Unit 6: Emerging Issues in development

Responding to this unit is a daunting prospect. In discussing and presenting ideas about emerging issues in development we committing ourselves to one day having these ideas heaved onto the scrap heap of developmental theories that lie in our wake?

Regardless of this danger, countries and communities across the globe continue to suffer gross poverty and inequality and so efforts must continue to alleviate them. By studying the history of development over the past half a century there are opportunities to learn from mistakes, identify good practice and put in place a vision for the future of development practices and theories. I don’t suppose for a second that we now hold all the answers and have little doubt that around this corner or the next a ‘new and improved’ theory for development will reveal itself. But it is reassuring to discover that current policy making is influenced by the past, that early theories continue to hold relevance for today’s efforts.

I found myself frequently pausing the lecture associated with this unit – not as in the first unit, to furiously scribble down notes in an attempt to untangle a web of alien vocabulary and ideas – but instead to pause for thought about the direction of development in the future.

The MDGs are by no means new but they do encompass some of the most prominent and current issues in development. The focus on human development has emerged as one of the biggest priorities. However it does not stand alone, the importance of politics has reassuringly re-emerged along with an appreciation that development is not one-dimensional. Coupled with the emphasis for human development there is recognition for the important role played by the market and government, what Tom refers to as ‘a multi dimensional approach to development’.

Comforting though this sounds there are still problems and undoubtedly more problems wait on the horizon. The MDGs for example are limited by thier fixation on quantifying development and producing measurable results. Adopting a supposedly people centred method also means having to employ a more flexible and experimental attitude towards how development in any given region will manifest itself. Accurate indicators cannot be expected for the intangible characteristics of well-being. I anticipate that the danger in this inability to quantify success will make policies less attractive for those who hold so much sway in international markets. Awkward topics risk being avoided, as Hulme argues, “When they challenge the interests of powerful groups or nations, they are removed from the agenda and/or their principles are compromised or assiduously avoided.” (2007). How this problem is to be addressed let alone resolved is indeed a challenge. Perhaps as these power shifts from one set of groups and nations to another, solutions will reveal themselves.

Change is certainly on our doorstep. Those who have been able to weather the most recent economic storm are emerging as influential and powerful engines for growth. Whilst the US remains a key player it no longer imparts such a massive impact on the rest of the world’s economies. I find it reassuring that with the growing powers in the East perceptions are shifting and what has previously been unquestionable in development policy is laid bare to scrutiny. No more blue prints – after all if poorer countries follow in the wake of richer countries then the 2008 economic crisis may appear a mere drop in the ocean compared with the catastrophic impact of a fully ‘westernised world’. How we will cope without the safety of ‘an integrated package of measures and outcome’ (Lehmann, 1997) remains to be seen. I have doubts about whether those working within the development field can easily shrug off the habit and comfort of designing solution-based programs. The idea of ‘going your own way’ and opening up to more experimental development practices leaves much uncertainty. The difficulty of measuring what will inevitably be a very diverse collection of recipes for development will be problematic and this I suspect will make them unappealing to those from whom investment is sought.


I am glad now that I ventured to propose, after unit 3, that good governance is too important a factor to disregard because of it’s openness to the risk of corruption and ulterior agendas. Along with new, globalized views on development comes an opportunity to reinvent and reinvest in governance.

Previous units have shown have governance was too often formed to co-inside with more developed countries ideology and agendas. David Booth sums up this deficit in good governance: “Programmes to improve governance continue to reflect what ministers and parliaments in donor countries will support, rather than a relevant body of knowledge and experience,”(2011). These are prescribed policies which many governments are incapable of implementing with any tangible effect.

Reading Unsworth’s ‘An Upside Down View of Governance’ puts forward the value of reassessing the use of governance in a manner that will support the new, multi dimensional approach to development:

“It focuses less on the destination – formal, rules-based democratic and market and institution – and more on the means of getting there, preferring an open-minded exploration of how elements of effective public authority are actually being created in a variety of ways,” (2010)

Democracy is a good example of something that was previously force fed to developing countries as a pre-requisite for development. Whilst democracy is generally regarded as a strong mechanism for growth in numerous directions it is no longer being prescribed as a remedy but more as a desirable outcome. There is greater regard shown for evidence that transferring models from OECD countries into strikingly different environments is ineffective.

