The rise of behavioural economics, subjective wellbeing and psy-expertise signal a new politics of the personal in development. For some this is a radical way to reduce poverty, for others it individualises and pathologises the poor. What are the implications for development as a project of ‘empowerment’?
The rise of behavioural economics, the use of psy-expertise and studies of subjective wellbeing signal a new politics of the personal in international development. The 2015 World Development Report, 'Mind, Society, and Behaviour', explicitly aims to help development professionals instrumentalise psychological knowledge for economic development. Furthermore a specific concern about the neglect of mental health in international development led to its inclusion within the Sustainable Development Goals. To some, the use of psychological expertise is a radical new way to reduce poverty, increase economic efficiency and promote wellbeing. Others are concerned with its re-inscription of universal, individualist constructions of personhood, its overt objective of 'correcting' individuals' decision-making, its abstraction of subjective data from their specific context, its implication that analysis of underlying structures is unnecessary. Furthermore there is a risk the psychological domain could be appropriated by political and economic actors, with neo-colonial implications. This panel aims to generate a critical review of this phenomenon. Both empirically based and theoretical papers are welcome. Potential questions include: Why have particular psychological approaches become so popular, and what tangible effects are they having in development policy and practice? Are there alternative approaches within psychology that could usefully be mobilised? How does this new politics of the personal engage with more socially grounded approaches, such as analyses of gender, class, age/life-stage, or disability? To what extent does this uptake of psy expertise resonate or conflict with post-development critiques? What theoretical resources does analysis of this phenomenon require? And what are its implications for understandings of development as a project of emancipation or empowerment?