Prof. Dr. Sunil Ray (Senior Fellow, Independent Researcher)

Cohesive Development as an Alternative Development Paradigm

1 September 2019 – 29 February 2020

The paper makes a modest attempt to examine how the alternative development paradigm with a new epistemological base unfolds as a result of the resistance movements and other radical transformative initiatives against globalization and the socio-economic system and institutions that create and reproduce unequal distribution of power, perpetuates discrimination and domination by humans over humans and nature. Insightful lessons are drawn from these experiences, and based on them, the paper attempts to construct theoretical edifice of the alternative development that shows how the rise of another world from within the metabolism of the capital system is an historical inevitability.                                                                          

The paper observes how the hegemonic impact of the mainstream development paradigm on developmentalism is crushed by the pragmatic understanding of the antisystem movements around the world with holistic cosmovision that transcend modernist meta narratives of both capitalism and socialism.  The paper critiques the unbridled capital system that designs devastative acts against humanity and nature based on its instrumental rationality. It argues further how the same system is entrapped by itsown logic ofexpansion and metabolic rift due to incessant commodification of nature. The latter has caused deep planetary ecological crisis and ravaged the safe operating space for humanity to disappear. The social costin terms ofthe level ofinequality which is now all time high and unprecedent rise of joblessness have surpassed the level of social tolerance. All these give enough reasons to reject the mainstream development paradigm which is rooted in the capital system and replace it by the alternative development paradigm. The alternative development paradigm is what I call ‘cohesive development ‘that seeks to cohere alternative organizing principles of economy and society. No other way than this is discernible that can probably extricate the humanity from what is called ‘civilizational crisis’.

 Lessons learnt from the anti-systemic movements and the radical transformative initiatives around the world are varied and insightful.  They have provided the foundational norms for constructing the theoretical edifice of the alternative paradigm. For instance, methodological individualism, private property and representative democracy that lend credibility to the theoretical legitimacy of the mainstream development paradigm has no place here.  While methodological individualism, is replaced by reciprocal altruism, private property by commons (not of the type as understood by state control etc) and representative democracy by participatory democracy.   It exemplifies epistemological shift of development that centres on the principles of solidarity between humans on the one hand and between humans and nature on the other.

The transformative narratives explicitly or implicitly recognize different principles to organize the economy and society that are antithetical to the dominant development paradigm. Central to all is breaking off from dualism between society and nature. The legal right being accorded to the nature in Ecuador, for example, exemplifies its uncontested solidarity that must be rebuilt with the people of multicultural origin within the relational context of reciprocity. Legalizing such an intrinsic bond, done nowhere else so far, is a unique attempt to stop its destruction that threatens co-evolution of human and nature. It contributes to the formation of alternative development paradigm by being based on nature-centric development epistemology. Equally important is its radical understanding about wellbeing that never considers economic growth as the means of development. It then naturally restricts unlimited production and irresponsible waste. It is an epistemic change from where ‘principle of sufficiency’ emerges as its basic tenet that contributes to the formation of the alternative development paradigm. It works as building block to counter global ecological crisis by rejecting commodification of nature.

While there may be no qualms on the limit to the material needs, the scenario as painted by the protagonist of degrowth and the steady state economy may not be much engaging notwithstanding the robustness of their logic. The theoretical edifice of their constructions is bound to get entangled and conflict with the extant logic of capital. It implies that, unless the logic of capital is substituted by a new one, no reform of the capital system whatever be its extent can respond positively to the asking for resolving the planetary crisis. It is the new logic of capital that suggests restructuring of the organizing principles of economy and society based on the principle of sufficiency that can decouple growth from material needs. 

 The alternative paradigm completely rejects homogenization principle of the mainstream economics.While its cosmovision is devoid of being delusionary on any count, diversity that exists in the planetary community, according to it, needs to be recognized for construction of a world which is more just and inclusive. The construction of hypothesis for development and change without taking cognizance of the real-life situation in which diversity rests is an anarchic theoretical position that mainstream paradigm has been maintaining for last two centuries or so The construction of a world where many worlds fit’ is a powerful theoretical abstraction which is founded on existentialism. It combats the principle of homogenization that presumes a flat world economy under globalization. I

 Lessons that one learns from several other transformative initiatives taken up throughout the globe against the dominant regime rooted in capitalism, patriarchy, racism, statism and anthropocentricism during the last two decades or so are equally robust. Each attempt in whichever direction is taken is geared to finally replace the dominant regime by the new one.  They unmask false epistemological base that has pushed the humanity to its catastrophic end. The lessons that one learns from these experiences break new grounds for designing new organizing principles for the society and economy.