My skepticism creeps in on much the same line as with the human development approach discussed above. Whilst new strategies for good governance are appealing to some, those who hold positions of power and heavily influence international decisions on development may be less keen to see an end to their own agenda. My hope is that whilst transparency and accountability continue to be highly valued, pressure will be sufficient to protect those who are most at risk from corruption or geo-political aims.

An end to grand theories; increased transparency; global communications and shifts in the economic centre of gravity are all key ingredients from which human development can emerge. Along with globalization has come an end to unquestionable elites in the development field, after all, ‘Corruption and waste prosper in dark places,” (Owen, 2001). With fewer places to hide development practice has had to reform. Previously all-powerful nations can no longer dictate the terms of aid policies, which, in turn, are increasingly giving way to development policies.  I feel especially optimistic in the recognition that development is an international responsibility. Policy coherence on issues of not just aid but agriculture, climate chance and politics lends itself to the increasingly smaller world in which we live.

The future of development is not comfortable. It demands efforts at objectivity and varying perspectives, there is some doubt about the human capacity to view things without the subjective influence of their nurture. My hope is that whilst it may be impossible to be completely objective it is at least within our means to listen more closely and pay greater respect to those who have relevant experience and expertise. There is call to disregard old labels and redundant approaches of best practice blue prints. A multi-dimensional approach will require a balance between political, human, environmental and economical aspects of policy making. This is not an easily balanced formula, however, as the failings of grand theories have shown they are the fundamental necessities to development.

Sources cited

Barder, O, (2011), ‘Eight Lessons from three years working on transparency’ http://www.owen.org/blog/4433

Booth, D. (2011), ‘Governance for Development in Afric: Building on what Works’. Africa Power and Politics, Policy Brief, no.1, April

Hulme, D, 2007, Human Development Meets Results-based Management in an Imperfect World, University of Manchester

http://capabilityapproach.com/pubs/Hulme07.pdf

Lehmann, D. (1997) An Opportunity Lost: Escobar’s Deconstruction of Development. Journal of Development Studies, 33(4)

Unsworth, S (2010), An Upside Down View of Governance. Bighton: Institue of Development Studies.

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Unit 4 – Post Development

By the end of the 80s development had begun to be viewed with a wary eye. Sachs decreed that development, “(I)s a concept of monumental emptiness, carrying a vaguely positive connotation,” (2010, p. x).

It came as no surprise to learn that a veil of disillusionment descended upon the field of development following the implementation, and subsequently disappointing results, of the Washington Consensus.  Scepticism was inevitable when it came to light that little had been achieved in half a century of development tactics. Inequality and poverty remained painfully apparent and now so too was the corruption of those who had their part to play in ensuring certain areas of the world continued to suffer the worse of it. There was also growing concern surrounding the environmental impact of development policies that advocated industrialisation. The detrimental impact on the environment as well as the increasing realisation that global industrialisation is non-sustainable all contributed to the emergence of the post development debate.

My surprise came when I realised that those advocating this ‘end of development’ appear to have done so relatively quietly compared with previous theorists. The voices of discontent were heard but they by no means blocked out the sound of expanding neo-liberalism. Post development ideas undermined traditionally western values of development. They turned the finger of blame for the failure of developmental policies on those creating policies not on the countries attempting to implement them. They undermined and discredited long standing views on modernization (ie Westernization) but most interestingly of all, here was a cry not for a new path for development but for a new attitude towards the meaning of development, if not an end to development altogether.  Here was, “A range of theoretical, cultural and political critiques that not only challenged the practice of development, but also the concept of development itself,” (Greig, Hulme and Turner, 2007, p. 211).

