Our guiding words, those powerful words that guide us, direct us, motivate us, matter a lot. Spoken words are not ethereal entities that are blown away by the wind, and even words imagined without being spoken have profound effects on our being. Words are but one of the elements of the body-physiology-mind-action complex in a medium that in its turn takes up history and expresses itself in space-time. There is no way to isolate it beyond compiling it in a dictionary. Each word charges meanings and signifiers that express the totality of our biopsychosocial-cultural character. We are in society, we are in history, we are in intersubjectivities.

By Rodrigo Arce Rojas

Thus, it is that for the last 70 years we have appealed to the word “development” as a central image to motivate us at all scales and in taking it on we have charged it with its whole family of words and phrases such as progress, modernisation, infinite growth, production, productivity, competitiveness, among other elegant linguistic relatives. Its FORCE and power is such, that we cannot conceive of any other way of life and we have dressed it up in such a way that we conceive that in the feast of life nothing would be possible without its omnipresence. Thus, we speak of local development, territorial development, endogenous development, human development, sustainable human development and even sustainable development. Then we think that we have reached the apogee of civilisational evolution and that it is no longer possible to think of any other form of development because the paradoxical combination of development and sustainability achieves the magic solution of integrating everything in a perfectly balanced and harmonious way.

Although there is no doubt about the good intentions with which the concept of sustainable development has been constructed or the great transforming actions that have been achieved, the sustained civilisational crisis that manifests itself in environmental crisis (or catastrophe), political crisis, social crisis, among other crises, shows us that we have not achieved the just and harmonious world we had dreamed of. So, it seems that the word development has been like an optical illusion in the desert that we see it but never reach, it is as if we were chasing the ghost of development (Kothari et al., 2019), always elusive, always evanescent. Development and its frantic bid as the only solution, called developmentalism, has led to so many bad developments that there are those who have expressed “if this is development, then I don’t want development” (Estermann, 2013).

Madness some will say, foolishness others will say, sacrilege will say the acolytes of neoliberalism or even the non-liberals and the most pragmatic will say total ignorance. But the underlying problem is that although many concepts have evolved, both in social and environmental terms, we are all aware that the persistence for infinite growth on a finite planet remains. We have changed many things, and many for the better, others not so much, but what we have not changed is the Style of Life, the way of producing, the way of transforming, the way of distributing and the way of consuming, consequently we are not going to the root of the current situation dominated by the forces of capital accumulation which are also considered to be substitutable. All this has led to total commodification, commodification of nature, commodification of politics, commodification of the thirst for spirituality, commodification of the body, commodification of education, among so many other commodifications that do nothing but express monetary reductionism. Are we not seeing that the environmental issue is reduced to putting prices on “nature’s goods and services”? Are we not witnessing the devaluation of the word “people” in the name of democracy and governance? Zygmunt Bauman (2000) has brilliantly described liquid modernity to refer to the liquid contexts we are currently experiencing in society, love and so many other human manifestations (liquid government, liquid congress, liquid politics, liquid politicians, liquid education…).

It is then that we realise that the time has come to rethink our guiding words. Post-development currents are formulating alternatives to development, such as the container concept of Buen Vivir, as an inspiration and aspiration to incorporate new guiding words, even though it is a process under construction.

What if our supreme motivation is respect for life in all its manifestations (human and non-human)? If this were so, we would do away with all expressions that separate humans from other humans and humans from other non-humans. Then we would not measure our progress solely in terms of economic income but in terms of objective and subjective conditions created for the exaltation, celebration and respect of all life.

What if the motivations of our guiding words would be all righteousness, social justice, economic justice, environmental justice, ecological justice, climate justice, water justice, cognitive or epistemic justice, linguistic justice, among other righteousness? Surely, we would be more concerned with harmonious integration and dialogue than with forced assimilation, domestication, unilateral homogenisation from the side of power, and generating opportunities for all. Surely ,we would think of the need to reconnect with our humanity and between humanity and nature, which we never separated but which we have divided for the sake of human interests.

What if the motivations of our guiding words were generated from affection of all kinds, affection for oneself, for society, for nature, for the cosmos? Surely, we would recover the universal value of love throughout the cosmos. From environmental affectivity, for example, we would rethink many of the actions that cause damage, deterioration, pollution. We would see the value of non-human life and non-human life intertwined by common origin. Then overcoming the extreme devotion of the rational to recover the integrality of being in society and in nature, from the complexity of socio-nature. Then it will be clearly understood when the scribe of immoderation expresses:

If the illogical becomes sweetness, if the senses implode and explode in feverish choreography, then the sun blooms in your soul.

How you fall in love when you pronounce the word “ecosocial” Poetics of the south that sings of symbiosis.

From so many meta-theories and metalanguages I found the metaphysics of your smile that intertwines the possible with the impossible.

When I see your smile, I realise, that there is no distinction between physics and metaphysics. There is only vibrant cosmic commotion.

Rodrigo Arce Rojas, PhD in Complex Thought from the Edgar Morín Real World Multidiversity of Mexico. Magister in Forest Resources Conservation by the Universidad Agraria La Molina, Peru.


Bauman, Z. (2000). Liquid Modernity. Epulibre.

Estermann, J. (2013). Crisis civilizatoria y Vivir Bien, Polis [Online], 33. Published 23 March 2013, accessed 11 March 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/polis/8476

Kothari, S., Salleh, A., Escobar, A., Demaria, F. and Acosta, A. (2019). Editors’ preface. In S. Kothari, A. Salleh, A. Escobar, F. Demaria and A. Acosta (Coords.), Pluriverso un diccionario del posdesarrollo (pp. 29-56). Barcelona: Icaria Editorial.