Sen’s Development Theory

Amartya Sen’s perspective on the importance of individual freedoms is more convincing than differing developmental theories.  In chapter two of his book Development as Freedom, Sen writes, “Development…is the process of expanding human freedoms, and the assessment of development has to be informed by this consideration” (1999, 36).  Sen (1999) explores the relationship between individual freedoms and development, as well as the ways in which freedom is both a fundamental component of development and an enabling springboard to other aspects.  Dominant views of development tend to revolve around GDP growth, industrialization, and technological advances.  Sen (1999) defies those models, highlighting three themes that I see emerge from his writing:  first, urbanization does not mean development; second, social welfare must come before economic growth; third, growth in the community means focusing on social and economic human rights.  Framed by these three themes, I argue that Sen’s focus on substantive human freedoms challenges other development theories, such as Modernization’s, idealized set of Eurocentric assumptions about what a developed society ought to include. 

First, although Sen (1999) does not focus on urban or rural, he instructs that with the implementation of his five freedoms (political freedoms, economic facilities, social opportunities, transparency guarantees, and protective securities), citizens have the foundational structure established that will allow for growth regardless of the presence of urban infrastructure.  Sen (1999) emphasizes the centrality of human well-being in development and the crucial role that public policies play in successful efforts to improve the social welfare of developing societies.  In contrast, Modernization models of growth, presuppose all societies must pass through similar stages as they mature into industrialized, developed countries, not unlike the mid-twentieth century United States.  The idea of a developed society, based on Western experiences, is one of high mass consumption, that is politically liberal, and economically efficient.  This theory’s main goal was to convert “traditional” societies into urban, industrial consumers through education and technological advancements.  Through my capstone, I will combat Modernization theory’s views because an urban area, lacking in freedoms, is more underdeveloped than traditional societies that have freedoms put in place.

Secondly, Sen prioritizes the social welfare of the state before economic growth.  He believes that secure social well-being will lead to economic prosperity, which is in direct opposition to other development models.  Drawing from Sen’s (1999) argument, development should be defined by redesigning priorities away from the economic centered policies and more toward social services and increased freedoms.  Social support policies, such as the ones I will address in my project, should be prioritized first and serve as the catalyst for improved quality of life which will, in turn, lead to economic growth (Sen, 1999).  By shifting the point in which social services are implemented, Sen (1999) accounts for a multitude of paths toward development, unique to the society in which they are affecting.  As Sen’s (1999) work shows, societies cannot assume that economic growth will solely lead to improved freedoms.  Instead, that idea must be flipped on its head with instrumental freedoms being the facilitator for economic growth and development.  Access to these economic opportunities includes employment and the ability to support one’s self sustainably.  Sen notes, when discussing the importance of wealth distribution, that “How incomes generated are distributed will clearly make a difference” (1999, 39).  I will focus on these issues of inequality throughout my capstone.

Third, growth in the community means focusing on social and economic human rights.  Sen is one of the few theorists who discusses community involvement in growth.  Sen (1999) suggests that societies must take responsibility for education, health care, and other basic standards of living. Education for all is extremely important to curb illiteracy rates so individuals are more capable of participating in political activities and trade. Especially today, where the simple act of voting is commonly done on a digital screen, one must be able to read the directions and the ballot.  Health care and access to food ensures mortality rates are low and famines controlled. Food access is an imperative social and economic right.

In my opinion, Sen’s (1999) theory of development is most convincing because it puts human conditions and security before economic progress.  The three themes I took away from Sen’s argument, urbanization does not mean development, social welfare must come before economic growth, and growth means focusing on social and economic human rights, have shifted my perspective on the importance of community growth.  Development is not implemented from the top, but directly from individuals themselves.  To ensure positive and prosperous growth within a society, change needs to be initiated by citizens who have access to social support policies.  With the presence of individual freedoms, such as access to healthy food, comes the development of more increased freedoms which, as Sen (1999) argues, will result in the development of an improved society for all.