1. The World Bank’s Rural Development Doctrines and Approaches since 1946

  1. Existing literature
  2. Sources
  3. Bibliography

The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), commonly referred to as the World Bank, was founded in 1944 at the Bretton Woods Conference and became operational in 1946. The World Bank had to undertake important organizational changes of its primary mission very early on in its history. With the Marshall Plan (1948-1952) it became only a marginal actor in postwar European reconstruction and shifted its focus to the so called “developing countries” during the 1950s (see Alacevich 2009: 2). The Bank was founded as a cautious lending institution providing only few credits and it followed this path especially during its early years, trying to obtain the trust of Wall Street for its bond sales and focusing on funding foreign exchange costs for specific overhead capital projects (see Mason/Asher 1973: 462ff.). Over the years the World Bank expanded however in nearly every aspect of its activities. Membership of the IBRD rose from 45 countries in 1947 to 116 in 1971 with decolonization and to 188 in 2015. The Bank’s own borrowing also diversified, becoming less exclusively dependent on Wall Street with the growing importance of Eurobonds since the 1970s, it’s borrowing in Japan and in approaching wealthy oil exporting states like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait at the end of the 70s. The Bank’s lending grew slowly but steadily until the early 1960s (see Mason/Asher 1973: 192) and expanded threefold from the middle of the 1960s until the late 1970s (see Paarlberg/Lipton 1991: 478). While IDA lending in real average terms has been steadily growing since the decade of the 1970s (6.1$ billion) until the 2000s (10.6$ billion) IBRD lending expanded only during the 1980s and 1990s, being reduced in the 2000s to about the same real level as in the 1970s (16.6$ billion) (see Currey 2014: 6).

Having approximately 25$ billion at its disposal is one of the factors which make the World Bank the single most influential development institution besides bilateral aid. However, as many observers of the Bank have noticed, probably even more important is the Bank’s role in exporting a certain type of knowledge, for which the Bank’s resources certainly serve as an “amplifier”, as Mason and Asher observe (Mason/Asher 1973: 331). Kapur, Lewis and Webb assert that “admirers and critics of the World Bank commonly agree on a surprising view of the institution: the principal function of each loan is to serve as an ideological Trojan horse […] Both critic and admirer see loans as levers and packaging for the transmission of those ideas. […] we share this sense of the importance of the Bank’s nonfinancial role” (Kapur et.al. 1997a: 14). It is not so much the case that the World Bank itself produces new and groundbreaking approaches, but that the ideas and approaches which get taken up by the World Bank become “politically consequential“ and have a greater leverage to get institutionalized within a broader development discourse (Finnemore 1997: 208, see also Stern/Ferreira 1997). In addition the World Bank has a huge technical team and other professional staff (around 3000 people at the end of the 1990s) and a research budget of 25$ million outnumbering by far any university department on development economics (see Stern/Ferreira 1997: 524). Its publications, especially the World Development Report, are widely read and influential in the field of development (Gavin/Rodrick: 332, Marshall: 7).

Any analysis of different rural development doctrines and practices at the World Bank will necessarily have to take into account the Bank’s shifting approaches towards development in general, which affected its’ work on rural development. For the purpose of a broad overview the general approach towards development at the Bank can be divided into four different phases. (I) As has been mentioned, the Bank started out as a cautious lending institution focusing on funding the foreign exchange costs of specific overhead capital projects. This focus started to loosen under the presidency of George D. Woods (1963-68). (II) With the arrival of Robert McNamara as new president in 1968 an irrevocable expansion of lending and a new emphasis on social goals like poverty reduction together with an emphasis on rural development found their way into the World Bank (see Finnemore 1997, Milobsky/Galambos 1995). (III) In the early 1980s, part of a reaction to the Latin American Debt Crisis (starting in 1982), non-project related structural adjustment loans employed to influence macroeconomic policies appeared on the agenda, marking a new quality of loan conditionality and enforced economic restructuring of borrowing countries. (IV) Since the end of the 1990s there has been an ongoing debate about too strictly employed structural adjustment measures and a renewed emphasis on social aspects to be considered in the development process. This debate and what has come to be called the “post-Washington Consensus” is commonly associated with the work of Joseph Stiglitz and his critique of the IMF’s handling of the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997 (see Stiglitz 2000, 2002) on the one hand and his academic work on a new information-theoretic approach and its implications for development on the other (see Stiglitz 1998). Already since the late 1970s, but especially with the post-Washington Consensus and with the presidency of James Wolfensohn (1995-2005), there has also been a constant expansion and at least rhetorical inclusion of new social issues within the development agenda of the World Bank including a concern for women, the environment, indigenous communities, and participation.

