“If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about answers”: A wobbly moral compass for doing development under the new paradigm.  Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow. London: Vintage, 1973, p.251. (14733)
This brief exploration veers from reflection to practice and back again. It reflects on my involvement, as a consultant to multinational capital and multilateral organisations, and as what I hope is a critical development geographer, in a number of development projects in Papua New Guinea. This work typically sits at the nexus of received international wisdom (discourses around appropriate policy, global standards and best practice) and the local context in which these policies or projects are to be enacted or materialised. While this type of role can easily be critiqued as simply being one of ‘the handmaidens of capitalism’, of greasing the neoliberal wheels that make the contemporary world go around, this does seem to imply a complete lack of agency or self-reflexivity on my part.
I argue that critical development geographers can bring three key attributes to such practice and analysis. First, as geographers, we get the bigger picture. Second, we bring a geographical understanding of place as the site of multifaceted, socially-constructed, social, political, economic and environmental interactions and processes. We understand, then, both the global and the local (and all that fits and moves between them). This is often the reason why are our services are sought – why we make such good handmaidensJ. But thirdly, and crucially, this perspective also allows us to offer a level of critique and reflection that extends beyond what most other development practitioners can provide. So, as critical development geographers, we can bring an informed sensibility and political positioning that, while it can appreciate the polemic of various mainstream and radical positions, can also see the ways in which these are disrupted by nuance of the specific and the local, and offers spaces for other, more emancipatory practices and outcomes. One example of this is that we are in a position to work to disrupt, reshape or transform the discourses and questions which drive the kinds of work we get engaged to do in the first place. I conclude by offering some pointers based on my experience for how we can continue to bring a critical development geography perspective to the development practice we engage in.