’ to alternative development that facilitates cooperative processes aimed at co-creating and working towards new conceptualisations of development. The overall result is a unique contribution to the field of development studies which provides an example of reflective processes and conceptual tools for practitioners to constructively engage with the central questions of development’s ends and means from within the context of their own practice. The lack of literature regarding reflective engagement with practitioner conceptions of development highlights the importance of this research and its potential to contribute to alternative development practice and theory.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Development Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Development Studies

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970116 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of Human Society

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences


Kindon, Sara