Why we need to reconsider how knowledge and innovation are measured

Nadine Weheba

Knowledge and innovation have taken the lead as drivers of economic growth in developed countries and so there has been a growing interest by the international community to measure and assess progress in this area. Excited to embark on new research on alternative metrics of knowledge and innovation at A2K4D, the student of international development in me could not help but right away remember debates on how important it is to measure development from both a mainstream and more alternative perspective. How are existing measures of innovation and knowledge constructed and how useful are these in bringing about positive policy change or change through other channels? Why do we need to measure innovation and knowledge in the first place?

One particular method of measuring development is using indices. For example, the Human Development Index produced by UNDP since 1990 combines variables for life expectancy, literacy and enrollment rates together with GDP to produce a country ranking for ‘human development’.  Economist Martin Ravallion calls this type of index a ‘mashup’ According to Ravallion, a mashup is a composite index with an unusually large number of moving parts that the producer is essentially free to set. The research team producing a mashup index is at liberty to include any variables they see fit in measuring a particular phenomenon. Ravallion posits that while indices of the sort are attractive with their supposedly simple ranking of countries and their ability to combine multiple dimensions together into a single figure, what does it actually mean to rank number 1 on the HDI or any other mashup?

‘Mash up’ indices of knowledge and innovation

There is an endless amount of similar mashups for different aspects of development, ranging from gender inequality (Gender inequality Index) to indices that assess the business environment in different countries, most famously the Ease of Doing Business Index. Knowledge production and innovation are no exception. A quick Google search reveals a number of mashups that measure knowledge and innovation using a similar one size fits all approach. The most prominent index is the Knowledge Economy Index (KEI) based on the Knowledge Assessment Methodology (KAM) produced by the World Bank.

The Knowledge Assessment Methodology is based on the premise that since knowledge is increasingly becoming a key driver of economic growth, it is important to assess different countries’ “readiness for a knowledge economy’.” One hundred and forty eight variables are available to help identify areas of strength and others that require policy intervention. These variables are used to gauge the status of four particular areas identified by the KAM as ‘pillars of the knowledge economy’: appropriate economic policies and institutional frameworks conducive to knowledge creation and dissemination, a skilled and educated labor force, a supportive innovation system, and modern information and communications technology infrastructure.

The Knowledge Economy Index (KEI) is calculated based on a simple average of the score for each of the four pillars (scores are normalized and assigned a value between 0 and 1) of the knowledge economy, using a basic scorecard of 14 variables. The four sub-indices are: the Economic and Institution Regime Index, which includes variables such as tariff and non-tariff barriers, and regulatory quality; the Education Index includes average years of schooling and enrolment rates; the Innovation Index includes patents granted, and royalty payments and receipts; and the ICT Index consists of variables like Internet and computer penetration rates. As of 2012, the KEI included 146 countries, with Sweden ranking as the top knowledge economy and Myanmar at the bottom. The Knowledge Index (KI) does not differ much for the KEI, it only excludes the Economic and Institution Regime Index.

K indecesSource: Knowledge Economy Index (KEI) 2012 Rankings

Other prominent indices in the areas of knowledge and innovation include the Global Innovation Index. It is produced by the World Intellectual Property Organization, Cornell University and the European Institute for Business Administration at (INSEAD). Some organizations also produce their own rankings of innovation and knowledge such as the Bloomberg Innovation Index and the Open Knowledge Index.

The trouble with mash-up indices

Mashup indices like the KEI reflect a mainstream understanding of development, whereby pre-set models are used to explain economic phenomena and issues. A good example are the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) administered by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in the 1990s where a single dismal recipe of neoliberal reforms was enforced on a host of developing countries to “fix” their economies. In a similar manner, this understanding of development has resulted in the propagation of a single method and a uniform standard by which to judge all countries’ efforts in innovation and knowledge production. This reasoning is embodied in indices like the KEI. According to this conceptualization, all countries should strive to reach the state of development or knowledge production and innovation that ‘developed’ countries are at. Since these countries are leaders, all countries should try to reach the same standards by the same means. This top-down approach assumes a similar path of development.

