Be careful what you read
Things began innocuously. I, according to my traditional custom, tried to read a book on the train completely unrelated to my course of study. The book focused on the power of weakness. I had never really given the idea much thought.
But, then, in the introduction, I found them discussing Down’s Syndrome. Down’s Syndrome, an unpredictable genetic condition, can only be eradicated through abortion. The book captured the obvious in a way that made me think. And when I think, I connect the various ideas screaming through my head.
My mid-term paper about the nature of development dominated my thinking. One question asked the advantages and disadvantages of defining development as “good change.”
Do I include the deliberately provocative example of abortion as a response to a difficult and unexpected pregnancy in my paper? If we consider something like eliminating disease and disorder as a good thing, then what methods will we use to obtain our goal? The provocative example survived not only my colleague’s feedback, but also a change in my title. Moreover, the tutor assessing my paper thought the example provided a very solid line of reasoning that could have been developed still further.
Because that piece of writing remains relevant to my thinking today, I will post the Introduction.
Learning about Development from Unlikely Sources
What can the experience of a child still in the womb teach us about the Western development agenda? Our responses to pregnancy and our hopes for children illumine our attitudes towards the weak. Additionally, our hopes for our children may reveal our ideological predispositions. Critical observation of how we respond to a child with anticipated disability may enable us to question assumptions inherent in assorted development projects. When confronting disabilities, people living today have greater interventions through technological changes than people living in the past who did not have the range of relevant technologies. We find ourselves in situations where we have power over people we have never met. Moreover, we may rethink how we rely on technology to change circumstances for people in places we have never properly lived.
Persons with Down’s Syndrome live within a web of compounding difficulties. Down’s Syndrome is a genetic condition that can occur in any population. The likelihood of a child with Down’s Syndrome increases with the age of the mother (Macnair and Hicks, 2010). Prenatal testing can confirm the genetic abnormalities; one often-cited study (Mansfield, Hopfer and Marteau, 1999) reports that over 90% of positive Down’s Syndrome prenatal diagnoses in the UK and Europe end in elective abortion. Additionally, advocacy organizations in the United States have issued position papers exhorting that any woman who wishes to continue her pregnancy after a prenatal diagnosis should be supported in that decision (National Down Syndrome Society, 2010). The presence of these position papers suggests clinical practice frequently involves pressuring the woman to terminate her pregnancy. Moreover, support organizations for persons with Down’s Syndrome hold the promise of living a normal, semi-independent life (Down’s Syndrome Society, 2010). The pressure to end Down’s Syndrome and the goal of an approximately independent life point to an ideological position that favors eradicating and mitigating perceived weakness through technological interventions.
Using technology to eradicate and mitigate perceived weakness reflects the ideological character of development. Development began with an agenda to rebuild Europe and expanded to building various economies throughout the world. Engineers and economists served as the first development professionals. The opening agenda of large-scale industrialization indicates the technocratic nature of development. Over time, development practitioners adopted various guiding doctrines that continue to support ideas of Western professionals providing technical assistance to communities (Thorbecke, 2006). Vocal critics of the development agenda have emerged with the exhortation to reflective practice (Nolan, 2002; Chambers, 2005) and the rise of post-modern critique (Esteva and Prakash, 1998; Rapley, 2004). In order to stay relevant, the development industry must adopt a different ideology towards human weakness and technological power.
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