Development Theory

Development is one of those international relations topics that can be viewed through a variety of lenses. Ultimately, development looks at change in the human condition, but this change can be observed, measured and explained in multiple ways (Sumner, Andrew, and Michael Tribe A. “What Is Development”). Some attempts at explaining the gap between developing and developed countries include the geography, culture and ignorance hypotheses, but these proposed explanations do not have much support and in general do not show a concrete connection to the problem (Acemoglu, Daron, and James Robinson A. “Theories That Don’t Work”). The most common view that most people tend to gravitate to when they hear the term development is the economic perspective of development. Under this approach, a country is seen as developed or not based on their economic and infrastructure capabilities. While this view has its merits and serves as a reasonable model for looking at development levels of countries, it leaves out a whole other set of factors that play a crucial road. Money alone does not determine or assure that a country is properly developed. Brazil, while not an extreme example, suffers from major economic inequality. The country itself is not poor, but the wealth of the nation is highly concentrated in the upper 1% of the population. Therefore, the majority of the country is still underdeveloped compared to the small pockets of success and the majority of the population does not have access to the resources and services of a developed country. So, is Brazil truly developed beyond just the economic perspective?

Others have noticed this gap in the economic view of development and among them is economist and philosopher Amartya Sen, who has truly re-conceptualized how we look at development and has taken a more holistic approach beyond just GDP. Amartya Sen’s work focuses on the quality of life of people and their substantive freedoms, because the way he see’s it, there are many limits to the material world (Sen, “The Perspective of Freedom”). Development as freedom is a capabilities approach that tries to ensure people have the freedom to make any choice and more importantly have access to these choices. This approach has gained a lot of momentum in the development field and it looks promising for the future. Personally, I used to tend to focus more on development as making sure societies had the necessary resources, but with time and especially after reading Amartya Sen’s work, I have grown to see how crucial it is that the sources also be equally accessible to everyone because that is the only way true development will take place.

One last thing I came across in the readings, which I have never put much thought into, is the issue of “over-development” (Sumner, Andrew, and Michael Tribe A. “What Is Development”). One always thinks of development as a positive thing, but it does not often cross people’s minds that too much of a good thing can be bad. I think now more than ever we are feeling the effects of over-development. Things such as obesity, terrorism and pandemics are very real challenges that are posing many issues to society. It is interesting to observe how today not only development is a focus but that now we have to also learn to handle issues of too much development, or at least find ways to counteract the problems that might arise from developing too quickly.