Majid Rahnema

Development Workshop worked with Dr. Majid Rahnema (1924–2015) on the transformation of his ideas into practice in the Seheleh Integrated Development Project in Luristan Iran in the 1970s. Dr. Rahnema, born in Tehran, was a globally respected educationalist and theoretician promoting the concept of endogenous or locally-driven development. His development approach grew out of collaboration with Paulo Freire and Ivan Illich.

Dr. Rahnema’s work focussed particularly on problems of poverty and production processes of poverty caused by the market economy. In 1971, he founded the Centre for Endogenous Development Studies in Iran. For several years the Centre focused on applying his concerns on poverty to the practical work undertaken by the Centre’s 'Selseleh Integrated Development Project' (SIDP). With a multi-disciplinary group of development workers in Luristan, Western Iran, the aim was to assist Luri nomads address the great difficulties they faced under the forced sedentarization under the Shah’s policies. DW co-founder Farokh Afshar, professor at the University of Guelph's School of Environmental Design and Rural Development, shared that after the revolution his Iranian students reported that the SID Project was considered by some in Iran as a model for the way rural Iran should develop (DW sources).

Development Workshop was invited by Dr. Rahnema’s team to join the SIDP in 1975 to take on the challenges of meeting the population’s needs for building and planning. This implied developing the population’s skills in the use of construction techniques adapted to their new conditions and resources. These focused particularly on creating public infrastructure including schools, hamams (public baths), materials’ production activities and energy supply in the Selseleh region over three years. DW subsequently joined Dr. Rahnema's  'Institute for Rural & Peasant Studies' in Tehran, to work on a detailed assessment of the “Indigenous building industry & resources” of the Caspian Region, seen as a model for the local resources and skills based development of settlements in Iran, and to work on defining policies for locally adapted earthquake resistant construction strategies in Iran based on local resources and skills.

Dr. Rahnema’s many activities in the so called ‘third world’ led him to reflect on development and particularly on poverty. He came to distinguish "poverty" (lifestyle based on moderation, which may be voluntary in terms of voluntary simplicity) from "misery" (lack of access to livelihood).The reflection of twenty years led to the publication of his book When Misery Hunts Poverty (2003). In this book, Majid summarized his approach:
‘The spread of widespread misery and poverty is an obviously unacceptable social scandal, especially in societies perfectly capable of avoiding it. And the visceral rebellion it provokes in us is quite understandable and justified. But it is not by increasing the power of the machine to create goods and hardware products that this scandal will end, because the machine put into operation this effect is the same one that consistently produces misery’.

Afrshar, Cain, Norton with Dr. Rahnema, Tehran 1976.

Profile based on DW resources and partially on, accessed July 2018.

References: Rahnema M, « Quand la misère chasse la pauvreté », Fayard/Actes Sud, 2003.

Profile photo courtesy Babello.