In the fast-moving world of development policy, buzzwords play an important part in framing solutions. Today's development orthodoxies are captured in a seductive mix of such words, among which ‘participation’, ‘empowerment’ and ‘poverty reduction’ take a prominent place. This paper takes a critical look at how these three terms have come to be used in international development policy, exploring how different configurations of words frame and justify particular kinds of development interventions.
It analyses their use in the context of two contemporary development policy instruments, the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (prsps) and the Millennium Development Goals (mdgs). We show how words that once spoke of politics and power have come to be reconfigured in the service of today's one-size-fits-all development recipes, spun into an apoliticised form that everyone can agree with. As such, we contend, their use in development policy may offer little hope of the world free of poverty that they are used to evoke.