The second session into term we are asked to read Adrian Ledtwich’s “Politics in Command” article, which looks at the role of Political history and the impact of New Political Economy. I have to agree with Leftwich that the quote from Marvin Harris sums it all up, for me anyways. “My excuse for venturing across disciplines, continents and centuries is that the world extends across disciplines. Nothing in nature is quite so separate as two mounds of expertise.” Leftwich looks at the relationship between social, political and economical institutions and recognises the limitations of a single disciplinary framework.

Reading through the article was not an easy assignment; I can describe Leftwich to process the talent of a great academic scholar, but to lack the essential ability to get to the point. There are whispers that Leftwich may come to speak to us, and I hope he does, but I also hope that he prepares a session whereby we (the student observers) can absorb his intellect without falling into boredom. There is a fine line between absorption of intellect, interest of topic and boredom.

I would like to refer to my lack of political history as a seed being watered by my reading, lecture and seminar this week. The seed began to grow when Leftwich outlined the impact World War II had on the transformation of global politics, which when written down seems almost so obvious that maybe I shouldn’t admit to my lack of observation. My naive seed has begun to understand and relate to the forefront of global politics after this period and its impact on ex-colonial development, particularly with the focus of economical development. Leftwich highlights the Soviet Union’s Gosbank and Gosplan for national ‘development’ to emphasis the word ‘development’, caused my seed to begin the process of germination. I find the Soviet era to be one of the most interesting points in history; therefore I appreciate any new references. It is highlighted that the rest of the world, outside the “Soviet bloc” began the process of promoting economic growth through the form of five year plans, outside the Soviet bloc but with their method of five year plans in mind.  

Leftwich continues on with the relevance of economic growth, using a few country examples along the way.  Later he identifies some important precursors for the re-discovery of politics in development: institutions in development and the importance of power and culture; method of institution building; reform of local and national boundaries in politics and finally to look at the successes and failures of development through the political economy.  

My thoughts toward the article are mixed; although I find the context helpful to provide nutrients to the seed I find it difficult to locate them. I am neither concerned nor interested to begin a debate or discussion about this article in any great depth, but it does help to provide a grounding of political and economic advances through the last century. What did engage me in discussion were the seminar questions, which gently provoked a debate on the definition of politics and the primacy of politics in the study of development.

I am not a supporter of definitions, I feel that they are restricting and prevent the true nature of the defined product from being portrayed. How would I define myself, the person next to me, the computer I am tapping away on, the view from my window, the feeling in my head after looking at a bright screen all day? If I miss a point then the product is lost or misguided into something less or more than it actually is. To define politics, we must define each aspect of the definition. Leftwich definition of politics “all the activities of conflict, cooperation and negotiation involved in the use, production and distribution of resources, whether material or ideal, whether at local, national or international levels, or whether in private or public domain.”  leaves many nouns and verbs undefined or restricted to their own limited definitions. However, I do accept that definitions provide a bases of which a theory or ideal can be extracted, but I am wary of their limitations and would not like to be allocated to a definition of myself.

Before starting the course I remember sitting having a coffee with a friend who asked what my motivation was for going into development studies, great question I thought. I explained my theory that government was the core to how far a country has developed, or not, in many cases. I think corruption; self interest and poverty go hand in hand, whether it be a dictator taking land from farmers to build an estate or a pharmaceutical company establishing TRIPS for self serving revenue or aid money spent on luxurious international flights for government elites. Self interest – Poverty. Corruption – Poverty.  Therefore, I feel that politics is essential for the study of development, as a key factor for historical events around the world and the future of not only the developing world but the ‘developed’ world.