What is Development?: Theoretical and Conceptual Approaches

Development can be described in three different ways according to authors Andy Sumner and Michael Tribe in their book International Development Studies. Development can either be a long-term process of structural transformation, a short-to-medium term outcome of targets, or a western discourse. In addition to this three-pronged definition of development, countless other scholars have weighed in and created differing definitions in terms of other theoretical understandings. For example, Amartya Sen, in his book Development as Freedom, defines development as the expansion of five freedoms. Another example is in the well-know book Why Nations Fail written by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, where they describe development as inclusive political and economic institutions. There is a plethora of definitions and explanations as to what development truly is on a foundational and theoretical level, but this ever-changing definition seems to be relevant to whichever kind of development it is referring to. For instance, in the book Why Nations Fail, the authors discuss and compare the United States and the Mexican side of Nogales, Arizona. The disparity between the two allows us to realize and ponder that a lot must be taken into account when discussing the universal definition of development.

It is pertinent that we understand the many global crises that are affecting our world today in order to understand the many different forms of development. We must be able to look at the disparities between the different areas of Nogales and be able to analyze them for the sake of deciding which definition of development would be best suited for that particular problem. Another good example is the nutritional poverty trap and famine that Amartya Sen discusses in his book. He explains that famine is the result of a state’s economy and society, proving that food must be earned. This poses itself as a horrible, cyclical problem due to what is referred to as the nutritional poverty trap; a concept that states that because the poor are malnourished and unable acquire food as easily as some, they are unable to work as productively as they should and therefore leads to scarcity in income and other commodities that are necessary for a healthy life. It’s a vicious cycle of lack of resources and malnourishment that is very hard to break out of, and it affects a very large portion of the developing populations. This leads to the overall weakening of countless economies and therefore is seen as a very intense and relevant development issue.