Moving beyond the North-South ‘development divide’

Katy Oswald image

Katy Oswald

Over the last five years I have visited Madrid several times each year, normally staying for a week or two with my in-laws. In the autumn/winter of 2011, I lived there for four months. My first visit was in May 2008, shortly after the start of the ‘crisis’, as it is referred to in Spain. Therefore, I have witnessed, albeit sporadically and as a visitor, the changing face of Madrid as the financial crisis of 2007/8 has morphed into an economic, social and political crisis.

I have also observed the inhabitants of Madrid, known as Madrileños, dealing with these crises in a multitude of ways, whether it be the now infamous 15M movement’s occupation of Puerta del Sol, the protests against housing evictions by the Plataforma de Afectados Por la Hipoteca, or the rise in popularity of alternative economic practices, such as time banks and cooperatives. I’ve also witnessed the more ugly face of the crisis, widespread youth unemployment, a visible increase in homelessness, a marked rise in the use of food banks, and an undercurrent of anti-immigration discourse. In the newspaper the other day, I read that unemployed men, mostly immigrants, wait on the street corners of Madrid to be picked up in trucks by gang masters who offer them low-wage work in perilous conditions, like one sees on the streets of Johannesburg, or, as my father-in-law said, as you saw on the streets of Madrid 60 or 70 years ago, in the period after the civil war.

Meanwhile, there has been an apparent crisis of governance, with the ruling Popular

citizens of Madrid protesting with placards

Citizens of Madrid protesting in Puerta del Sol against Government corruption, 9th July 2013

Party embroiled in a corruption scandal that goes to the very heart of the Party, resulting in the recent arrest of the Party’s Treasurer for embezzlement, and, for the first time, the President addressing the public via a video link! Talking to my Madrileño friends and in-laws, one gets the impression that, whilst corruption has always been tacitly accepted as part of everyday life, the level of corruption now being revealed is well beyond that tacit acceptance: a threshold of morality has been breached.

I have been witnessing all this, whilst simultaneously working on issues of ‘development’ here at IDS: poverty, inequality, accountability, food security, social movements and citizen participation. For example Patta Scott-Villiers blog on how rising food prices let to protests in Kenya, or Naomi Hossain’s work on how poor people in various country adjust to food price volatility. Yet always in what we tend to refer to as the ‘global South’.

Since the financial crisis of 2008, the geography of the world has changed. Of course there are still big differences between countries in the global North and South, and being ‘poor’ in Spain is very different to being ‘poor’ in Malawi. But poverty is relative, and why should we ignore structural poverty and inequality in Spain or Greece for that matter? The issues we at IDS are interested in affect people in every country, and do not respect the artificial boundaries we create between the global North and South. So, as I sit in the stultifying heat of Madrid in July, I pose the following question to my colleagues in IDS and other ‘development’ institutions, when are we going to get over this ‘development divide’?

Katy Oswald is a Research Officer in the Participation, Power and Social Change Team at IDS. She can be found on Twitter: @ogmog

Read other previous blogs by Katy Oswald:

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