Development as service: A happiness, ubuntu and buen vivir interdisciplanary view of the sustainable development goals

Dorine van Norren

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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    A short introduction: A Happiness, Ubuntu and Buen Vivir interdisciplinary view of the Sustainable Development Goals.
    This thesis investigates whether ‘non-Western’ philosophical values that form part of ‘non-Western’ cultural heritage are well enough (or can be) integrated in the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the implementation thereof. Three case studies are used to substantiate the theoretical and conceptual approach. These are Ubuntu in South Africa, Buen Vivir in Ecuador and Gross National Happiness in Bhutan. Participation of other worldviews was nominally guaranteed through the negotiations around the SDGs, while the Millennium Development Goals were not negotiated by the UN member states, but formulated by the UN (originating from a proposal of the OECD) after the 2000 Millennium Declaration. It was based on a Western result-based management philosophy and addressed conventional development concerns (poverty, gender, education, diseases, environment and aid within a global partnership). The criticism on the lack of participation of the Global South in the MDG formulation led to a large scale consultation and negotiation process to formulate the SDGs. Not only do these take sustainability at the core, the new goals also now apply to ALL countries. The distinction between ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries is blurring and the SDGs call for a new narrative. However, the SDGs include minimal references to culture and development, diversity and (intangible) heritage protection.
    This study looks at well-being and sustainability from the indigenous philosophical angle, the legal structure and the jurisprudence built around it, the national policy implementation and international diplomacy propagating such values, specifically within the SDG negotiations. It presents a comparison between Ubuntu, Happiness and Buen Vivir (conceptually and in implementation). It questions to what extent global frameworks truly reflect universal aspirations. It is easily assumed that a (human) rights based framework is sufficient and ‘non-Western’ frameworks of thought are merely useful in context-specific application, thereby claiming an implicit hegemony of Western values in a globalized society. After all, ethics and values are the basis for the conceptualization of rights and for the meaning and place of economic development within people’s larger aspirations. Though used in the title of the thesis, it questions the use of the word ‘development’ as a value based concept that is not universal.
    Salient features of these ‘non-Western’ systems are: Reconciliation mechanisms under customary law, e.g. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa (while restorative justice is lacking in SDG 16); rights of nature and biocentric worldviews, e.g. in Ecuador and indigenous people perspectives (while the SDGs speaks of sustainable growth and sustainable use of natural resources);culture as fourth pillar of sustainable development, e.g. as incorporated in Bhutan’s GNH strategy as first pillar on which rests identity, dignity, development and sovereignty (while the SDGs lack a separate culture goal and contain minimal references in SDG 4.7: ‘(…) promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development’ and SDG 11.4: ‘safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage.’). It also looks at hybrid heritage cases whereby the distinction between culture and nature is blurring, as these are for many indigenous people interwoven.
    The thesis takes its title from the famous book of Nobel prize economist Amartya Sen ‘Development as Freedom’ (capability theory) which articulated a new narrative for economics as enabling people to realize their rights and live in
    freedom. It argues that this is not sufficient as it lacks the cardinal concepts of
    reciprocity, interconnection and service (mutual aid), core to the ‘non-Western’
    traditions described in the thesis.
    Concerning the relevance of this thesis, it should be mentioned that Chapter 3
    was published before the adoption of the SDGs in 2015 and formed a direct input in the kick-off of the consultations. Other contributions to the post-2015 debate can be found in the author’s Curriculum Vitae.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Laws
    Awarding Institution
    • Tilburg University
    • van Genugten, Willem, Promotor
    • Gupta, Joyeeta, Promotor, External person
    Award date18 Dec 2017
    Place of PublicationTilburg
    Publication statusPublished - 2017


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