Development Theory

Development theory is an exceedingly important aspect of IR theory. Development theory explores what can be defined as development and why the concept of development is important to begin with. Predictably, the answer to the question, What can be defined as development? is not as simple as it may seem. In fact, the concept of development as a whole is often criticized because it seems to paint western society as an ideal should be striven for or as the pinnacle of what can be achieved from a society. According to people who subscribe to such an argument, the very term “developed” and therefore “development” alludes to some fixed point or measure that has been established by western society and ideals. However, beyond the critiques of the study of development as a whole, a complex debate on what constitutes development and how development can be achieved also exists. As with any debate of this magnitude, there are copious amounts of literature pertaining to development theory. This class explored primarily the work of Amartya Sen and the lens through which he perceives and discusses development.

As Amartya Sen explains in his book, “Development as Freedom,” he perceives development as, “… A process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy.” He goes on later to explain in his book that, “Development requires the removal of major sources of unfreedom: poverty as well as tyranny, poor economic opportunities as well as systematic social deprivation, neglect of public facilities as well as intolerance or over-activity of repressive states.” In short, Sen perceives development as access to real freedoms that can only exist when tyranny and poverty are eliminated. Sen’s perspectives on development have shaped how other scholars perceive development as well.

Understanding Sen’s definition of development, and the many other perspectives on development are essential to understanding the subject as whole. As is to be expected, perceptions of what development is and how it can be accomplish profoundly shape the approach that the international community takes to addressing the issue of development as a whole. During a time when many new international agreements and goals are emerging pertaining to development, it is more important than ever to fully understand what development means and the various scholarly opinions surrounding the subject. Only then can one formulate their own opinions on what are effective means to achieving development and what types of policies should be implemented.