The primary condition for cohesive development is social cohesion among the individuals with a sense of community and commitment to the common objective based on collective understanding. It is this common objective that binds individuals together despite differences that might exist between them. However, this can happen only if the common objective never falls in line with the existing power structure which is undemocratic and exploitative yielding powerlessness and deprivation of the majority. In other words, no social cohesion can ensure cohesive development as an alternative development paradigm if it fails to recognize the debilitating impact of the existing power structure on it.  It is not that powerlessness is confined to the economic aspect of human life alone and, hence the talk about monolithic class division.  It is equally important to recognize how in other aspects of life including social, environmental etc subordinate groups are excluded from various forms of power. The unifying element of all subordinate groups who develop a shared consciousness is exclusion from various forms of power.

Hence, cohesive development, in the present context, is conceived as an alternative development paradigm that replaces the logic of capital as it works in the capital system with the new one that seeks to establish radically different social metabolic order based on the principle of solidarity between humans on the one hand and   human and nature on the other. The reciprocal altruism, contrary to the methodological individualism of the mainstream development paradigm, directs here to shape the development paradigm. While having its glue to hold the people, the deprived together based on reciprocal altruism, it seeks to achieve common objective, a common world view based on their collective understanding with substantive freedom or actual freedom whose key resides in the ‘apolitical’ network of social relations from market to family.

The fundamental tenets of the epistemological base of cohesive development as emerging from radical movements and transformative initiatives are (1) holistic cosmovision with diversity (2) reciprocal altruism (3) solidarity between humans and humans and nature (3) principle of sufficiency (4) New logic of capital (5) participatory democracy and communal self-management (6) equity and justice for harmony (7) expansion of commons and (8) Qualitative metamorphosis.  No doubt each one of the tenets are interdependent as a relational totality and play equally important role in constructing alternative paradigm.

The paper finally essentializes the unfolding of the transformative mode of production of the alternative development paradigm outside the capital system. It is neither capitalistic mode of production which is primarily driven by profit and capital accumulation nor socialistic mode of production as envisaged by the traditional Marxists. While it unfolds from within the metabolism of the capital system, it never overshadows Marxian materialist conception of history. But certainly, it goes beyond it. It is a transition from the capitalist mode of production to the post -capitalist or post-development mode of production in that technology centric interpretation of the conflict between forces and relations of production does not see much justification. The transformative mode of production gives entry to other factors also as productive forces that explains transition. These include environment and principle of sufficiency, mode of co-operation, culture of shared identity and interdependence. Besides, the emerging transformative mode of production never reduces the importance of qualitative growth that equally contributes to the socio-economic evolution. It goes beyond Marxian thought and praxis that have chosen to side with materialism alone to explain the transition. However, the paper argues how the impact of non-material forces on the qualitative metamorphosis of the mode of production is immense and, therefore, can hardly be discounted.

Altruism, empathy, compassion and consciousness of oneness with nature and other humans and communitarianism- all these forms reflect deeper tenets of the human species that foregrounds the interconnectedness and interdependence of all other species.  Discounting the impact of these forms that originate in the spiritual domain of the human beings on evolution of the society and economy is tantamount to underestimating the evolutionary processes that are arguably equally important. Since the emerging mode of production is not driven by capital accumulation and profitability its values and institutions and productive forces can be reorganized to scale up the quality of life and bring happiness to all especially the deprived ones from all wakes of life based on the principles of cohesive development.


Sunil Ray, has served as the Director of A. N. Sinha Institute of Social Studies, Patna. Prior to that, he was Dean, School of Social Sciences and Head, Centre for Economic Studies and Policy at the Central University of Bihar. He was Professor of Economics at the Institute of Development Studies, Jaipur, and has taught at National Institute of Rural Development, Hyderabad, Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore, and was a visiting fellow at the Institute of Development Studies, Sussex. Professor Ray has 35 years of experience in research and teaching in the field of environmental economics, political economy of development, rural development and institutional economics. He was part of the review mission team of the European Commission and has worked on several consulting assignments with the World Bank and other international organizations. His papers have been published extensively in reputed national and international journals, such as Economic and Political Weekly, International Journal of Ecological Economics, Asian Survey, Savings and Development, Capitalism Nature Socialism, among others. He has authored several books including Industrial Growth and Protection in India​; ​Natural Resources, Organization and Technology Linkages​; Management of Natural Resources: Institutions for Sustainable Livelihood; and Agricultural Services and the Poor (co-authored).

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