Ravallion warned of the appeal of mash-up indices in the case of knowledge and innovation: the simplicity of the indices such as the KEI and their presentation through catchy, user-friendly websites like that of the Global Innovation Index may render them authorities in measuring knowledge and innovation. Ravallion raises a series of important questions with regards to indices of development: 1. What are we measuring 2. What are the trade-offs involved in the index and to what extent are variables weighted accurately (and what does this mean for the accuracy of rankings) and 3. How relevant or useful is the index for development policy?

What exactly are we trying to measure? This involves having a specific theoretical grounding and translating it into quantifiable variables. Ravallion lists some of the concerns with regards to this question for the HDI; whose proponents argue it is grounded in Amartya Sen’s capabilities approach. But the index uses GDP to measure what is essentially economic well-being. Well-being, according to the capabilities approach, is more about a set of beings and doings, capabilities to live a good life- such as being in good health. But, good health is not necessarily best reflected in life expectancy, where people may live longer but unhealthier lives. The point is that a lot, perhaps too much, gets lost in translation from theory to measurement.

Let’s take some of these questions to the KEI as an example and specifically the innovation sub-index.

What is meant by innovation in the KEI, and specifically the sub index of innovation? The variables used in the basic score card for this sub-index are: royalty payments and receipts, patent counts (applications granted by the United States Patent Office- USPTO) and scientific and technical journal articles, which are to be found mostly in Western scientific academic journals. The KEI is clearly based on a specific conceptualization of what constitutes knowledge and innovation, best suited to the case of more developed countries.  Another well-known definition of innovation is that of the Oslo manual. The manual defines innovation as the implementation of a new or significantly improved product (good or service), a new marketing method, a new organization method in business practices, be it workplace organization or external relations. There is no definition for knowledge per se. This definition is applied for all countries at different stages of development and indirectly makes a link between innovation and the market. As such, traditional knowledge and forms of innovation that do not necessarily reach formal markets may be overlooked.

It is unjust to judge developing countries’ progress with regards to knowledge production and innovation using the same criteria as countries at much later stages of development, especially in a current global regime of maximalist intellectual property. Joseph Stiglitz argues that it is not only a resources gap but also a knowledge gap that separates developed and developing countries. Ha-Joon Chang writes extensively on how international agreements such as the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) puts developing countries at a disadvantage by restricting the flow of necessary knowledge and technology from developed to developing countries. Chang gives historical evidence to highlight the importance of such flows of knowledge and technology in the industrialization of Britain in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and then continental Europe. Much of the transfer of technology and knowledge that enabled these countries to catch up took place outside the scope of the law.

In addition to the problematic proxies used for knowledge production and innovation in terms of the development divide, the KEI does not capture all types of innovation and knowledge production, such as, for example, traditional knowledge production in Africa. Fred Gault, a renowned reference on innovation, acknowledges that innovation takes place in different forms in developing countries, especially in the sites of the informal economy and in smaller size firms. Innovation also takes place in much more unfavorable conditions to those present in developed countries.

Ravallion then points out that it is important to consider the formula in place to determine what happens to the overall index when one variable changes compared to another, or the marginal rate of substitution between variables. The assignment of uniform weights to variables across countries is another point of concern. The reality is that the context in each country, especially in the heterogeneous group often labeled, as developing countries, is unique.  And so, having a fixed marginal rate of substitution between variables and fixed weights for all countries is clearly problematic. While Ravallion is referring to the equal 1/3 weighting of GDP, life expectancy and mean years of schooling in the HDI, the same logic applies to the KEI. The KEI is based on a simple average of the four sub-indices and there is no change in weights for different regions or countries. But how important a change in the regulatory environment or innovation ecosystem is may be very different depending on the country under study and that is not accounted for in most mashup indices.

