• global South;
  • development theory;
  • development;
  • postdevelopment;
  • postcolonialism;
  • empowerment

The relationship between mainstream development policy (and perhaps also development studies) and postcolonial theorists has often been characterized as a dialogue of the deaf. Rather like in the old ‘debates’ between adherents of modernization and neo-Marxist theories, the protagonists are often thought to be talking at or past one another, rather than with each other. This paper reassesses some firmly held views on both sides of the schism. On the one hand, many official development agencies appear to promote business as usual (often quite literally, as a recent War on Want report attests in the case of the UK's DFID using its aid budget to promote profitable opportunities for British corporations). On the other hand, some postcolonial purists rely on surprisingly modernist, totalizing discursive techniques while claiming post-structural credentials, or baulk at the prospects of practical engagement. Discrepancies between theory, discourse, policy and practice are not the preserve of one side. However, the middle ground is firmer and better trodden than most believe. Considerable progress has been made and the paper assesses examples of productive engagement and concludes with suggestions for carrying forward the challenges.