Development Theory

My previous understanding of development has been rather limited because most of the discussions and research in my other development courses have been in reference to a states’ GDP and economic factors. I now know that development can actually mean much more, and I personally find Amartya Sen’s definition of development the most compelling.

Sen explains that human freedom is both the main object and the primary means of development. Therefore, development is seen as the expansion of everyone’s opportunities and freedoms. Sen realizes that development is a crucial element in determining people’s quality of life and not just state capacities (Development as Freedom).

At its core, Sen views development as the difference in what people can and can’t do – the freedoms they have versus those that they lack. People are greatly hindered by insufficient support and resources from their economic, political, and social institutions. Institutions also intersect and depend on one another, which means they impact those beyond their direct work. For example, it is the political institutions and their politics that determine what economic institutions a country has or doesn’t (Why Nations Fail). Vulnerable groups are then further marginalized when these institutions don’t meet their needs because their opportunities and prospects critically depend on whether these institutions exist and how they function. Moreover, people need the freedom of choice within institutional frameworks in order to have personal development within their state’s development.

The shift from the MDGs to the SDGs is so significant because it takes development beyond its predetermined economic relevance and incorporates it into political, social, and environmental institutions and indicators. As we move forward, smart cities are going to become particularly necessary in achieving true inclusive, sustainable development. This makes local and municipal leaders the main actors of development rather than just high-state officials. Development has to be rooted in local needs and innovation. From an international perspective, it is then important to determine and understand how these issues and actions permeate outward. Clearly, development is not just a term but a discourse as it is incorporates ideas and processes that shape real situations (Class). It is now up to us to reconsider how our previous notions of development have hindered true inclusivity and how we can use Sen’s definition of development to provide real opportunities with long-lasting impact throughout the world.