The politics of measurements

Besides the issues mentioned above, another pertinent question is how useful is an index for policy making or for effecting change? Gault stresses that measurement should be a means towards encouraging public debate and policy change. Ravallion questions the usefulness of mashup indices on the grounds that they do not account for differences in the context of different countries. By context, Ravallion means “the many conditions that define the relevant constraints on country performance.” It is no surprise that most mashup indices, including the KEI, the HDI, the EDBI reflect the development divide, with countries like Switzerland, Sweden or Singapore topping the indices and countries in Sub Saharan Africa coming at the very bottom. But the indices do not tell us about how the countries performed despite the different constraints that they face.

For example, in the case of knowledge production, in Chapter 2 of the Arab Knowledge Report 2009, Nagla Rizk highlights key region-specific constraints on knowledge production that prevent the region from moving closer towards a knowledge society. These include political repression, constraints on creativity including censorship in its many forms and other constraints such as economic ones. Rizk also discusses aspects of what is necessary for an “enabling environment” in the Arab World with a particular focus on political but also economic freedoms. These issues are unique to the region and so indices that aim to assess the state of knowledge and innovation in the region would be more accurate if they take such issues into account. Gault provides an example of steps that have been taken to adopt a more bottom-up approach, such as the Bogota manual for measuring innovation, which adapts the Oslo manual for the conditions unique to Latin America and Caribbean countries.

In the case of the HDI, Ravallion also asks to what extent do indices actually lead to better policies? In other words do politicians need these indices to tell them what areas need support? He gives an example from India where Kerala, compared to other states with twice its GDP like Punjab, fares significantly better on both indicators of mortality and literacy. These differences have not resulted in significant policy changes to improve the situation compared to that in Kerala. Ravallion suggests that the reason for this is not a lack of information but a combination of socio-economic-political processes. In other words, this disparity is not because politicians in Punjab do not have the necessary information to design better policies but it is rather a reflection of conscious political decisions by those in power. In the case of Kerala, prioritizing education and literacy has been on the top of the political agenda.  For example, state spending on education in Kerala represents 38 percent of the state budget in 2014/2015.

Political priorities are not captured properly in the KAM or in any of the indices based on an apolitical view of development. While the KEI includes a number of indicators on governance such as rule of law and regulatory quality, none of these actually capture where government priorities are in terms of spending. The index does not capture the political reasons behind the government prioritizing particular sectors at the expense of education for example. In a world where the playing field is far from leveled between the developed and developing countries on all fronts, it matters even more where government spending goes amongst those trying to “catch up”. Is spending on education, health, and supporting research and development a priority? Or is spending on security or mega projects taking precedent? To what extent can a ranking on an index lead to a political decision to shift such priorities?

A2K as an alternative

Ravallion is not insinuating that mashup indices should be abandoned altogether, but rather that they need to be more clearly grounded in theory and need to better reflect contextual factors. This way they could potentially be more useful for policy making.

The status quo is one where a particular theoretical understanding of development and subsequently of knowledge and innovation dominates and guides the production of indices. A wider, more complex understanding of development that incorporates socioeconomic but also political processes and allows for more bottom up contribution is necessary.

The access to knowledge (A2K) paradigm promotes a more horizontal and democratic conceptualization of knowledge production and of innovation that resonates with more alternative views of development. It emphasizes the right to receive but also to participate in the creation, manipulation and extension of information, tools and inventions, literature, scholarship, art, popular media and other expressions of human inquiry and understanding. Within the A2K paradigm, development is understood in its wider sense and prioritizes human and social development. Rizk and Lea Shaver in Access to Knowledge in Egypt define A2K as a ‘demand for democratic participation and global inclusion and economic justice’ and so by nature it becomes political. It is a demand to participate fairly in the production of knowledge and innovation and for this to be better accounted for. As such the A2K paradigm offers a more nuanced understanding of both development and of knowledge, encompassing more forms of knowledge production and innovation through a lens that is better equipped to capture a more micro, bottom-up image of what is actually taking place on the ground.