The change in the Bank’s development approach towards poverty alleviation under McNamara has sometimes been described as a shift from being a bank towards being a development institution (see Kraske et al. 1996: 4, Galambos/Milobsky 1995: 187). Mason and Asher however rightly emphasize that it is mostly a change in the conception of development itself which explains the shift at the World Bank and not a different self-understanding of its employees or of the institution as such (Mason/Asher 1973: 479). The same holds true for later shifts within the Bank’s development doctrines and focusses. These changes in the Bank’s development approaches have to be analyzed in their relation to changing trends in academic hegemony, major trends in the international political economy, and shifting political balances of power to obtain a far-reaching understanding of the World Bank as an institution with its shifting missions.

This particular research will try to obtain such an understanding with a specific focus on the Bank’s rural development doctrines and approaches. So far the history of development has often been told and thought of as a history of industrialization, urbanization and modernization which has been criticized as “urban biased”. Within (Western) liberal and Marxist thinking for a long time it was a widely held belief, that peasants and a certain type of rurality which is usually associated with them, are characterized by premodern qualities and that they will disappear as a significant social group once all countries are on their way to modernize and industrialize, as has happened in large parts of Europe and the United States, where only approximately 3% of the population are still employed in agriculture. Eric Hobesbawm accordingly, in his account of the 20th century, asserts, that “the most dramatic and far-reaching social change of the second half of this century, and the one which cuts us off forever from the world of the past, is the death of the peasantry” (Hobesbawm 1994: 289). Hobesbawm realizes that the “death of the peasantry” didn’t actually happen everywhere, notably not in Sub-Saharan Africa, South and continental South-east Asia, and China, which make up half of the world’s population (ibid.: 291). But for him the further disappearance of the peasantry is just a matter of time and will occur “under the pressures of economic development” (ibid.: 291). There are some good reasons for Hobesbawm’s statement. Since the middle of the 20th century we can indeed observe in general an unprecedented reduction of peasants and more generally of people employed in agriculture and people living in rural areas compared to other times in human history. Twentieth century agriculture has witnessed enormous technological investments and biochemical interventions which would have overwhelmed classical economists of the 19th century like Ricardo and Malthus, who were worried about land rents and feeding a growing population.

However there are many good reasons not to subscribe too quickly to Hobesbawm’s assertion of the “death of the peasantry” and to actually focus analytically on rural areas and on the still significant part of countries and regions which maintained a rural and agrarian character at the beginning of the twentieth century. On the one hand even where peasants were disappearing and where fewer people worked and lived in rural areas this disappearance isn’t an automatic process, but a story worth to tell to understand the history of the second half of the 20th century and especially the history of development. On the other hand the persistent existence of peasants and of regions with a largely rural and agrarian character can’t easily be dismissed as premodern remnants. The highly uneven capitalist transformations of agriculture, rural relations and conditions that peasants face have to be an essential point in writing the history of development and its failures. Additionally debates about the inevitability of large-scale farm agriculture versus the viability of smaller family farming, being represented at the beginning of the 20th century by the rivalry between Karl Kautsky and Alexander Chayanov, are far from being settled at the beginning of the 21st century. Transnational and national peasant movements (like La Via Campesina and the Zapatistas), the demand for food sovereignty (see Rosset 2006), a new emphasis on sustainable agriculture, and small farm efficiency being increasingly recognized also by institutions like the World Bank (see Courville/Patel 2006: 6f.) indicate the importance of taking a closer look at rural areas which continue to be relevant.

Looking at the World Bank’s rural development doctrines and approaches more specifically is interesting for two different but related reasons. First of all for any assessment of development policies and approaches rural areas are pertinent because in 2010 still 78% of the people classified as poor lived in rural areas and 63% of them worked in agriculture (World Bank 2015: 6). Looking further back in time these numbers are even more significant. Understanding what has and hasn’t been already done in the field of rural development at the World Bank since 1946 can contribute significantly to current debates about rural development and attempts to reduce rural poverty. Second of all a focus on rural development can provide us with a specific angle to see the history of development and specifically the history of the Bank and its’ development missions in a different light. It is important to analyze the Bank’s rural development approaches in their relation to wider missions for development and to obtain a historical understanding of the Bank’s shifts between a lack and a renewed emphasis on rural development. The aim of this research is to use rural development as a specific lens through which to look at the World Bank. This promises to refract the history of the Bank’s development efforts and with it the history of development more generally in a special light to obtain a better understanding of what happened and didn’t happen to rural communities, which constitutes an important break with a history of development being told only from the perspective of industrialization and urbanization.

