Development Theory and Actors

This blog post discusses the varying ways of defining development outlined by Sumner and Tribe, as well as Amartya Sen.

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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.

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Development Theory

While there is no clear definition of the term “development”, the majority of international relations courses I have taken have been spent studying development theories to analyze, critique and understand “development”. When first defining development, researches reached for GDP and economics as the method for determining what countries were considered developed and developing. Currently, the definition of development is altering as authors spend their careers researching a more accurate way to define the concept. One researcher who seriously impacted development theory is Amartya Sen.

Sen focused on the intersection between development and freedom, creating a new discourse that deviated from the economic and industrial based definitions of development. Sen’s work was extremely important for the field of development as the conclusions he presented made development a more intersectional field that highlighted the importance of human rights and social issues in development and that urbanization was not synonymous with development. Unlike numerous other development researches, Sen highlighted the importance of human well being in development and argued that economic development is linked to freedoms. Sen focuses on how societal arrangements, involving many institutions in a particular society, impact freedoms and how a broad view of freedom, that encompasses opportunities, is necessary.

I find an echoing between Sen’s research and what I envision for my capstone project. While I understand the importance of economics in international relations theory, particularly in development, my project is coming from a more humanitarian view of development. I’m using this idea of “overall freedoms to all people” and finding its intersection with the CRPD 8, focusing on raising awareness for people with developmental disabilities. Studying Sen’s Development as Freedom is extremely useful because his focus on opportunities as key to freedom is poignant to Article 8 of the CRPD, focusing on acceptance. My project is planning on focusing on ideologies and how ideologies are impactful to people with developmental disabilities. I feel raising awareness for people around the world with disabilities and promoting acceptance will lead to positive change in societies worldwide. Sen argues that capability deprivation is a better measure of poverty than low income and without awareness, numerous people with disabilities have opportunities stripped away from them. Poor education systems, poor working conditions and a lack of ability for social movement. The more awareness that is raised for people with disabilities, the more societal arrangements might be made for them and as Sen argued, these societal arrangements can lead to more freedoms. In order for a country to be more developed, all people need to have equal opportunities.

Development Theory

For this week’s readings, the term development was thoroughly analyzed. Historically, societies have looked at development as an economic term that translates to urban high rises, higher incomes, etc. Instead of considering “development” as an economic term, the authors associate it with freedoms. They describe development as the process of expanding individual freedoms or the real freedoms people can enjoy. This can be more access to healthy food, good education, water, internet, etc. These increased individuals freedoms are supposed to help improve the quality and, above all, the happiness of individuals in a country.

This new perspective of looking at development is very different compared to the way current governments see the term. When governments look at their economy, they look at economical metrics like Gross Domestic Product (GDP), income per capita, wealth, etc. Freedoms are not associated with measuring the current or potential state of a country’s economy. In their view, economies are already free and liberal to an extent because they allow individuals to make something out of themselves if they really wanted to. The readings show great examples that show that numbers do not capture the whole situation. For example, you can be technically richer in the U.S., but be in a worse living situation than someone in a poorer country. Other examples relating to African American completely astonished me. The fact that African Americans have lower survival rates than the average Chinese civilian is depressing and shows inequalities in the U.S. Relating development with freedoms gives a more holistic view because it shows the capabilities and advantages that people have.

People would assume that living in a very rich country like the United States would benefit people and be an advantage, but for the African American, it is not. As an immigrant, I have always thought that living in America is a privilege and that people of color are better off here. All these graphs show that I’m wrong.

Other sections of the reading discuss how institutions play a critical role in helping achieve more individual freedoms and happiness. Institutions that can make it better for individuals in society are public schools, better courts, etc. They are not described as tools that make it easier in a society, but as tools that give accessibilities to individuals so they can be stable and happy. Public schools and public health insurance do not have to be used for economic development that countries have always longed for, but for human development. If countries start putting individuals first and focus on human development, then the rest will follow. My question is though, how can governments focus on human development without first achieving economic development?

Sen’s Development Theory

Amartya Sen’s perspective on the importance of individual freedoms is more convincing than differing developmental theories.  In chapter two of his book Development as Freedom, Sen writes, “Development…is the process of expanding human freedoms, and the assessment of development has to be informed by this consideration” (1999, 36).  Sen (1999) explores the relationship between individual freedoms and development, as well as the ways in which freedom is both a fundamental component of development and an enabling springboard to other aspects.  Dominant views of development tend to revolve around GDP growth, industrialization, and technological advances.  Sen (1999) defies those models, highlighting three themes that I see emerge from his writing:  first, urbanization does not mean development; second, social welfare must come before economic growth; third, growth in the community means focusing on social and economic human rights.  Framed by these three themes, I argue that Sen’s focus on substantive human freedoms challenges other development theories, such as Modernization’s, idealized set of Eurocentric assumptions about what a developed society ought to include.  Continue reading

Development Theories

Summary: What is development? Definitions of development differ, but are all interrelated. Most people think of development as an economic process. Typically, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and wealth are equated to a country’s level of development. However, this standard erases cultural and spiritual richness from consideration. Countries with low GDPs are considered developing nations, but if cultural wealth were instead evaluated, these same countries may be considered the most developed. Development is a mix of every theory; there are no theories that include every aspect of the process. Continue reading

Development and Development Theory

Despite the ontology of development studies (DS) having an unclear definition and dependent on the disciplinary perspective one takes in engaging in DS, its cross-disciplinary, or the term I prefer, trans-disciplinary nature makes it a fascinating field to delve into. In my studies so far, I have engaged with grand theory in DS—primarily by critiquing purely economics-based theory as western ethnocentrism. As I am warming up to my capstone project and begin background research, however, I intend to grapple with context specific theory to understand how human trafficking of persons with disability can occur in a country which has ratified inclusive development treaties and been an active player advocating for human rights in the international community. Continue reading