The Genesis of Social Development at the World Bank: The Inside Story






The history of social development at the World Bank, which came quite late in the early 1970s, is the subject of a new book, Social Development in the World Bank: Essays in Honor of Michael M. Cernea (Springer, 2021 ). The book, edited by Maritta Koch-Weser and Scott Guggenheim – both World Bank veterans, provides insight into the inside stories of building a social development agenda at the Bank under the leadership of theorist and activist Michael Cernea pioneer of social development, where he made a name for himself through hard work, prolific writing, and the development of theory and policy.

The Bank, in its first years (1945-1970), adopted a very narrow and restricted vision of development, largely supported by economists and engineers, promoting the model of gross domestic product (GDP) expressed in per capita income without taking account of social dimensions and impacts. of development. Faced with growing criticism both inside and outside the Bank for the lack of due attention to the social cost of infrastructure development, such as displacement and project-induced poverty, the Bank slowly opened its “gateway” to social development under Robert McNamara as President (1968 -1981). There was obviously a long wait within the Bank for any social and human development policy agenda and how economic growth and development benefits could have been better shared.

McNamara made a forceful statement in the early 1970s that the overriding goal of the Bank was to end poverty and called for a disciplinary “mix of skills” in Bank staff to understand how social processes and organizations affect economic results. Michael Cernea, the Romanian rural sociologist, was hired in 1974 as the Bank’s first in-house sociologist, to help develop social methodologies to extend and increase the benefits of development. Cernea’s work over the following decades proved critically important to Bank operations in addressing development-induced displacement and resettlement and poverty reduction efforts. As a result, the Bank then trained a large community of anthropologists and sociologists within its framework to improve social and cultural perspectives in development projects globally.

The book pays tribute to Cernea’s contributions to development theory and action-oriented research and policy. It is available in several formats – in print, as an e-book, as well as in “open access” and in a special softcover e-book edition. It is essential reading for development scholars, especially those interested in the history of social development and related social science disciplines. It offers a unique foray into the stories of how a paradigm shift has taken place within the Bank’s operations, taking firm steps guiding the Bank along the social development journey. The idea for this edited Festschrift was conceived at the Bieberstein meeting in Germany in 2011 by a group of friends and colleagues of Michael Cernea, the decades-long mentor and “thought leader” on social development at the Bank.

Composed of essays and personal reflections written by senior Bank staff, including former President James Wolfensohn, academics/development leaders and close associates of Michael Cernea, the book is of historical significance and a classic. in the field. Contributions provide an insider’s perspective and explain how social scientists have helped shift the Bank’s development paradigm from an almost exclusive focus on economic growth to an equally serious consideration of social development, poverty reduction and the protection of cultural/indigenous heritage and rights. . It presents fascinating stories and insider encounters faced by the first generation of social scientists led by Michael Cernea and how Cernea transformed initial general “curiosity” about social development into analysis of social risks in the design and development of projects, then transformed his social and political knowledge in the field of the development practices of the Bank. Cernea authored some of the World Bank’s first social development policies. Among these, he formulated the first-ever involuntary resettlement policy to address the negative impacts of development, which was later also adopted by all multilateral development banks and other development agencies.

The book has 20 chapters in four parts. Several contributors describe in the background the rise of a “top down” pressure to open the door to social analysis, the incredible story linked to the hiring of Michael Cernea, the first reactions and the institutionalization of environmental policies. and social development within the Bank and finally, how the Bank’s policies subsequently influenced the adoption of social analysis and involuntary resettlement policy by other development banks. The remainder of the chapters highlight the growing use of anthropology and sociology of development as applied social science disciplines, including a personal and candid account of resettlement-related challenges faced by resettlement practitioners. field development in the application of the World Bank’s safeguard/resettlement and indigenous policies. and guidelines. Cernea’s widely used Involuntary Risk and Reconstruction (IRR) model is reprinted as a chapter. Finally, case studies of the Narmada Dam and its debacle and the positive impacts of long-term collaborations between the Bank and the Chinese government in improving China’s resettlement law and framework are discussed, followed by a retrospective on Michael Cernea and his contributions.

Collectively, the book represents “institutional ethnography” of the Bank at its best, often highlighting the internal tensions and schisms associated with historic transitions at the world’s largest and most important development finance institution. The book is therefore at the forefront of the history of social development and applied/development anthropology, further reinforcing that development must be understood as both a historical and a socio-cultural process. The speeches truly demonstrate that “people matter” in the development process. Cernea’s work and legacy will therefore continue to influence the further development of resettlement and social development practices. Indeed, his work and academic contribution gave rise to an entirely new discipline called “resettlement studies” in the field of development. The book is essential reading for development practitioners, who not only want to make a difference, but care about fundamental issues of ethics, rights and responsibilities.

Mohammad Zaman, PhD is International Development/Resettlement Specialist and Advisory Professor, National Resettlement Research Center, Hohai University, Nanjing, China.

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Joel C. Hicks