Using critical reflection to question self and power in international development

Publication date

18 Mar 2020

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Unequal power relations exist between the global North and the global South, between those in need of ‘development’ and the development policymakers and practitioners who work with them in projects and programmes intending to meet their needs – and, less often, support those in need to challenge the underlying inequalities that create these inequities. These relations are a legacy of colonialism. Critical reflection offers a way of raising awareness and ‘outing’ inequality between development workers and the women and men seen as ‘beneficiaries’ of their initiatives. This article explores the use of critical reflection by a small group of women development practitioners with a background in social work. The members of the group were interviewed about their engagement with varying reflective practices while working in various global communities. In particular, participants commonly spoke of how critical reflection unsettled their sense of ‘expertise’ and encouraged increased questioning of both their perceived and real positions of power within development. The use of critical reflection also enabled an examination of language and biases within international development work. Through their critically reflective analyses of power, these women were able to negotiate and re-conceptualise their relationships with the local members of the communities in which they worked. The article concludes with a discussion on why development organisations should support practitioners with opportunities to engage in formalised organisational and individual reflection in their everyday work. The increased awareness created opens up the possibility to reform and revitalise development so it becomes a partnership involving mutual exchanges, solidarity, and respect.