My reading of Sachs’ introduction to ‘The Development Dictionary’ highlighted the rise of globalisation, which had a dramatic impact on how we view development today. He puts development on a new playing field, no longer can a country be viewed as a separate entity, “The state was conventionally considered to be the main actor, and the national society the main target, of development planning,” (Sachs, 1992, p. vii). However, as globalisation emerged people’s attitudes, perspectives and ambitions altered. For instance Sachs argues that within this global arena emerging economies were seeking an increase in wealth but also ‘the desire for recognition and equity’. He made me stop and think about people’s perceptive within these emerging economies, was there a feeling that now it was their turn – the west had achieved it’s own version of success and now did they want a slice of the action? It brought to mind questions about why certain countries had been given a leg up on the development ladder. Given all this perhaps Sachs is right in stating that, “The ascendancy of China to the ranks of a world power is balm on the wounds inflicted during her two centuries of colonial humiliation,” (Sachs, 1992, p.viii).

He calls for ‘community and culture- based notions of well being’ to herald an era of post-development; but to achieve this would mean a radical change in how both richer and poorer countries view development. Sachs claims that it is the developing countries who are the strongest advocators for development as growth, a west is best ideal or as he puts it, “Countries in general do not aspire to become more ‘Indian’, more ‘Brazilian’ or for that matter more ‘Islamic’; instead, assertions to the contrary notwithstanding, they long to achieve industrial modernity,” (1992, p. ix). I find this stance that, “The mental space in which people dream and act is largely occupied today by Western imagery” (ibid. p. xviii), to be overly generalising to the point of being detrimental, nonetheless the failures and problems associated with the large-scale industrialisation need to be made more apparent to undermine the out-dated use of the west as a model for development. Until these issues are realised industrialisation can still be mistaken as the most desirable path towards wealth.

Many critiques emerged which sit within the post-development debate. I was particularly interested in reading the section titled, ‘The environment and neo-liberalism-’ in the chapter ‘Modernity, Development and their Discontents’. I suspect neo-liberalists are on shaky ground in their attempts to argue that economic growth does in fact support a sustainable future. For instance, “Competition with other firms, capitalist enterprises must constantly search for more productive and more efficient methods of production,” thus utilising less environmentally damaging production methods (Greig, Hulme and Turner, 2007, p. 188). Whilst I do not agree with this notion they did make me stop and think when I read about their sequence for development: “Economic growth first, then poverty alleviation, then environmental protection. In other words when the poor get wealthier, they can afford to take better care of the environment,” (ibid, p.189). That word ‘afford’ is what caught my eye. There is an edge of hypocrisy in insisting that development now has to be environmentally sustainable. I am not trying to suggest that protecting the environment is not a vital issue, merely that for those living at the lower end of the economic spectrum it is contradictory to expect them to uphold eco-friendly values when firstly they may be solely occupied with working to meet their most basic needs and secondly because nothing stood in the way of richer countries bulldozing their way into the industrial era. Perhaps they quite literally cannot ‘afford’ the time or resources it costs to be environmentally conscious. It is far easier to concern oneself with environmental issues from the comfort of a full stomach and a centrally heated office.

What I found most encouraging about the feminist attitude, as portrayed in the textbook, was the emphasis on transparency and understanding. Here, most vividly did I see a call for the consideration owed to the diversity of humanity and how this should impact our view of development. “They reject the idea that the western experience is a prototype that postcolonial women can follow. They are also wary of broad concepts that cluster women or other subject groups. Therefore, concepts such as class, ethnicity and even gender itself need to be analysed from the perspective of the culture in which they are embedded,” (2007, p. 205).

But how would these ideas work in practice? One of the biggest critiques of post-development is that it offers, “Little in the way of practical guidance to reducing poverty and overcoming oppression,” (2007, p. 210). It is arguably however that instead of its weakness this could be viewed as its strength. By not offering a quick fix, a well-paved path or a one-size fits all approach to development they open the door to policies which are sustainable and suitable for a particular country, region or culture. Realistically poorer countries are never going to ‘catch up’ with richer countries because the richer nations are simply moving ahead at too fast a pace. Instead policies need to be implemented which support and understand how a country is based able to develop.