From an A2K perspective, it is important to document the knowledge and innovation happening in developing countries, but going beyond the narrow definitions currently used by different indices or manuals. Empirical qualitative research such as case studies and interviews are essential in this regard. For example, the Open African Innovation Research and Training project (Open A.I.R), of which the Access to Knowledge for Development Center is the North African Hub, has done extensive empirical work surveying the knowledge and innovation coming from Africa that is not captured by the metrics used in the KEI. Qualitative, bottom up work, hence, allows for a nuanced understanding of the challenges and constraints each country or region faces and is thus likely to lead to more realistic and useful metrics of knowledge and innovation.

The impossible development: Buying access to knowledge

Fadila Noureldin

Diego Gomez’s career as a researcher took an unprecedented turn when he was charged with violating “economic and related rights” for sharing an academic paper online. Resembling the case of Aaron Swartz, Gomez has recently been sentenced to jail for up to eight years. Gomez is a Columbian graduate student of Conservation and Wildlife Management studying in Costa Rica who needed an article but could not have access to it. The article in question was a master’s thesis that was crucial in identifying a particularly scarce amphibian species under the scope of his study, which he had been examining for several years. The article was not only central to his research but to also that of his fellow students. After finding it online, he shared it on an academic website. Subsequently, the paper’s author sued him for violating his rights. Gomez proclaimed that the article had been shared on several sites before retrieving it; but the American author was able to charge Gomez as opposed to others who had performed the same “crime” due to a reformed criminal law implemented in accordance with a trade agreement between Columbia and the United States in 2006.

“Sharing is not a crime… We are not criminals for sharing knowledge, for researching, for contributing with our efforts for the conservation of our biodiversity and the growth of science in Colombia,” Gomez wrote on his blog on the 7th of July 2014.

The fact that seminal research in his field was not adequately provided confined Gomez to saving money to periodically travel within the region to access databases, museums and biological collections he needed for studies. He also often used the Internet to fill voids of content he was not provided with in Costa Rica’s academic institutions where he worked. Gomez’s story is a case of Darwinism where knowledge is commodified and hence rendered accessible only to those who can afford access to comprehensive and high-value databases, and who accordingly can progress in their research.

Insufficient funds allocated to books and world’s major bibliographic databases are common characteristics for third world academies particularly in public universities. Egypt as a landscape of a third world country and of the co-existence of both public and private universities is no exception.

Graduates of private and rich universities are often granted free access to the world’s elite academic journals and databases such as JSTOR, Taylor and Francis and Britannica alongside many others. The American University in Cairo (AUC) is among one of the few institutions in the Arab region, which buys access rights to digital databases. However, not many academic institutions in Egypt and the region have sufficient resources to do the same for their community, which curbs the potential of research and scholarship development. Some of the largest public universities, such as Cairo University, do not provide their communities with this access. And while the Egyptian University Libraries (EUL) consortium was established in 2005 as the first consortium of academic research in Egypt that serves 12 public universities through e-resources, it is a common feature that academic institutions do not have subscriptions to important journals.

Open Access (OA) becomes the alternative for access to major journals, databases and libraries. OA contributes to widening the dissemination of research, expanding on previous work and opening windows of opportunities. This is because of its potential in removing access barriers, reducing total costs, creating global scholarly communication and dissemination and reducing barriers of participation.

As an early-career researcher, OA journals have contributed the highest value-added impact to outputs I have worked on, specifically to the course of developing the theoretical framework for my MA thesis. OA journals such as the Official Journal of Arabian Research Society for Multidisciplinary Issues, Global Economics Journal and the International Journal of Economics and Management Services have contributed to the shaping of my scholarship. Meanwhile, there are myriad incidences of inability to access crucial articles for my scope of work due to subscription fees placed on articles or login credentials requirements.

