14/03/2018 GTD Colloquium with Ruben Gonzalez Vicente

When: March 14, 2018, from 15.30 to 17.00
Where: GG76 room 0.16


The topic of this lecture is: 

Modernization through a national prism: Legibility, development, and the public good in China’s global vision

Ruben Gonzalez Vicente
Leiden University


China has become one of the world’s main development donors in the early 21st century, and indeed one with a distinct aid approach as well as a rather unique domestic background and political economy. While most of the early work on China’s role as a development donor has focused on making sense of emerging trends, unclear data and the intricacies of specific projects, this essay draws upon existing literature and my own research to reflect on the norms, values and worldviews that underpin China’s global development footprint. I argue that that a salient characteristic of Chinese foreign assistance is the visualization of development through the nation, which trumps the sort of people-based approaches or ‘flat-earth’ globalizing imaginaries that have prevailed through three decades of liberal development agendas. The Chinese government’s understanding of development results in a preference for legibility at the national scale, with aggregate growth statistics and sizeable infrastructure and construction projects representing the main two ways in which development and modernity are imagined and read. This has resulted in the revival of inter-national development, increasing the political leeway of government leaders in the developing world. However, this new vision of development also justifies processes of exploitation and dispossession for the attainment of national modernization through market mechanisms. National modernization is in turn considered a ‘public good’ per se, which is expected to trickle down development benefits.


Dr. Ruben Gonzalez Vicente is a lecturer at the Leiden University. He has a PhD in Geography from St. John’s College, Cambridge University. His research focuses on the intersection between global political economy, development studies, political geography and international relations. His research interests include South-South development cooperation, China’s international relations (with a specific interest on China’s engagement in Latin America and the Caribbean), the role of natural resources in processes of development, and the transformation of politics and international relations under late capitalism.