Reading Lehmann’s review of Escobar’s ‘Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World’ raised interesting questions about the difficulty in defining what can be referred to as post-modernist since so many approaches can sit under it’s umbrella. Whilst Lehmann is scathing in his review of Escobar’s work he highlights important flaws in theories to date which are addressed under the mantle of post-development. For example, “The conception of development as an integrated package of measures and outcomes, orchestrated by a state apparatus…has become historically and intellectually obsolete,” (1997, p. 570). The common ground shared by the ideals set forth amongst post-development thinkers is the need to focus on sustainable, human development policies, which are specific to the needs and nature of the area. In my own experience the international delegates I meet through my work within an aid charity tend be specialised in one area of development, for instance they have gained vast experience of the challenges facing small rural communities which fall within certain parameters, or they are experts in the field of how malaria is affecting a specific region. They do not cover broad development topics; retrospectively I can see how this reflects some of the issues raised in the post development debate. They are attempting to hone their skills so they are relative, not to the masses but to the individual, learning how best to serve a community’s specific needs rather than implementing generic policies.

It is daunting to stop and think for a moment if the world in which you have lived will one day be seen as ‘a parenthesis in world history’ (Sachs, 1992, p. x). It is a depressing analysis of the twentieth century but there is truth in that we have developed in a way that is wholly ‘incompatible with the planet’. We hold aloft achievements born from massive industrialisation, urbanisation and capitalism even though we are aware at the back of our minds that not only is the clock is ticking on this way of life but that for as long as we strive to sustain it we lessen the chances of future generations inheriting a habitable planet.

This unit has left me hopefully. There are key elements that keep surfacing – such as transparency, sustainability and diversity. Perhaps the ‘end of development’ debate is a way of finally pointing out that the failure of developmental policies lie in the roots of our perceptions of development. “Delinking the desire for equity from economic growth and relinking it to community and culture-based notions of well-being will be the cornerstone of the post-development age.” (Sachs, 1992) Whilst I appreciate the critique that it does not offer a practical way forward – this, for me, is what holds most of its’ appeal. It does not claim to offer ‘a solution to every problem’ because these are relative to each, individual situation and so whilst it does not have all the answers it is at least asking the right questions.

Sources Cited

Greig, A., Hulme, D. and Turner, M (2007), Challenging Global Inequality: Development Theory and Practice in the 21st Century. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

Lehmann, D. (1997), An Opportunity Lost: Escobar’s Deconstruction of Development, Journal of Development Studies, 33:4

Sachs, W. (1992), The Development Dictionary: A Guide to Knowledge and Power, Zed Books, London

Unit 3 – Neo-Liberalism and Governance

The focus for this unit was Neo-Liberalism and governance.

Neo-liberalism


I had high hopes for neo-liberalism: a “counter-revolution in development policy,” (Toye, 1999, p.68). Following our discussions surrounding the drawbacks of modernization and dependency theories I was eager to discover what counter policies for development were brought to the table. I admit that upon learning about some of the origins for the dramatic and fast paced rise of neo-liberalism warning bells rang, causing me some feelings of trepidation:

–       the debt crisis of the1970s

–       a rise of conservatism in the USA and UK

–       rapid growth of some East Asian economies

These factors led me to question the motives behind neo-liberalism; was it a way of protecting the interests of western civilisation? A reactionary move to benefit the richer countries? Were these policies genuinely created in attempt to improve the development prospects of poorer countries?

Colcough’s (1991) some what damning explanation of neo-liberalism left me confused. It is understandable that development theorists were keen to distance themselves from advocating government-controlled markets. It comes as no surprise that a theory was developed which counter acted what had previously failed to act as a guide towards ‘good’ development.  The failures and limitations of modernization policies in anticipating economic growth through industrialisation without further investment in training and education or attention paid to the specific nature of a particular country called for a widening of perspectives with how development should be viewed. However the new premises for ‘fixing’ the damage done by modernization seem equally as short-sighted and in some cases extreme to the point of ludicrous.