But challenges to OA are multilayered.

While advocates of OA, like the Association of Research Libraries, argue that, “increasing the exposure of scientific research through OA will maximize the public benefit,” adversaries challenge the credibility, quality, and impact of OA publications. Editorial, peer-review and technical quality of OA production is often questioned by its challengers. “To become a scholarly publisher, all you need now is a computer, a website, and the ability to create unique journal titles,” wrote Jeffrey Beall, making inferences to questionable standards of content published through OA.

But scholars have extensively probed on measuring the impact of OA journals through several indices. Of most influence are the Citation Impact Factor and the Immediacy Index, which have been used as proxies to compare impacts of OA versus non-OA academic journals. Several studies focus on testing the impact advantage of the two types, directing analyses on comparing citation counts of OA and non-OA articles in the same non-OA journals, revealing significant advantages of OA. Also, recent studies by the Institute of Scientific Information (ISI) found that traditional subscription-based journals had the same citation impact factors as OA journals. BMC Medicine investigated the impact of OA on medicine-related research to address credibility and quality and found that OA journals are, “approaching the same scientific impact and quality as subscription in journals.”

The quality of the research aside, the economic factor is a dominant challenge to OA. Publishing houses not moving towards OA argue that providing free access to research outputs through several options such as the gold-open access model, which shifts financing costs from reader to writer, does not necessarily solve research and scholarship issues. For example, shifting financing costs from reader to writer creates potential disincentives for output production from knowledge producers. Yet, some argue that paying to publish in OA outlets helps popularize their knowledge outputs, which is an incentive to producers looking for further research opportunities and collaborations.

The few institutions that have worked towards the facilitation of research and scholarship, specifically in emerging and developing economies, include Bloomsbury Academic, Hindawi Publishing Corporation of the Middle East, and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). Institutions dedicated to such work mainly focus on promoting information and online resources that provide open access to the public, in addition to the commercially published resources they may produce. Bloomsbury Academic, similar to IFLA, utilizes licenses such as Creative Commons and Bloomsbury Open to publish selected research publications provided online for free in HTML formats. Hindawi is fully focused on publishing OA content in 437 peer-reviewed journals of multidisciplinary fields.

Access is evidently not disjointed from development. With Research and Development (R&D) playing a central role in driving productivity and fostering competitiveness in the global world, barriers to access often lead to R&D failures particularly in the third world, and accordingly attempts by above-mentioned institutions to avail resources partially fills a crucial gap.

Existing literature has had controversial stances on the relationship between R&D and economic growth and development – in the types, methods and channels of R&D that fuel growth. However, what is undisputed is the ability of research to widen, expand and constantly develop the scope of knowledge, potentially bringing forth cutting-edge growth opportunities.

Specifically in the Middle East, World Bank statistics have shown disappointing figures pertaining to the region’s expenditure on R&D. In 2007, Japan spent 3.4% of its GDP on R&D; the United States spent 2.7% followed by 1.8% in the United Kingdom. By contrast, the Middle East and North Africa’s expenditure in R&D were placed well below the world average of 1%, with Egypt spending 0.2% in 2007, Kuwait 0.1%, and Saudi Arabia decreasing its expenditure from 0.1% in 2004 to 0.0% in 2007. Why are these figures so low? A contributing factor may be how these governments set their budgetary priorities; but of equal importance, is the scarcity of research and scholarship in the region hampered by critical access to the means that make research possible.

The reason for this curbed development opportunity through hampered access lies in a broader malfunctioning management of the world’s most basic resource – knowledge.

Knowledge is identified as a global public good due to its non-rivalry and non-excludability attributes. Theoretically, one individual’s consumption of knowledge does not discount other agents’ consumption of it. Yet, the malfunctioning management of knowledge has shifted its nature to become closer to private good characteristics due to potential excludability. Because of possible appropriation of returns to knowledge by its producers, in his paper Knowledge as a Global Public Good, economist Joseph Stiglitz often refers to knowledge as an “impure” public good. He illustrates such appropriation by depicting the metallurgy industry, where firms in the industry commonly use trade secrets, limiting other competitors’ knowledge of the combination mixtures and alloys utilized for production. Stiglitz intently notes that as part of the patent process, inventors must disclose details of their production process.

