Grassroots innovation in alternatives to development: a review


  • Erandi Maldonado-Villalpando Postgraduate studies in Geography, Center of Research in Environmetal Geography, UNAM
  • Jaime Paneque-Gálvez UNAM, Center of Research in Environmental Geography


Alternatives to development represent fairer forms of social, economic, and political organization, including environmental sustainability criteria as well. Many new outcomes are created during the design and everyday construction of alternatives to development (e.g., knowledge, practices, social relations, institutions). We may think, therefore, that innovation plays a key role in how such alternatives are imagined and materialized. However, the literature on alternatives to development does not appear to have focused much on innovation. In addition, there is academic literature on innovation that has coined and developed the concept of “grassroots innovation” to refer to innovation realized by grassroots groups. Yet, this literature does not seem to have focused on alternatives to development as innovation-rich spaces. Based on these observations, our objective in this paper is to analyze the potential role of grassroots innovation in alternatives to development, especially in contexts of the global South. To this end, we conducted a literature review along three axes: (1) grassroots innovation; (2) post-development and alternatives to development; and (3) Zapatism, an alternative to development in Mexico (in the last two axes we looked for direct or indirect references to grassroots innovation). Our results confirmed the previous observations. Nevertheless, we identified multiple and diverse innovative outcomes in the literature on post-development, alternatives to development and Zapatism, and altogether our findings suggest a very important role for grassroots innovation in these alternatives. Based on our review, we have provided a preliminary characterization of how grassroots innovations may look like and occur in alternatives to development (particularly in contexts of the global South). We emphasize the need to develop a theoretical-conceptual framework on grassroots innovation from the global South to improve its explanatory power given the diversity of existing alternatives to development. In addition, we call for more empirical studies that focus on identifying grassroots innovations and assessing their relevance to the design and everyday construction of alternatives to development.

Review Articles


2022-04-29 — Updated on 2022-05-06

How to Cite

Maldonado-Villalpando, E., & Paneque-Gálvez, J. (2022). Grassroots innovation in alternatives to development: a review. Nordia Geographical Publications, 51(2), 80–102.