Neo-liberalism attributed a lack of development as, “Mainly caused by excessive economic intervention by…governments,” (Colcough, 1991), further concluding that the solution, amongst other policies, was the withdrawal of government intervention in the economy. As Colcough and Toye (1999) point out, neo-liberalism simplified problems to the extreme, thus putting forward ‘overly-simplified’ solutions’ (Toye 1999, p.74). For instance it claims that, “All direct state actions to promote industrialization, (protection, licensing, reserved markets, subsidies to labour…state-led research and development) divert resources away from more ultimately profitable uses,” (Colcough, 1991, p.19). I would argue that government led initiatives in an economy are an essential component in development. Instead of removing this type of aid altogether I am more prone to agree with Toye, who instead calls for a rebalance between economic and human development to ensure that society is able to maximise their use of the market, otherwise as he indicates, “Physical capital accumulation can out-run people’s capacities to plan and manage its productive use,”(1999, p.82).

State intervention has not historically been viewed as detrimental to development. It was interesting to read about Japan as an example of successful state intervention, “Japan launched its development by setting up a series of government-owned industries but, as economic growth seeped up, it gradually sold them to the private sector”(Toye, 1999, p.79). Without the external agenda of wealthier countries Japan’s government was able to focus attention on finding their most beneficial process for development. This drew to mind what Moore discusses in ‘Political Underdevelopment’ (2001) about the harmful impact of relationships with richer countries and the negative consequences he attributes to international interventions.

Colcough left me questioning why neo-liberalism became so popular. It was my subsequent reading of Toye that illuminated the reasons behind neo-liberalism’s appeal; he highlights how the problems surrounding previous development initiatives were each allocated a solution under neo-liberalism. Previous policies had created states that were dependant on government intervention and the creation of false economic values, “One sees that entire sectors of economic activity in the Third World show a tendency for Third World countries to rely more heavily on public enterprises than non-third world countries do,” (Toye 1999, p.71). Price-fixing, tariffs and subsides led to a plethora of problems including high production costs, de-valued goods and corruption. Taking control away from government and allowing markets to dictate prices without state intervention does appear to have advantages. However I cannot help but place on onus on governments to protect it’s citizens from those who would exploit a free market. Some government intervention is essential: “A government that failed to regulate effectively (these) chronic abuses of the market system would be abandoning responsibility for the heath and safety of its citizens on a scale that would surely undermine its legitimacy,” (Toye, p. 87). It remains their responsibility to ensure that inequality does not rise further as those who succeed in a freer market generate more wealth and those who cannot access the market effectively become poorer?

Good Governance

There can be little doubt that a country needs to utilise aid and economic investment effectively; governments, societies, industries etc. need to ensure money and resources are used efficiently. As Toye explains, “Evidence of the wasteful use of physical capital in developing countries was not hard to come by;” without good governance countries find themselves equipped with unstaffed hospitals, roads that abruptly end and grandiose buildings that serve only to impress on an international stage (1999, p.72). As he goes on to point out, these errors do not justify a withdrawal of investment, merely a better use of it. Toye realistically states that, “A share of investment spending will always be wasted. But that does not imply that development will take place without a continuous attempt to invest productively,”(ibid p.84).

My initial reaction to the appearance of ‘good’ governance on the development stage was that is allowed blame for the failure of development policies to rest on the shoulders of the poorer countries by insisting it was not the policies that were at fault but the way in which a county was able to implement them. Put bluntly, it is because poorer countries are badly governed that the Washington Consensus failed to yield results. It was fascinating the read Moore’s examination of the relationships between developed and developing countries, it offers valuable insight into why ‘bad’ governance is more prevalent in developing countries. Whilst it is possible, as the ODI paper demonstrates, to formulate core principles of good governance, along the same vein it can be said that there are crucial elements which are viewed as ‘bad’ governance. There exists, “regimes that are both a) ineffective….and b) arbitrary, despotic and unaccountable,” (Moore, 2001, p. 386). Moore’s theory regarding why there exists more examples of ‘bad’ governance in poorer countries is not because it is, “Inherent in the culture or traditions of the people of poor countries nor a product of poverty” but because of their interactions and relationships with the rest of the world (ibid.).

In certain respects, as Leftwich (2000) highlights, good governance is a desirable, if not essential component to development. It is logical that a country, which practices good governance, will be in a better position to utilise aid and is less likely to exploit international donations. Problems begin to arise when complex questions need to be asked: What is ‘good’ governance? How is it implemented? How is it quantified? Here we return to the problems in unit one with definitions and measurements.

