Development Theory

What do we mean when we say that a person or a group or a country is better off? This complex question drove Amaryta Sen to write Development As Freedom, in which Sen tackles the issue of development. Unlike my fellow classmates, development was not an area that I focused on during my academic studies. As such, Development As Freedom was my introduction to development theory. Development is a multi-disciplinary field that is convoluted by a myriad of perspectives as to what constitutes development of a nation. Prior to Sen, development was largely measured by economic growth. This idea of development as a measure of economic prosperity is culminated in Why Nations Fail. In Why Nations Fail, Acemoglu and Robinson address development in regards to economic growth of a nation and the inclusivity of the institutions of a nation. However, in Development As Freedom, Sen challenges this predominate view by claiming that money is not a measure of all things. Instead, Sen argues that development is the process of expanding human freedoms. Sen focused on the concept of freedom, rather than the means to achieving freedom. He believes that freedoms are restricted by social, political, and economic opportunity. Sen asserts “development consists of the removal of various types of unfreedoms that leave people with little choice and the opportunity of exercising their reasoned agency.” Sen’s assertion led to a critical paradigm shift in the field of development that focuses on the expansion of individual freedom as the primary end and primary means of development.

In International Development Studies, Sumner and Tribe address the three inter-related views on development including: (1) the long-term process of structural change in the international system, (2) short to medium-term process, and (3) development as a discourse. Contextually, these inter-related views on development and the paradigm shift in the field of development brought about the discourse of inclusive sustainable development and more importantly, disability inclusive development. The idea of development as a means of expanding freedoms is especially challenging when viewed from the perspective of persons with disabilities. There are over one million individuals in our world that face a myriad of unfreedoms because of their disability. Inclusive sustainable development practices aim to tackle these unfreedoms. Specifically, efforts focused on disability inclusive development are culminated in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

Upon my introduction to development theory, the idea of freedom as the primary end and the primary means of development, was inspiring. Sen highlights the importance of freedoms that allow people to help themselves and influence the world; this inspired me to choose my capstone topic focused on disaster risk management at the community level. My capstone project, when viewed from a larger context, is an attempt to reduce the unfreedoms that communities face in building resilience to natural disaster. It highlights the importance of freedoms that allow communities to help themselves in the face of natural disaster.

Viewing development as a means to expand human freedoms is essential to achieving inclusive sustainable development.