Arturo Escobar (anthropologist)

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Arturo Escobar
Born 1952 (age 61–62)
Manizales, Colombia
Nationality Colombian, American
Occupation anthropologist

Arturo Escobar (born 1952) is a Colombian-American anthropologist primarily known for his contribution to postdevelopment theory and political ecology.


Escobar was born and grew up in Colombia.

He studied engineering and sciences during his undergraduate studies, completing a Bachelors of Science in Chemical Engineering from the University of Valle in Cali, Colombia in 1975. He then went on to do one year of biochemistry graduate studies at the Universidad del Valle Medical School. He subsequently traveled to the United States to earn a Master's Degree in Food Science and International Nutrition at Cornell University (which he completed in 1978). He then went on to do an interdisciplinary PhD at the University of California, Berkeley in Development Philosophy, Policy and Planning.[1] He completed his PhD in 1987.[2]

He has taught at universities mostly in the United States, but also in Colombia, Finland, Barcelona and England.[3]

He currently holds Colombian and American citizenship and publishes articles and books in English and Spanish.

Anthropological approach[edit]

Escobar's approach to anthropology is largely informed by the poststructuralist and postcolonialist traditions and centered around two recent developments: subaltern studies and the idea of a World Anthropologies Network (WAN). Escobar is Kenan Distinguished Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His research interests are related to political ecology; the anthropology of development, social movements; Latin American development and politics. Escobar's research uses critical techniques in his provocative analysis of development discourse and practice in general. He also explores possibilities for alternative visions for a postdevelopment era. He is a major figure in the post-development academic discourse, and a serious critic of development practices championed by western industrialized societies. According to Escobar, the problem with the development is that it is external, based on the model of the industrialized world, and what is needed instead are more "endogenous discourses".(Pieterse, 2010)

Development scholarship[edit]

Escobar's landmark study of development, titled Encountering Development: the making and unmaking of the third world attempts to trace the factors involved in the birth, dominance, and early fall of development. To accomplish this task, Escobar utilizes a set of analytical tools outlined by Foucault, referred to as discourse analysis. This set of analytical tools requires that development be thought of as cultural in ontological foundation, meaning that its nature be understood through examining the way in which linguistic structure and meaning shape thought and action, thus giving birth to a coordinated and coherent set of interventions, which Escobar labels the development apparatus. This approach marks a shift in the study of development from realist approaches to interpretivist, or post-structuralist approaches.

Through this method of analysis, Escobar theorizes that the development era was produced by a discursive construction contained in Truman's official representation of his administration's foreign policy. By referring to the three continents of South America, Africa, and Asia as underdeveloped, and in need of significant change to achieve progress, Truman set in motion a reorganization of bureaucracy around thinking and acting to systematically change the "third world". In addition to this, Escobar argues that Truman's discursive construction was infused with the imperatives of American social reproduction and imperial pretensions. As a result, the development apparatus functioned to support the consolidation of American hegemony.

The weakening of development, Escobar argues, is grounded in contemporary social movements who are challenging the discursive foundations of the development apparatus, thus opening spaces for a post-development era. Escobar encourages scholars to use ethnographic methods to further the post-development era by advancing the deconstructive creations initiated by contemporary social movements, but without claiming their universal applicability.


  • co-edited with Walter Mignolo. 2010. Globalization and the Decolonial Option London: Routledge.
  • 2008. Territories of Difference: Place, Movements, Life, Redes. Durham: Duke University Press.
  • Co-edited with Gustavo Lins Ribeiro. 2006. World Anthropologies: Disciplinary Transformations in Contexts of Power. Oxford: Berg.
  • Escobar A and Harcourt W. (eds) 2005 Women and the Politics of Place. Bloomfield, CT: Kumarian Press.
  • Co-edited with Jai Sen, Anita Anand, and Peter Waterman. 2004. The World Social Forum: Challenging Empires. Delhi: Viveka. German edition: Eine andere Welt Das Weltsozialfoum. Berlin: Karl Dietz Verlag, 2004.
  • Co-edited with Sonia Alvarez and Evelina Dagnino 2000. Cultures of Politics/Politics of Cultures: Revisioning Latin American Social Movements. Boulder: Westview Press. (Also published in Portuguese and Spanish). Portuguese edition: Cultura e Política nos Movimentos Sociais Latino-Americanos. Belo Horizonte: Editoria UFMG, 2000.
  • 1995. Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World (1995). Princeton: Princeton University Press. Best Book Award, New England Council of Latin American Studies, 1996. (In Spanish)1998. La invención del tercer mundo: Construcción y Deconstrucción del Desarrollo . Bogotá [Colombia]: Norma.
  • Co-edited with Sonia Alvarez. 1992. The Making of Social Movements in Latin America: Identity, Strategy, and Democracy. . Boulder: Westview Press.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Arturo Escobar Web Site. Retrieved on 2014-02-02.
  2. ^ Arturo Escobar, Kenan Distinguished Professor.
  3. ^ Arturo Escobar Web Site. Retrieved on 2014-02-02.

External links[edit]

  • Arturo Escobar's website
  • Batterbury, S.P.J and J.L. Fernando. 2004. Arturo Escobar. In P. Hubbard, R. Kitchin and G. Valentine (eds.) Key thinkers on space and place. London: Sage. 113–120.