What 'Development' Does to Work

Benedetta Rossi

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This article introduces an Africa-focused special issue showing that the rise of development in its modern form coincided with the demise of the political legitimacy of forced labor. It argues that by mobilizing the idea of development, both colonial and independent African governments were able to continue recruiting unpaid (or underpaid) labor – relabeled as “voluntary participation,” “self-help,” or “human investment” – after the passing of the ILO’s Forced Labor Convention. This introduction consists of two parts: the first section summarizes the main findings of the contributions to the special issue. The second part advances preliminary considerations on the implications of these findings for our assessment of international development “aid.” The conclusion advocates that research on planned development focus not on developers-beneficiaries, but rather on employers-employees. Doing so opens up a renewed research agenda on the consequences of “aid” both for development workers (those formally employed by one of the many development institutions) and for so-called beneficiaries (those whose participation in development is represented as conducive to their own good).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Labor and Working-class History
Early online date10 Nov 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Nov 2017


  • labor
  • Africa
  • Development
  • slavery


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