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Other highlights from the EADI General Conference in Bonn

This was the year to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes (EADI), which continues to be led by Isa Baud as president and Susanne von Itter heading the secretariat in Bonn.

The public face of many plenary sessions was largely shaped by economists still wedded to more conventional growth models. But the plurality present in the conference made room for other perspectives. Some panels and working sessions offered spaces for particularly interesting challenges and reflexive contributions to debates on how to reduce inequalities within and between countries and where to locate political and social alliances for change for the better.

In the process, the panel on "Tackling Inequality through 'Responsible Development'" ably moderated by Dirk Messner, Director of the German Development Institute (DIE) made perhaps the most thought-provoking contribution. Panelists covered a relatively broad range of research and practice that triggered lively engagement of the almost full plenary hall. Branko Milanovic of the City University of New York shared some unusual perspectives on income distribution. Peter Knorringa of the International Institute of Social Studies in the Netherlands summarised recent empirical research that new middle classes in China, India and Brazil seemed not to influence necessary negotiation of a new social contract to reduce inequalities, but also submitted that too little knowledge was available about these heterogeneous groups.

Joyeeta Gupta, Professor for Environment and Development in the Global South at the University of Amsterdam, made an passionate plea to use existing global treaties and processes to bring human civilisations back into tune with the regenerative capacities of the planet and reduce inequalities in the process. She had no advice for the new Chinese middle class but suggested middle classes in Europe and the US might want to go vegetarian to reduce the pressures on natural resources for food.

Pierre Jacquet, India-based President of the Global Development Network did not observe much awareness of Indian elites or the small middle class about global responsibilities, but cautioned against taking a too traditional perspective without engaging on equal footing with the many groups of actors across the globe. He was skeptical about fixing goals e.g. in the UN post 2015 agenda without a process on how to attain them.

Louka Katseli, of the University of Athens and former Greek Minister of Economy, Shipping and Competitiveness, did not see a fundamental difference between industrialised and developing countries as far as inequalities are concerned. She submitted that more attention needed to be paid in who set the agenda e.g. for social standards and how to come to grips with the fact that the disparity in capital and asset ownership concentrated in the hands of very few individuals and families had become again more important for inequality than labour income, except perhaps for financial and top industrial managers.

Concerns about rising political nationalism as lower middle classes in industrialised countries are stagnating or fearful of loss of social status were vividly felt in the debate, though few suggestions came up how to address them. The debate brought to light the significant gap between the aspirations for greater equality and what researchers were empirically observing. That gap certainly required substantially more research and action. Interestingly, sustainability in its different dimensions as a pathway towards "responsible development" played a minor role. Do we need broader views beyond the schools of economic thought to get new and robust insights?

Looking back on 40 years of work by EADI another panel vividly debated how the research agenda needs to evolve to remain relevant in a changing local and global context. Already established and new working groups under the roof of EADI are already taking up some of the challeges.

Look for more information about the 14th EADI General Conference at the specific conference website.