What do we mean by development?

I’ve been thinking about that we actually mean by development, and came across this really good presentation on Slideshare which, I think, sums up the main issues and approaches commonly used to define development:

View more PowerPoints from Ecumene
According to Kurt Maton’s 2003 article Pierre Bourdieu and the epistemic conditions of social scientific knowledge, Bourdieu argued that there are three potential biases in knowledge claims: social origins of the researcher; the researcher’s position in the intellectual field; and viewing the world as a spectacle which in the figure below (Source: Maton 2003, p. 57) is expressed as the objectifying relation between the knower (in this case the external development actors) and the known (the development process or population).
In a nutshell, I think this aspect of ‘viewing the world as a spectacle’ is one of the reasons why I have a basic dislike of traditional definitions of development, covered in the presentation above. Many of these approaches and definitions are technical and fundamentally objectifying. In a different league is Amartya Sen’s definition of development in his book Development as freedom as:
..a process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy. Focusing on human freedoms contrasts with narrower views of development, such as identifying development with the growth of gross national product, or with the rise in personal incomes, or with industrialisation, or with technological advance, or with social modernization.

For me, my preferred definition is the one in the 2009 paper The New Enlightenment article by Sebastiao Ferreira, a Brazilian citizen living in Peru who I had the great pleasure of meeting at a conference in September 2011. He argues that:

Development is, most of all, the result of the synergy among millions of innovative initiatives people take everyday in their local societies, generating new and more effective ways of producing, trading, and managing their resources and their institutions. The work of policy makers and development agencies may contribute greatly to the success of those initiatives, may shape them, or may undermine those efforts.

This also relates to Robin Mansell’s vision of development in her 2010 publication Power and interests in developing knowledge societies: exogenous and endogenous discourses in contention which proposes the need for an endogenous, internally generated development as opposed to external, exogenous one:

…an endogenous model of development, one that focuses more directly on human beings and their resources and aspirations. The endogenous model is greatly overshadowed by the exogenous model in policy discourses. This has serious consequences – socially, culturally and economically – because the exogenous model (and indeed some versions of the endogenous model), cloaks the interests of investors in the global North‘ whose principal ambition is profits from the sale of digital technologies and the content that is hosted on or circulated through them.

One Response

  1. Nice overview Sarah. Is not always meant something ‘sustainable’ 🙂 when defining development? On another note I think ‘development as we know it’ has been MBA-ed and with that came the horizon shortening to three month (some donors use four- and six monthly reporting cycle). ‘Development’ has no major direction anymore. Informatization – and now datafycation – gives input for better market prices for farmers as well as it is a basis for malicious activities like drones and booby traps. Robins point is horrible: info-imperialism.

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