The way in which good governance is used as a condition for aid by the IFIs is loaded with contradictions. They are insisting that a country complies with, “Explicit political and institutional conditions to its aid,” (Leftwich, 2000, p.114) and yet as he goes on to point out, “They seldom paused to explore whether any or all these conditions were present in those societies where they were advocating good or at least improved governance,” (ibid, p. 117). The ODI paper, 2006 points out, “International donors engage with governance in ways to fit their own specific mandates,” (based on Hayden, Court and Mease, 2004) as oppose to a way which genuinely seeks to benefit a developing country.

Good governance is too important a concept to relinquish simply because it’s definitions are vulnerable to exploitation. Hayden, Court and Mease (2004) along with the ODI Briefing Paper (2006) offer hope by highlighting that there are certain aspect of governance which are agreed upon on almost a global scale; principles based on participation, fairness, decency, accountability, transparency and efficiency.  If the allocation for aid was an equation balanced upon these ideals, coupled with Grindle’s (2004) call for ‘Good Enough Governance’ then perhaps a model for development is within reach. Since good governance clearly has a vastly complex agenda and requisites, which are beyond the reach of even the most developed countries, it was refreshing to read Grindle’s ‘Good Enough Governance’. “Much can be done through research and strategic analysis to make the good governance agenda less overwhelming for poor countries…This kind of work can help sort out the essential from the less so.” What a country is already doing well, what it needs to prioritise and what it is able to realistically achieve given it’s circumstances are by far more effective measures for ‘good’ governance (Grindle, 2005).

My reading this week as left me feeling that the role of the government within the economic sphere remains vital. Reducing inequality, a key component in development, has to be, fundamentally, the role of the government. The private sector cannot be relied upon to concern themselves overly with issues of inequality, human rights etc as, to coin a phrase, it does not make ‘good business sense’. Without state intervention in the market a country loses the safety net, there to catch the most vulnerable members of its society – thus ensuring the pattern of the rich becoming richer and the poor becoming poorer. It is ironic to note that the countries advocating neo-liberalism bear witness to their own government’s regulations over certain aspects of the economy and yet uphold that state intervention is detrimental. An example of this can be seen in Bulgaria. Having worked in an orphanage there during the start of the tourism boom I witnessed how beneficial the boom was to those who could access the tourism market. There was a huge rise in property value along the eastern coast, tourist brought with them comparably huge amounts of money to invest in the economy. The richest members of society, those who owned property and businesses accumulated wealth. However with very little in the way of government legislation regarding wages, working conditions and regulations there was ample opportunity to exploit the more vulnerable members of society to maximise the profit of the few over the many. Similarly in the Lang Tang valley of Nepal, where I later taught, rural farmers are forced to lease properties off landlords whose land they also farm. There was no regulation on rental agreements, production or market value of the rice they grew. The poorest members of the community simply were not able to work their way out of poverty, often forced to hand over a vast percentage of their yield to subsidise rent – they were entrenched in a system in which only the powerful and wealthy thrived.

So many development initiatives appear motivated by a political or economic guise. For the richest countries to first claim that foreign economic investment is detrimental and then to further make aid conditional gives almost limitless justifications about how support for less developed countries is allocated.  “Although the World Bank and the IMF have considerable operational autonomy and are often independent sources of important development ideas, initiatives and policy, it remains the case that, politically, they are ultimately the creatures of their members and hence influences and fashions feed through from their members- and from the dominant ones in particular,” (Leftwich 2000, p.112). Learning about good governance only served to increase my disillusionment that western development theories are pre-occupied with generating policies which ensure their continued gain from relationships with less developed countries.

Development initiatives which are open wide to corruption and deception are inevitably doomed to failure. But rather than having ideas of how to improve upon the situation I am left wondering if human nature means development policies will always look out for the interest of those making the decisions first and foremost. While this pre-occupation with looking after number one exists I am left doubting the capacity of any theory to advocate real change. Sachs sums up the feature that all the development theories to date share, “They tell a common story: it did not work,” (1992).

