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Philosophy of Management

Volume 3, Issue 2, 2003

Developing Perspectives

Sheelagh O'Reilly
Pages 47-56

Developing the Freedom to Disagree
A Manager's Philosophical Diary - Part 5

This instalment is a reworking of the paper I gave at the meeting in Oxford in 2002 to a very small audience who I thank heartily for their patience and comments. I tried there to muse upon some ideas precipitated by reading two books by Jeremy Waldron, a legal philosopher whose work I find succeeds in being interesting and accessible without sacrificing technical content. I first came across his work whilst working on my PhD and was fascinated by his approach and learning — even when I did not understand or agree with him. In one paper he made a point that struck a very important chord with me in relation to questions of participation within development: Philosophers who talk about rights should pay much more attention than they do to the processes by which decisions are taken in a community under circumstances of disagreement. Theories of rights need to be complemented by theories of authority, whose function it is to determine how decisions are to be taken when the members of a community disagree about what decision is right. I would like to suggest that within the Development Industry it is not only philosophers who need to pay more attention to these issues, but also development professionals who work with issues of governance as well as participation at the grass roots. This is not an obvious linkage, I admit, but one which I hope this diary entry will make clear. I will try to show that acknowledging disagreement within the legislative and judicial fields might actually be a positive move. And, as Waldron also indicates, that there is something dynamic and positive about the participation of people in processes. I will examine some current thinking on participation in development projects and ask whether current practices may be hindering the 'freedom to disagree'. I conclude that the failure to address some aspects of development practice relating to power and the possibility of disagreement is an issue. I highlight some factors which inhibit participation and suggest they flow from failures to develop strategies that foster local participation in contexts where local people often lack the formal' knowledge they need if they are to negotiate successfully with what James C Scott has called 'institutional privilege.'

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