In the last few years, Buen Vivir has been emerging in Andean countries as an indigenous perspective for development with the potential to be a real alternative to both mainstream and “alternative” development approaches in both theoretical and practical terms. Buen vivir (Good life), is a notion taken from the cosmology of indigenous peoples of the Andes of Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru. It is the Spanish translation of the Quechua concept Sumac kawsay and the Aymara concept Suma qamaña. This concept is a fundamental principle of many indigenous cosmologies and expresses a particular way to know (epistemology) and being (ontology) in the world. It presents the indigenous social organisation based on the idea of relationality among human beings and nature in a context of solidarity, communal economy and communal legality.
Has the word development been rendered meaningless through over-use, or does it still provide a useful discursive space within which to explore ideas about how our well-being can be improved? A short recent book by Esteva et al. (2013) reasserts the case for confining the term to history as a failed Western project. While they may struggle to predict the precise date of its demise, the authors do offer one for its birth: 20 January 1949, or the day of Harry Truman’s inaugural address as 33rd President of the USA, when he declared the country “pre-eminent among nations in the development of industrial and scientific techniques” and proposed a “bold new program for sharing these benefits “for the improvement and growth of underdeveloped areas” and for the people living there “…in conditions approaching misery.” The book argues that this project has mostly promoted Western interests, and perpetuated underdevelopment elsewhere. In so doing, it updates the ideas put forward in the Development Dictionary edited by Wolfgang Sachs in 1992, to which Esteva also contributed. It attacks advocates of the “social cancer” of neo-liberalism, and of state-led provision of basic needs with equal gusto; and adds global “ecological overshoot” to the catalogue of things that Truman’s vision of development can be blamed for.