Development Practitioners

Routledge Handbook of Development Ethics

Edited by Jay Drydyk and Lori Keleher

Routledge Press, 2018

Chapter 30

Development practitioners: Absent in the deliberative discourse on development ethics

by Chloe Schwenke


“Ancient barbarians were characterized by the triumph of might over right. Today’s false development, which assigns supremacy to mere economic might, would lead to a new form of barbarism, which is all the more dangerous because it hides behind the mask of progress and civilization. Today’s world is at a crossroads: either it will leave behind the ancient impasse bred of privilege and of limited solidarities, or it will get bogged down in new patterns of violent servitudes. If the world is to succeed in its development efforts, it needs to discover, to promote, and to propose an ethics which takes full account of the requirement for authentic development.”

Denis Goulet, 2006


This chapter places development practitioners within the context of deep moral and ethical conflicts that are inherent in the practice of development, and considers how this community might be better engaged in a broader and deeper conversation to make international development efforts not only more effective and efficient, but also more morally defensible and desirable. Within this community of development and humanitarian relief practitioners, development ethics remains more notable by its absence from any vibrant discourse. There are many reasons for this silence, ranging from policy norms that eschew the discussion of “soft” subjects to a pervasive lack of practice in using a moral vocabulary. Leading development institutions have neither regular staffing positions nor project assignments for development ethicists, and normative concerns seldom are made explicit in the gritty implementation of development policies and programming. Even those development institutions which take pride in their “mission-driven” staff fail to actually deliberate the significance of their mission. Sadly, the meaning of “ethics” is also frequently misunderstood, in many minds being narrowly equated only to regulatory codes and legal mechanisms around transparency and the constraint of corruption.