Development Theory as a Rubik’s Cube

Development as a whole is an area of study that has a diverse set of beliefs and assumptions. Nevertheless, “a common theme within most definitions is that ‘development’ encompasses ‘change’ in a variety of aspects of the human condition” (Sumner & Tribe, 2008, p. 10). What distinguishes the path to this goal is the theories and approaches used to get there. Additionally, what must be considered in development theory is where or not change is considered good or bad on both a short and long term timeline.

Sumner and Tribe identify a three-dimensional puzzle, similar to a Rubik’s cube that encompasses multiple facets of development. Understanding each aspect of this puzzle helps decipher that different views that one can hold on development and how best to approach it.Screen Shot 2019-09-02 at 11.54.14 AM

Starting with the focus of development which is what development is primarily concerned with accomplishing; it describes the setting in which change will occur. The three components of this dimension are development based on structural change, desirable, outcomes, and a dominant discourse on modernity (p.11). While there are different purposes of all of these focuses depending on the context, I think what is lacking in this representation is that a little bit of each focus should be incorporated in all development projects. This representation fails to consider this as a possibility, though for the sake of defining the different theoretical approach to development it is sufficient.

The next dimension of development is the purpose of development, which embodies the various uses of development studies. Instrumental meaning higher practical purposes such as policy development, while abstraction is more along the lines of pure theory and concepts (p. 36). Further, the purpose of development calls into question the ethics of development because as stated before a uniting goal of development is the betterment of individuals. This betterment could be jeopardized through harmful or even neutral acts exercised by researchers, academics, politician, and those considered outsiders that contribute to their personal gain, but do nothing in terms of substantial betterment in a community.

The last dimension is the approach to development; this is through a lens of insight (p. 36). Insight in this sense relates to other academic knowledge, such as policy, medicine, etc. The different approaches include multi-disciplinary, trans-disciplinary, and inter-disciplinary. The use of various disciplines is crucial for successful development work because an academic or a researcher may have the knowledge in the other two dimensions of development, but lack the contextual knowledge required for a certain development goal or project.

Moreover, the Rubik’s cube model provides a beneficial context the many aspects of development theory and how they can intersect. What is important to note is that in reality these aspects do not have to be as rigidly defined as they look, rather they operate on a fluid scale, creating space for many more perspectives to fall.