The Technologies of Change – How Middle Classes Influence and Shape Development Policies

The concept of development has always been intimately linked to the idea of disseminating knowledge and technologies. In such understanding, the access to technologies is central to a more efficient economic production and service provision to the target population. But the desired goals of increasing wealth and reducing poverty are less than straight forward: technologies are not objects – on the contrary technologies have influential features, they are also appropriated and selectively used to advance agendas. The growing middle classes, especially in the countries of the so-called Global South, are playing a key role in the political debate surrounding access to and control of new technologies.

The most recent financial crisis has considerably impacted daily lives around the world while at the same time exemplified a geographic shift of economic growth engines. Albeit the Global North experiences zero to negative growth, developing countries with China, India, and Brazil at its forefront, show considerably decelerated but nevertheless highly elevated growth trajectories. In such fast developing countries and regions the wealth accumulation over the last decades is impressive. However, the unequal nature of wealth distribution and its dissociation from a broader social and human development calls for a critical look at the political economy of context-specific development. In such perspective the most recent EADI call for “Responsible Development in a Polycentric World” with special reference to the contribution of the middle class is a well-timed attempt to cast light into ongoing struggles in the world that escapes simplistic oppositions of the Global North or South.

This panel positions itself in the debate of the politics of development in a polycentric world, acknowledging that development issues need to be conceived in a broad geographical framework (from global to local and/or vice versa) with numerous actors and conflicting agendas. Furthermore, the panel discusses the role of technology in development debates. Technology is defined in abroad sense as the amalgam of possible tools and techniques to achieve a goal/solve a problem. It thus includes physical objects, like specific tools, but also intangibles such as procedures, institutional networks, dominant narratives, laws and regulations.

From this perspective, the contributions highlight ongoing positional struggles of the middle class to advance development and political participation in different countries. We are in particular interested in the motivations of that emerging political and economic force to influence the different ways development is discursively conceptualized and ultimately pursued. We are, therefore, interested in the different concepts of development and how policies under this banner are conceptualized, negotiated, and ultimately realized.

The different case studies illustrate that it is the emerging middle class who supports the majority of dynamic socio-political changes. While the middle class possesses the extra motivation to pursue social changes, off-setting them from the interests for structural consolidation of the rich and powerful, they also have access to  means for achieving them in contrast to the poor – but also runs the risk of being caught in the network of reproduction of an unequal society. In general a multiple-stakeholder approach, differences in attitudes and strategies, including developments over time, are illustrated. The influential role of the middle class is ultimately ascribed to their capacity to align interests with the perceived potentials of new technologies.

We invite additional papers to our panel if they meet the conceptual angle, in particular welcoming historic perspectives and/or critical and development-mainstream challenging theoretical frameworks.