Development Theory and Actors: An Understanding of Development

The readings from this previous week delved into the first chapters of Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen and International Development Studies by Sumner and Tribe. Amartya gives an initial overview as to what freedom means in development and how current indicators value policies and individual well being. He discussed how evaluative purposes should be based on substantive freedoms that consider functionings and capabilities. Functionings are certain things a person may value doing or being, such as being free of disease. Capabilities are the combinations of those functionings feasible for a person to achieve, and that capability represents the freedom to achieve. Freedom has two parts: the processes that allow for it and the opportunities people have. You can define a more developed society based on how much access to these freedoms (health care, education, employment, etc.) a person has. The World Economic Forum published an article back in 2016 where the New Economics Foundation attempted to use five indicators to determine the UK’s development and economic growth. I found this article useful alongside Sen’s reading because it showed an attempt at a comprehensive report on how the country was doing, yet even then these five metrics were general and did not capture every aspect of what may be considered valuable. Considering this in context with how we currently view development and freedom through market means, Amartya does not disqualify the importance of market mechanisms, but he also highlights the need for public discussion and a comprehensive development framework that combines market use with developing social opportunities and a specific country’s experience. His interpretation on poverty was also a unique analysis in freedom because it is seen as a deprivation of basic capabilities if we are judging individual advantage based in terms of capabilities.

    Amarty Sen’s writing coincides with Sumner and Tribe, who analyze our understanding of development. They broke development down into three disciplines. The first is viewing it as a long term process of structural society transformation. The second is viewing it as a short-to-medium term outcome of desirable targets, such as with the Sustainable Development Goals that set a fifteen year time frame to try to accomplish seventeen goals, complete with targets and indicators. The final discipline is viewing it as a dominant discourse of western modernity. While development studies usually focus on the developing countries, that scope is widened to include what we consider developed countries and similarly considers indicators aside from GDP to include social dimensions. The UN Development Report established the Capabilities Approach — again going back to its founding by Amartya Sen — in 1990, which involves the means, opportunities, or substantive freedoms that permit the achievement of a set of functionings. By broadening the scope beyond development’s previous definition, stakeholders in development — government, civil society, and the private sector — can consider multi-disciplinary, holistic approaches that will consider the ethics in intervening in people’s lives and how they attempt to transform those lives and freedoms. It also calls for public discussion and participatory freedom to properly discuss valuations, inequalities, and development. This also pertains to our class on inclusive sustainable development because we cannot create policy without considering the parties impacted, such as those with disabilities.

    My previous development classes had studied Sen’s Capabilities Approach and eye-opening view on interpreting development. These first readings have reminded me of how abstract development can be because our outsider perspective on other countries yield different interpretations and the standard of development has also changed over time. There were also new approaches for me to consider, such as the unfreedoms and how the absence of unfreedoms can define a country as more developed. While the basis for how we viewed development worked for a time in an emerging market society, it has also discounted factors that should also be considered in development, such as mortality rates, illiteracy rates, employment, and other freedoms people ought to have control over. The full framework of development and its research needs to draw upon social, political, cultural, and economic components along with the theories in each of these areas.