Development theory is a difficult subject, because it is oftentimes purely subjective. It is a concept that’s difficult to define, in terms of what it is and where we draw the line of whether a country is developed or underdeveloped. Furthermore, the question of who gets the authority to make these decisions arises.
There are a lot of academic voices in this field, one being Amartya Sen. His piece called “Development as Freedom,” is one of the most well-known development theories. He explains that human rights and freedoms go hand in hand in the process of developing a country, and that freedoms are needed before any development will occur. His theories were considered controversial, because before Sen most development practitioners pushed the idea that economic stimulation was the right way to go about development. According to Sen, creating personal and human freedoms paves the way for development to thrive. More specifically, he says for development to happen we need to provide social and economic freedoms, and political and civil rights. In underdeveloped countries, missing freedoms that we see affecting the development process may include lack of representation in government for multiple voices to be heard, or lack of access to health care and education, for example. Furthermore, since all freedoms are generally interconnected, people must have the rights to basic freedoms if they also hope to gain civil and political rights like the aforementioned examples of health and education. A strong interconnected web of such freedoms can build each other up.
Sen argues that democratic governments speed up development because more voices are heard, so decisions are better informed and serve society in a more efficient and positive way. I believe Sen’s definition would be appreciated by the UN, especially in the current context of pushing for multistakeholderism and focusing on the intersectionality of development. Traditionally, development levels were measured by per capita income. The reason to look at many intersecting factors is because, while a family may earn more than the poverty line, the infrastructure someone is surrounded by that they use to access society may be lacking, which is half the battle of development.