Other than producer appropriating knowledge dissemination, knowledge is regularly commodified as it is turned into products sold in the market. With pricing mechanisms applied, supply and demand dynamics are enforced upon knowledge production. Knowledge production becomes a dependent function of market forces, where production is based on what will most likely sell more versus what is actually needed. This incorporates the false notion of scarcity by treating knowledge as a good that erodes with increased consumption, when this is not the case.

An outcome of commercializing knowledge as a commodity of applicable scarcity is the criminalization of knowledge sharing, through rigid copyright legislations, causing Aaron Swartz’s tragic windup and Gomez’s faltering fortune. The resulting manifestation is a conditional type of knowledge sharing; contingent upon upholding “economic and related rights” of knowledge producers and distributors. As the Internet’s Own Boy puts it,

“Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves.”

nolege is power: Rancière’s lesson in inequality

By Stefanie Felsberger

Seeing this picture of the tattoo “nolege is power” for the first time made me laugh. The message of the tattoo stood in such stark contrast with the fact that it was misspelt. But soon after I remembered a quote by Jacques Rancière in his book The Ignorant Schoolmaster where he argues that all intelligence is equal: “there are not two levels of intelligence, […] any human work of art is the practice of the same intellectual potential.” Instead of having laughed at the tattooed mistake I should have recognized its display as what it was: a lesson in inequality. Does the spelling mistake really make the quote that much less intelligent or meaningful? The correct spelling after all is nothing more than one of the tools ‘we’ – as it is explained to ‘us’ – have to acquire as academics, intellectuals, or educated people in order to be taken seriously. Essentially, it is a way of distinguishing between those who have been well educated and those who lack education, those whose minds are formed through pedagogical resources and those who have not had this experience.

Rancière refers to this distinction between different intelligences as a pedagogical myth. According to this myth, Rancière tells us, the only way to overcome the difference between a correctly spelt “knowledge” and wrongly spelt one is education and explanation. The ignorant mind (of the student) has to be guided, formed and moulded by the honed intelligence of the teacher. The teacher’s task is to disentangle a complex subject matter into smaller, simpler, better understandable elements of learning, which he transmits to the student – in “an ordered progression, from the most simple to the most complex.” However, Rancière postulates that explanation is not necessary to learn. Children learn by encountering a riddle, or a problem. They might stumble over random riddles and each child might learn different things at different times. Almost all teach themselves their mother tongue. He further cites the story of a class of students who taught themselves how to speak and write in French without a single grammar lesson. Through their own will to learn, they learned with the help of only a bilingual book in their mother tongue and French, and a teacher who could not explain a single thing as he was incapable of speaking their mother tongue. A teacher is hence not a pre-requisite to knowledge.

It is at school, in our encounter with the teacher, that we are made to abandon this natural way of acquiring knowledge. The teacher’s task is to make children understand and it is this very word ‘understand,’ which Rancière identifies as the culprit in dividing intelligence in two; the intelligence of an animal blindly stumbling over riddles and figuring out random things and those of a learned man, who is made to understand lesson by lesson, from the simple to the more complex. The fiction that people can seldom learn new things by themselves is created and reified by the very process of explication: by assuming his superiority over the student, the teacher creates the very inferiority his lessons are supposed to eliminate. This logic locks people into a state of dependency; instead of creating equality, it reinforces inequality. Rancière put it as such: “It is the explicant who needs the incapable and not the other way around; it is he who constitutes the incapable as such. To explain something to someone is first of all to show him he cannot understand it by himself.”

