Development Theory and Actors

Last week we discussed and read about development, its’ complicated definition and the different frameworks that we use to analyze it and implement development theory. How one defines international development is a contested topic by theorists and has evolved over time. International development once meant that “developed” countries such as the United States and Western European states would give aid to “underdeveloped” countries in Latin America and Africa. This definition focused completely on GDP and how those “underdeveloped” countries did not look like the so-called “developed” nations. Readings from Amartya Sen and Sumer and Tribe helped to paint the evolution of development theory and how we should be looking to “develop” moving forward.

Sumer and Tribe discussed how we define development using three frameworks that have traditionally been used for the term: historical, “the long-term practice of structural change,” policy, “short-to-medium term outcomes of desirable targets,” and postmodernist, which describes how developed nations use ‘development’ to keep ‘undeveloped’ nations under their wing.

Amartya Sen, an Indian economist and philosopher, revolutionized development theory with his book Development as Freedom. He struck down the idea that development should be centered around Gross Domestic Product and income per capital and the real income approach. Sen wanted development theorists to see that they were missing the main point of development: the individual.  He wrote, “development is the advancement of our lives and freedoms we enjoy,” whereas wealth only determines the quality of ones’ life. Sen articulates that the expansion of individual freedoms (political, economic facilities, social opportunity, and more) are what really contribute to development. He believes having choice and agency are what truly make a country or group developed.

Sen’s capabilities approach is the most useful for approaching modern development, in my opinion. He highlights the difference between equality and equality, which I think is incredibly important on a larger scale for international development, but also for approaching our class projects focused on disability. It is not enough to give the same thing to everyone, because different circumstances affect individuals, everyone must have equity of opportunity and choice, which is seldom offered to individuals with disabilities. For my project, I want to create a more inclusive sports-for-development afterschool program, so while considering how I am going to do that I want to think about equity and how I can offer students with disabilities the same opportunities as those without.