Development on the Periphery: Exit and Exile

Ashwani Saith*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter/Conference proceedingChapterAcademic


In the period after the orthodox neoclassical group took control of the Faculty and the Department of Applied Economics, the teaching (and teachers) and research (and researchers) on radical development economics and development studies steadily moved out to other institutional locations in the university. By the mid-1990s, this process of exile to the periphery had been completed. This effectively undermined the existence of a branch of the subject that had been prominent in Cambridge at the university and later at faculty levels since its inception in the 1920s. The engagement with “development” over the past century can be roughly divided into three distinct, though overlapping historical eras: first, the Colonial-Imperial, 1920s–1940s; second, Decolonisation, Third World National Development, 1950s–1970s; and third, Neoliberal Globalisation, 1980s onwards. Each era had its distinctive features which reflect changing political and intellectual imaginations, programme objectives and substantive academic orientation, cultural ethos and institutional dimensions within which the demand and supply sides of development teaching were handled. Having negotiated and survived the vicissitudes of the late period of empire and then of the confused imperial hangover, teaching on development made a recovery from the turbulence of the era of decolonisation, though there was a continual reassessment by the ODA of the utility of such training in the context of rapidly changing economic and political relations between the UK and the ex-colonies; and on the part of the university concerned about standards and profiling and the push towards academic professionalisation in place of the old style ‘training’ mission increasingly characterised as anachronistic. This led the university to accept the initiative of younger academic staff, of launching a new M.Phil in Development Studies in the mid-1970s, with funding not from the ODA but the SSRC, with the longstanding Diploma in Development Studies running in parallel. The period from the early 1970s till the mid-1980s witnessed a remarkable upswing in the demand for development teaching, in the diploma, the M.Phil and the PhD programmes in the Faculty—but then the climate first turned unfriendly and then hostile in the Faculty of Economics, and the phase ended with the closure, in 1995, of the M.Phil programme started in the Faculty in 1977; development studies was moved out and relocated in the Department of Land Economy till 2012, when, in view of the sustained strength of development teaching and research, the now flourishing Centre of Development Studies was established with its own M.Phil and PhD programmes. A bizarre paradox emerges from the narrative: the accumulated and accomplished heterodox and multidisciplinary teaching and research capacities in Development Studies/Economics are virtually eliminated from the Faculty by the orthodox group, and the time frame over which this expulsion takes place, roughly 1980–1995, is precisely the period where development issues dramatically come to occupy the foreground in global economic policy discourse, matched by a huge expansion in the demand for taught and research degrees in development, inducing a matching supply response in most major universities, including the London School of Economics and the School of Oriental and African Studies in London; in contrast, the Faculty of Economics in Cambridge decided to go the opposite way, thus highlighting the ideological basis of this expulsion.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication Cambridge Economics in the Post-Keynesian Era
Subtitle of host publicationThe Eclipse of Heterodox Traditions
Number of pages79
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Publication series

SeriesPalgrave Studies in the History of Economic Thought

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG.


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