Development is a contested concept, which has been conceptualized in many different ways throughout history in the international community. Sumner and Tribe argue that there are three discernable definitions of development: a process of change; short to medium-term outcome of desirable targets; and a “post-modernist” definition which views development as a social construct that does not not exist outside of discourse (Sumner and Tribe 2008).
Amartya Sen, in his book “Development as Freedom,” steered development away from a western approach and that the only way to think about development is economic growth or GDP- he argued that the economic component is not the only thing that matters. Sen defines “Development and Freedom” as the freedom to make decisions; countries with more freedom to make decisions are more developed (Sen 2000). Sen’s conceptualization is one that I gravitate towards the most, because there are so many different factors that play into freedom. Therefore, I believe that Sen’s conceptualization of development as freedom provides a better measurement of development than just looking at economic growth.
Amartya Sen argues that development can be seen as “a process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy,” which is a different view from many who see development in economic terms, such as the growth of GNP. He mentions the removal of “major sources of unfreedom” (Sen 2000) that development requires, such as poverty and tyranny, which say more about the development of a country because a country can be economically developed but still have oppressive governments. Sen’s argues that freedom is not only one of the main ends of development, but also one of its principal means. Therefore, the freer people are, the more they can contribute to the development of a society, because they will live longer and more productive lives.
The United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report, which was established in 1990, was influenced in part by Sen’s work. This report discussed a new framework of development: the ‘Human Development’ or ‘Capabilities Approach’ (Sumner and Tribe 2008). Sen focuses on the capabilities approach, which considers the opportunities or freedoms people have to exercise the agency to live a life they see as meaningful. The capabilities approach to development is one that I believe is essential to the grand challenge of inclusion of persons with disabilities, because persons with disabilities must be afforded the means and opportunities to live their life just as a person without disabilities does.
Sen, Amartya (2000). Development as freedom.
Sumner and Tribe (2008). International Development Studies.