Sources Cited

  • Colclough, C. (1991), Structuralism versus neo-liberalism-liberalism: an introduction, in State or Markets: Neo-liberalism and the Development Policy Debate, Colclough, C. Man, J. (eds) Clarendon Press, Oxford.
  • Toye, J (1999), Dilemmas of Development: Reflections on the Counter Revolution in Development Economics, Blackwell, Oxford and Cambridge.
  • Leftwich A. (2000), States of Development: On the Primary of Politics in Development, Polity Press, Cambridge.
  • ODI(2006), Governance, Development and Aid Effectiveness: a Quick Guide to Complex Relationships’, ODI Briefing Paper, March, Oversees Development Institute.
  • Moore, M. (2001), ‘Political Underdevelopment: What Causes “Bad Governance”, Public Management Review, vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 385-418
  • Grindle, M (2004), ‘Good Enough Governance: Poverty Reduction and Reform in Developing Countries;, Governance, vol.17, no.4 pp. 525-548

Unit One: Defining and measuring development

I chose to symbolise ‘development’ at the start of this unit by highlighting a link between Infant Mortality Rates (IMR) and the Global Distribution of Wealth. For me wealth and health were intrinsically linked with how ‘developed’ a country was.  As the unit progressed my understanding about how to define development have been challenged, extended and enhanced.

IMR by country: http://www.unicef.org/sowc03/tables/table1.html

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

The focus for this unit was ‘defining and measuring development.’

The term ‘development’ appears impossible to define – it seems to have an intangible quality, leaving me with the impression that no matter how hard we try to grasp it’s meaning it will remain beyond our reach. In fact the more attempts at defining the term I read the more I find myself torn. On the one side, not being able to land on a concrete definition seems apt as it reflects the subtleties and complexities of  ‘development’ as a process and of the world against which we are measuring it.  Or, perhaps it is as Cornwall points out, that ambiguity over the term ‘development’ and its lexicon is dangerous territory. She argues that having vague ‘buzzwords’ and terms to represent ‘development’ is detrimental as, “The work that these words do for development is to place the sanctity of its goals beyond reproach,”(Cornwall, p 472). Without an understanding of what development is or what it looks like how do we begin to measure it?

It seems easiest, as Thomas (2000) does, to define development in relation to other progresses such as capitalism, human rights and politics.

The relationship between development and capitalism seems inexhaustible. Perhaps it is so difficult to escape the temptation of measuring development according to economic growth is because the model for development is intrinsically linked with countries who value and advocate capitalism, i.e a

Western vision of development. “In a world dominated by advanced capitalist economics, all aspects of modern industrial society are elevated to represent the ideal of what development is trying to achieve.” (Thomas, 2000, p.30). However as Seers points out, “[F]ew if any of the rich countries appear to the outside world as really desirable models.” How the capitalist world is viewed by those whose existence is not fuelled by consumerism is something I would be interested in exploring in more depth. Seers goes on to point out the unlikelihood of a country being able to re-intact another countries development even if it’s state did appear desirable (1969, p.3). My reading of ‘Challenging Global Inequality’ put this idea in a new light for me. Firstly by pointing out the massive environmental impact of developing countries following a similar path to that of “the advanced capitalist world,” (2007, p.9). And secondly the question, “Do powerful actors maintain their dominance by undermining the development of subordinate nations?” (ibid, p.6). The idea that development needs to come from a redistribution of wealth (in more than monetary terms) as oppose to less developed countries ‘catching up’ is  a new and fascinating concept to me.