What further perpetuates this pedagogical myth is also a “temporal structure of delay:” the presumed inequality is described with terms pertaining to velocity – lagging behind, backwardness or ‘underdevelopedness.’ From this temporal distinction between developed and underdeveloped, formed and unformed, arises the need to elevate and educate those lagging behind. There is not only a need to teach but also the question of how to best educate the ignorant. Knowledge in its entirety is cut up in lessons and steps, so that the ignorant can be guided and progress on their path to knowledge, in Rancère’s words, “Progress is the new way of saying inequality.”

This construction of progress transcends the logic that lies behind institutionalized education: it applies to a broader societal dynamic between the uneducated masses and the intellectual elite. Progress means the perpetual effort of the elites to educate the masses and to reduce the inequality between them. At times, the progress mind-set extends to the most progressive of causes such as labour activism and revolutionary politics. As Rancière puts it, “All kinds of men of goodwill … were preoccupied with instructing the people: rulers wanted to elevate the people above their brutal appetites, revolutionaries wanted to lead them to the consciousness of their rights, progressives wished to narrow, through instruction, the gap between the classes.”

Much of this societal dynamic owes its presence to the world of the academy, which is also a site of critique by Rancière. Since the 1970s, academia and the social sciences it produces have increasingly sought to bring to light hidden discourses, structures, and powers which all prove the existence of inequality. While intending to do the opposite, the function of these inquisitive processes is to further marginalize the marginalized. Often these academic endeavours presuppose inequality, prove it and by doing so are bound to rediscover it over and over again.

These academic constructions leave their imprint on the work of international institutions built around the ideas of development and democratization: there, the myth of inequality dominates the relation between the developing and the developed world and is mediated and perpetuated in an institutionalized form. Through this institutionalized form, development agencies shape a more or less defined goal for all countries to reach the desired progress – liberal market-based democracy. But the path there is not definitive. Early arguments stipulate a so called cruel choice for populations in underdeveloped countries, where it is deemed impossible to both progress economically and to achieve democracy at the same time. The proponent of this notion is Seymour Martin Lipset who argues that countries had to focus on social and economic progress first, as they were prerequisites for stable democracies. He sums up his argument in this statement: “the more well-to-do a nation, the greater the chances that it will sustain democracy.” The argument is supported by a spread belief that a danger of focusing on democracy is found when elected governments take “economically correct and financially prudent but tough decisions,” which are not favoured by their electoral base but necessary for the economic future of the country. The argument is consolidated later by the success stories in South East Asia such as South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore, whose former prime minister said, “what a country needs to develop is discipline more than democracy” (Bhagwati 1995, 51).

But the experience from Eastern Europe which both advanced democratically and economically leads to a new paradigm, especially, after it becomes apparent that many countries, which have neglected democratic endeavours, also perform poorly in terms of economic growth and development. Suddenly, democracies become better at providing a more equal, transparent inclusive society, which is less prone to the extravagance of the rulers, especially those in pursuit of national projects undertaken mostly for prestige.

This is when the relationship between development and democracy is seen as less straightforward and the debate starts to shift towards good governance, the fight against corruption, and the need to establish the rule of law – all new lessons for developing nations to learn. Yet the shift in the debate remains incarcerated in a logic where developing countries need to learn as much as possible from developed countries in order to catch up.

Today, the traditional progress-locked debates continue to exit the doors of the academy to enter the realm of practice through international development agencies. Rancière’s “temporal structure of delay” is reinforced time and again, albeit under a different cloak: first, countries must learn how to progress economically, then, to establish democratic structures, and, finally, good governance must be guaranteed, corruption weeded out and the rule of law implemented.

Instead of making assumptions around societies’ underdevelopment and backwardness, Rancière elucidates us to imagining everyone sharing the same intellectual potential. If the assumption of an equality of intelligence is the starting point, there is no need to continue to look for inequality everywhere. Equality would be a presupposition and not a goal, a practice rather than something situated firmly in the unattainable future.