Between Institutions and Culture: The UNDP's Arab Human Development Reports 2002-2005
Posted: 4 Jun 2008
Date Written: February 2008
The four Arab Human Development Reports 2002-2005, sponsored by the United Nations Development Program, have attracted more attention and controversy than any other official studies of development in recent years. Celebrated by many Western commentators as a courageous exercise in self-criticism by the Arab authors, the Reports have in turn been denounced by most Arab commentators in the Middle East as an exercise in self-denigration, as scapegoating Arab countries for the legacies of colonialism and Western foreign policy interventions, and as propagating an ethnocentric conception of liberal individualism. The Reports focus on three key themes: building a knowledge society; expanding civil and political freedoms; and women's empowerment. This paper argues that these Reports illuminate an important set of controversies in the broader contemporary development literature, in particular alternative conceptions of the ends of development (e.g., growth versus freedom), and the respective roles of institutions and culture in promoting and shaping developing. The paper is critical of the Reports for marginalizing the importance of economic growth in the development equation and in failing to address the dynamics of the policy reform process, hence risking espousal of an unproductive form of utopianism or universalism.
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