While there have been no extensive studies focused especially on the history of the Bank’s rural development doctrines and approaches some related work by other researchers, which shall be discussed now, has already been done to build upon. The general trends and shifts in the World Bank’s emphasis on rural development generally followed the larger trends in development approaches already described.

  1. Few agricultural/rural projects until the middle of the 1960s (mostly irrigation work, emphasis on irrigation also for diplomatic reasons eg Indus Water Basin), different reasons for that: Mason/Asher emphasize that agricultural development (except for large irrigation work) didn’t require foreign exchange costs + was thought of something the private sector should deal with, not state infrastructure, Pincus says lack of emphasis wasn’t anti-rural bias but choice to focus on what Bank was best equipped to do, establishing industries as a main goal vs Staples thinks Bank was following an approach of comparative advantage in which developing countries should focus on exporting primary resources and agricultural products just because they didn’t have explicit rural development approach doesn’t mean policies they developed during that time didn’t have an effect on rural communities + usually some implicit thinking about the role of agriculture
  2. With George Woods & IDA more rural/agricultural projects (external shifts described in Kapur etal 385ff. + break with some of the Bank’s orthodoxies)

    Many more work on rural development and also on research with McNamara during the 70s (Finnemore says choosing agriculture/rural dev was a result from established poverty focus, met organizational requirements to spend money for poverty reduction  contrast this view with some reasons for agriculture not just following from poverty focus…. It’s at least an open question)

    Paarlberg/Lipton on rural dev during McNamara’s time

  3. Shift towards structural adjustment: while Paarlberg/Lipton observe that funding for rural development lost ground one can also say with Pincus that perception of the priorities in rural development changed at the Bank: still quite a lot of funding but in sector adjustments, more attempts to “get the prices right” because Bank also followed certain aspects of the urban bias analysis  something which has to be looked at further
  4. New emphasis on rural/agricultural development e.g. WDR 2008, Market based agrarian reforms favoured and financed by Bank (see Rosset etal, case study of Sergio Sauer in Brazil)

The Existing Literature

An institution like the World Bank has aroused academic interest from various perspectives and academic disciplines. The World Bank has been an important institution for debates and research about global governance and the connected debate about the (new) role and nature of international organizations (see Abbott/Snidal 2001, Avant et.al. 2010, Cable 1999, Hawkins et.al. 2006, Murphy 2005, Whitman 2009). Most of the literature on global governance is however focused on understanding the nature of global governance and on how to conceptualize it. This literature is not about the World Bank as such. Several authors make frequent references to the World Bank, but these references focus on including the World Bank as an example within their more theoretically based account of global governance and are not concerned with a detailed understanding of the Bank as an institution (see Abbott/Snidal 2001: 19f., 25f., Avant et.al. 2010: 362f., Murphy 2005 throughout the book). When governance is explicitly discussed as financial global governance often the primary focus is furthermore on the IMF and not on the World Bank (see Cable 1999 and the IMF related contributions in Hawkins et.al. 2006). Remarkable exceptions to this general tendency are for example the analyses by Ngaire Woods and by Rainer Tetzlaff which provide focused studies of the World Bank and the IMF contributing to debates about global governance (see Woods 2006, Tetzlaff xxxx, xxxx). The specific historical analysis underlying many accounts of global governance is complicated for historians and for a historical analysis of the World Bank. From a historic perspective and especially with a look at the two Bretton Woods institutions global governance doesn’t appear as something radically new, emerging just with the 1980s. On the other hand the emphasis on the newness of global governance can remind historians to consider major changes in the quality of this governance and the related shifts in global capitalism in their analysis.

Besides studies within the field of global governance political scientists and economists have also analyzed the World Bank with regards to all three perspectives of analysis in political sciences, concerning politics, polity and policy. Policy research has however by far outnumbered any concern with the Bank’s politics or polity.

Many research on the Bank’s politics is focused on an assessment of U.S. influence within the Bank (name some). A much more sophisticated analysis and attempt to understand the political process and the different aspects influencing it is provided by the already mentioned study of Ngaire Woods. She observes, that many recent studies on international relations don’t examine the political processes of decision-making and power in international financial institutions: “What these analyses do not focus on is how each institution does what it does” (Woods 2006: 12). Her attempt to examine the politics of the World Bank stresses the importance of the interplay of three actors: powerful (donor) countries, economists, and borrowing governments (ibid.: 4). Maybe say sth on how she understands their interplay (maybe with regards to one of her case studies).

