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One world, big society: a discursive analysis of the Conservative green paper for international development



This article offers a discursive analysis of the Conservative green paper for international development, published as part of the closely fought election campaign of 2010 that culminated in a UK coalition government with the Liberal Democrats. The article examines the paper in comparison with the discursive shifts represented by the first Department for International Development (DfID) white paper, published by the outgoing Labour administration in 1997. In contrast with the optimistic and globalist developmentalism that characterised Labour's development discourse, the green paper sounds a more cautious note, using empire to focus on Britain's leadership role in poverty alleviation rather than on global progress, and brings back the full force of developmentalism only at the point where it seeks to legitimate spending on security concerns as a development concern. The article then moves on to examine the green paper's most explicit discursive move, the signalling of a ‘post-bureaucratic age’. This move towards increased information provision to promote transparency and accountability is likely to signal greater control by powerful donors in securitised times, albeit with a potential re-scaling of responsibility for poverty alleviation to the poorest local communities. Finally, the article looks briefly at information technologies in relation to the transnational spatiality of civil society, arguing that attention needs to be paid to the more embodied forms of transnational association encouraged by the green paper, and to the selection and impacts of information, which need to be seen in the discursive context of wider Conservative constructions of the ‘big society’.