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Research article2023Peer reviewedOpen access

The sustainable development goals: A universalist promise for the future

Arora-Jonsson, Seema


The Sustainable Development Goals (Agenda 2030) have evoked optimism but have also been criticized for reproducing a universal template grounded in a western and neoliberal ideology. Identifying three strands of responses/critiques on the SDGs from a review of literature across several disciplines, I analyze what they have to say in the light of histories of past development work. I analyze how universalism is understood differently in different disciplinary approaches and how, despite its limitations, Agenda 2030 might provide a platform to meet current challenges across the world and a framework to talk across different geographies and disciplines. While a delinking from current development and global economic structures are needed for change, I explore how the SDGs can be used to redeploy development to change those very structures. I argue that decolonizing development calls for changing development structures from inside out as much as finding new ways of being outside it.


Sustainable development goals; Global governance; Indicators; Universalism; Development Critiques

Published in

2023, Volume: 146, article number: 103087

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Globalization Studies

    Publication identifier


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