What is Development?: Theoretical & Conceptual Approaches

Development is a key thematic area of focus within the study of international affairs. Although I do not come from the background of ‘Development’, these theoretical and conceptual approaches are very familiar to an international relations researcher, like myself.  In fact, development theories reach deeper into the practicality of solving foundational issues which are commonly based on economic or social policies. According to Development Studies literature, such approaches in development consists of means, opportunities and substantive freedoms that bring human beings value. 

From here onward, this blog post will provide incorporation of relevant readings from Sumner and Tribe’s “International Development Studies” and Amartya Sen’s “Development as Freedom”. Sumner and Tribe define development as a continuously changing discipline categorized into three different outlooks: long term process of structural societal transformation, short-to-medium term outcome of desirable targets, and dominant ‘discourse’ of western modernity. Amartya Sen questions living long and having a good life as part of development. 

The commonly discussed topic within Development as Freedom considers basic freedoms including economic, political and civil freedom. By understanding the implications of substantive freedom, we are able to understand Development more closely. Then, we start to question, who are the actors involved in formulating solutions? How can we ensure inclusive and equal sustainability?

Both of these books introduce the readers to not just the conceptual idea of Development Studies (DS), but also the practicality and approaches to better understanding DS as a discipline. I found interesting the relationship between Development Studies and cross-disciplinary studies as shown by the Figure 3.2: Diagrammatic Presentation of cross-disciplinarily in Development Studies in Chapter 3. Of Sumner and Tribe’s book. By doing these type of cross-disciplinary research, we are able to get the full range of epistemological perspectives. 

The most relevant  insight I gained from this literature was the fact that many assumptions are made when doing Development Studies research. Therefore, DS is a mechanism that seeks the level of probability rather than certainty. This goes to show that development is a thematic area that requires careful attention in terms of recognizing the problem, knowing when and who and how to intervene, and understanding the underlying assumptions. There are some claims that will not conclude to absolute ‘closure’. Personally, this area of study will be quite interesting to me as I begin to propose my development project as a formulation so solutions for Development. My personal thoughts for the capstone project I am developing inquires upon a business proposal/plan with Inclusive Sustainability. I think that it will be important for me to recognize that my proposal will be an extension from such Development theories. All in all, in development research, the framework includes multiple cross-disciplinary elements (cultural, social, economic, and political), gathering upon insights from theoretical frameworks, and careful reflection for the specific assumption of the theories covered.