The Linear Fallacy: Towards a Just Development Theory

Although much has changed since Rostow penned his linear development theory which has so marked modern theory of development, it is still seen as an intensely linear process; a transit from an undeveloped point A to a developed point B. This aggressive linearity does draw from history, but ignores the other half of the history such models describe: the colonies, slaves, and workers from which the supposedly inevitable course of development was built.

This matters for conceptions of development today, because in many ways that same linear conception of development can be seen in modern development efforts today. The assumption that there is a linear path to development ignores the hierarchies that still exist between the “developed” and “developing” world, where the developing countries provide raw materials, labor, and consumer markets to the developed states. No matter the ways in which the standard of living might be improved, without resolving the inequalities of the global economy, development will be a process without success, and states that are lower in the global economic hierarchy will not be able to meet the goals of development initiatives such as the SDGs.

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