Reclaiming a 'plausible narrative of progress': Rorty, institutions of hope and the MDGs

Alastair Greig, Mark Turner

Research output: A Conference proceeding or a Chapter in BookConference contributionpeer-review


Hulme and Fukudu-Parr (2009, 30) have recently traced the institutional evolution of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as an 'international super-norm to eradicate extreme poverty as a global responsibility'. In this paper, we examine the broader historical and discursive context that provoked such an institutional shift. Following Rorty (1999, 232), we argue that by the 1990s a 'narrative of despair' prevailed in development theory and practice that led to an 'inability to construct a plausible narrative of progress'. The social hope that Rorty called for anticipated the MDGs, which we label an 'institution of hope', following Braithwaite (2004). The paper begins with a brief assessment of the post-war UN 'decades of development' before contextualising the political economy of despair that Rorty encountered. Rorty's critique of neo-liberalism and post-developmentalism is then described, the value of hope as a collective motivating emotion explained and the MDGs as an institution of hope justified. The paper then examines a range of critiques of the MDGs, both radical and conservative, and defends the teleological targets set by the UN Millennium Project through drawing on analogies from climate-change mitigation. We conclude by arguing that the MDGs have performed a valuable symbolic role in reinvigorating global concern with poverty eradication, even if the MDGs themselves remain only a 'plausible narrative of progress' (Rorty 1999, 232).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTASA 2010 Conference Proceedings:Social Causes, Private Lives
Place of PublicationAustralia
PublisherThe Australian Sociological Association
Number of pages13
ISBN (Print)9780646546285
Publication statusPublished - 2010
EventTASA 2010: Social Causes, Private Lives - Macquarie University, Department of Sociology, Sydney, Australia
Duration: 6 Dec 20109 Dec 2010


ConferenceTASA 2010: Social Causes, Private Lives


Dive into the research topics of 'Reclaiming a 'plausible narrative of progress': Rorty, institutions of hope and the MDGs'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this