I also found it interesting to learn, as Thomas points out that alongside viewing capitalism as a model for development, democracy has often been seen as a vital ingredient in a country’s ‘successful’ development (2000, p.32). The ODI Briefing Paper points out that Nobel Economist Amartya Sen disagrees: “statistical studies give no real support to the claim that there is a general conflict between political rights and economic performance.’ (Sen 1999, cited in ODI Briefing Paper, Nov. 2001 p.3). Given the recent economic growth of some authoritarian states, including China democracy cannot be said, with much conviction, to be a vital component of development. I think the historical assumption that democracy is a pre-requisite for development reflects the ‘grand-theory’ approach to development outlined by Sumner and Tribe (2008).  Highlighting this formula draws attention to the pitfalls of focusing always on the ‘big picture’, of categorising development by Western history and Western standards – an approach which upholds a ‘one fit, fits all’ process.  As Sumner and Tribe state, “Modernization theories were criticized for their overriding belief in a linear, common path to development through economic growth and industrialization”(2008, p87). The ‘context specific’ theory approach to development would instead take into account the particulars of a situation. Tom’s explanation of the difference between these two types of theory in his lecture was what first led me to question my own assumptions about Global Distribution of Wealth being a reflection of development.

Having started to grasp the discrepancies and problems in attempting to formulate an absolute definition for development I am beginning to understand how views on development have advanced over the last half a century. At this juncture I turned my attentions from defining to measuring development. I found the ODI Briefing Paper written about ‘The Work of Amartya Sen’ very enlightening. Here was a formula by which development could be measured in a tangible and realistic fashion. What I thought most relevant to the train of thought I had been following was Sen’s move away from viewing ‘good’ development as maximising a country’s GDP per capita and instead focusing on a people’s centred approach (now apparent in the UNDP’s reports as the Human Development Index) or as Sen puts it, “The expansion of valuable capabilities and the realisation of freedom and human rights.” (1999, cited in ODI Breiding Paper, 2001, p1) The focus on ‘entitlements, ‘functioning’ and ‘freedoms’ are measurable aspects of development which I feel fall inline with the increasingly popular ‘context-specific’ approach. It was this article more than any other reading which clarified how development and economics are interlinked but that economics and capitalism are in no way the only, or even the best tools, with which to measure how ‘developed’ a country has become.

This unit has served as an eye-opener. Whilst I appreciate that a country’s economic state is linked with its developmental stage, hence my choice of symbol at the start of the unit, I am able to grasp the limitations in measuring development through GNP per capita. Whilst HDI appreciates the complexities of people’s capabilities and functioning; measuring development against “the things a person may value doing or being,” (ODI Briefing Paper, Nov 2001, p2) and their capacity to achieve these. For me this is a realisation I wish I had more understanding of two years ago when teaching in Nepal. In a remote village in the Langtang Valley families did not value the capitalist elements that have shaped life in the Western world. They hoped for the freedom to lead a life that upholds their values and allows for opportunities they deem important within their culture and frame of existence.

The bulk of reading, the alien terminology and complex nature of the contents made this unit a challenge. However it has allowed me to create a strong foundation for the remainder of the module. One of the key things I felt this unit imparted was the importance of taking a step back; the theory, language and processes surrounding development are very complex and taking time to pause for thought is crucial to avoid being drowned in the abstract elements of development. With this unit of learning behind me I hope to move forward with a broader view towards development. I hope to adopt a similar attitude to that which Tom mentioned in the lecture, that what development ‘looks like’ depends on who you are, where you are and how you are; or to put it more eloquently, “Where one stands on these issues depends on where one sits,” (Cornwall, 2007, p. 479).

Sources cited

Bellamy, C. (2000), The State of the World’s Children, UNICEF

Cornwall, A. (2007), ‘Buzzwords and fuzzwords: deconstructing development discourse’, in Development in Practice, Vol 17, no. 4, pp. 471 – 485.

Greig, A; Hulme, D and Turner, M (2007) Challenging Global Inequality: Development Theory and Practice in the 21st Century. Basingtoe: Palgrave Macmillan.

ODI (2001) Economic Theory, Freedom and Human Rights: The Work of Amartya Sen’, ODI Briefing Paper, November, Overseas Development Institute.

Seers, D. (1969), The Meaning of Development’, IDS Communication, no. 44, Institute of Development Studies.

Sumner, A and Tribe, M (2008), Chapter 4, International Development Studies: Theories and Methods of Research and Practice, London: Sage

Thomas, A. (2000), ‘Meaning and Views of Development’, in Poverty and Development into the 21st century, Allen, t; Thomas, A (eds), Oxford University Press, Oxford.