There have also been some work and discussion on the World Bank’s polity. has also been a polity focused analysis of the World Bank as an institution (Gilbert/Vines 2000, You 2002). Some discussion on voting rights, more participation of developing countries…

The biggest focus of political scientists and authors from development studies has been on analyzing the World Bank’s policies. While the Bank’s policies are always mentioned and discussed, there are surprisingly few comprehensive studies about the overall development policies of the Bank which are not focused on a specific moment in time but try to give an overview of the changing policies. (chapter in Mason/Asher 1973, William Asher 1983, Stern/Ferreira 1997).

Additionally political scientists have analyzed the World Bank mainly with a focus on its policy (literature on human rights, social capital, political lending practices and choices,) (Abouharb/Cingranelli 2006, Bebbington etal 2004; Ponte 1995 Frey/Schneider 1986, Schoultz, Ayres, Fox 1997 and many more)

Furthermore: Policy research on specific policy tools and their evaluation

Some (but astonishingly little) on development doctrines at the Bank, discuss these, some are in general, some are also specifically focused on women, environment, indigenous communities etc. (gender/women: Bergeron 2003, Kardam 1997, Kuiper/Barker 2006, environment: Wade 1997, Nielson/Tierney 2003, indigenous communities: Davis 2002 (in Sieder 2002) participation: Bräutigam/Segarra 2007…)

Research on the relation with other political institutions (IMF, FAO…)

On literature about the World Bank viewed from economic discipline (mainly debate about necessary restructuring of WB policies, some claiming it has to expand private capital support, many debates on how to deal with Third World Debt the World Bank helped to create, Fine/Lapavitsas assessment of Stiglitz’ post Washington Consensus Bank and Development; also assessment of economic effects of WB policies)

  • both bodies of literature are important for xxx reasons but don’t provide historical perspective on changing policies etc. + are usually not concerned with rural development

The World Bank has also been an important focus of the critique of neoliberalism and of development more generally. While some critiques question the broader framework of development aid and the practices of the World Bank (Easterley 2006, Moyo xxx, Payer 1982) many critiques especially aim at the neoliberal turn at the World Bank with the implementation of structural adjustment loans and the closer alignment with the IMF (SAPRIN 2004, Peet 2004, Hammouda 2003). Authors advocating a general and radical critique of development policies and their embedded asymmetrical power relations have also made their argument with regards to the World Bank (especially Escobar 1995; also Danaher 1994, Ferguson).

Discuss the critique of the World Bank and what is important about it. Make an argument that for further critique it is important to have historical perspective and analysis of the World Bank + of it embedded in larger political economic trends which I will try to provide

With regard to a historical analysis of the World Bank the general ground has been already prepared by two historical studies commissioned by the World Bank: Mason and Asher’s historical account of the World Bank’s history which came out in 1973 and the two volume collection by Kapur, Lewis and Webb from 1997. (say something about these studies, they are important to build on, but as histories commissioned by the World Bank often provide a very detailed institutional historic account and little analysis + note: Kapur/Lewis/Webb difference in place rural/agricultural development gets in comparison to Mason/Asher is very telling)

There are also already in depth historical studies especially on the early periods of the World Bank (Staples, Schild). Institutional view on the privilege of infrastructure projects over social and program approach (Kedar, Alacevich), Also good articles covering certain aspects of history, Sharma, articles by Galambos/Milobsky, also many country studies (important for the reasons Kapur/Lewis/Webb mention, Bello, Kinley, Elison on Philippines, Bhambri 1980 on India, case studies in Kapur etal volII on South Korea, Mexico and Cote d’Ivoire)


  • World Bank Archive, Washington D.C.
  • World Bank Group Archives Holdings (contains primary sources from the World Bank archive which have been digitalized and made publicly accessible under the World Bank’s Policy on Access to Information from 2010)
  • Oral History Project of the World Bank (http://oralhistory.worldbank.org/content/about) (interviews conducted in 1961 by the Columbia Center for Oral History and interviews conducted since 1981, including the interviews for The World Bank. Its First Half Century by Kapur, Lewis, and Webb)
  • World Bank publications, reports and information which are publicly accessible (for example the World Development Report of 1982 and 2008 were specifically concerned with Agriculture and Development)
  • Archives and Libraries in Germany (to find some World Bank reports which are not publicly accessible + more secondary literature)
  • Archives: Politisches Archiv des Auswärtigen Amtes, Bundesarchiv in Koblenz
  • Libraries: Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik in Bonn,
  • (Archives in specific countries)
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