Philipp H. Lepenies (Berlin): Art, Politics and Development. How linear perspective shaped policies in the western world


In his talk, that is based on his study Art, Politics, and Development (Temple University Press 2014), Philipp Lepenies contributes to the ongoing controversy about why the track record of development aid is so dismal. He asserts that development aid policies are grounded in a specific way of literally looking at the world. This “worldview” is the result of a mental conditioning that began with the invention of linear perspective in Renaissance art. It not only triggered the emergence of modern science and brought forth our Western notion of progress, but ultimately, development - and especially the often criticised behavioural patterns of foreign experts - as well.


Curriculum Vitae

Philipp Lepenies is currently a guest professor for social science at the Free University of Berlin. An economist by training, the studied at the Free University of Berlin and took a Master's degree in Development Studies at the London School of Economics before returning to the FU Berlin to do a PhD in development economics. After his doctorate, he became a development practitioner and worked as a project manager for Germany's development bank KFW in Frankfurt; being in charge of development projects in Asia and Latin America for over ten years. Parallely, he worked on his Habilitation in political science at the Goethe University with a study on the influence of linear perspective on the emergence of what he calls the development mindset. From 2011 onwards, he was project leader at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Potsdam. His research focuses on development theory and policy, but also on related social issues such as poverty and inequality as well as the political economy of statistics. Apart from his habilitation thesis, he recently published "Die Macht der einen Zahl. Eine politische Geschichte des Bruttoinlandsprodukts" with Suhrkamp (English translation to come out with Columbia University Press early 2016), edited Joseph Townsend's "Über die Armengesetzte", also with Suhrkamp and his book on poverty will come out with CH Beck next year as well. He was a fellow at the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study and is an associate member of the Exzellenzcluster Normative Orders at the University of Frankfurt.