Development as transformation

DSC00236The quote below is about the nature of the development process, at least as it used to be understood. It is taken from an article in the March issue of the journal Development and Change, which provides a forum for the interdisciplinary discussion of current issues of development.

Here, development is seen as a process of transformation and the achievement of greater human well-being across a population, rather than simply poverty reduction by itself. Historically, the latter actually seems to have been achieved and sustained through socioeconomic change rather than narrow targets aiming just to reduce poverty.

This idea also has implications for applying notions of development to richer countries which, despite them having already made the transition to capitalism, are still undergoing a process of transformation, and are therefore in some ways still ‘developing’ socially and economically.

“Inherently multi-dimensional, before the 1980s and the ascendance of neoliberalism, development was understood as encompassing social and economic transformation. Inherent in the idea of development was a project of industrialization (and associated structural transformation of an economy), urbanization, transformations of social institutions and social relations, and improvements in human well-being…accumulation in the ‘modern sector’ allows for it to be taxed for the financing of education, health care and a range of public goods that enhance people’s well-being. Development goes beyond a quantitative increase in aggregate output, as important as that may be; its meaningfulness is to be found in the qualitative improvement in people’s well-being and how command over resources translates in to qualities of ‘doings’ and ‘beings’…[T]hese concerns about the ends of development are captured in the slogan of ‘a better life for all’. This was understood as applying to the full range of people within a territory: the expansion of opportunities and enhancement of quality of living. Development was not simply concerned with the relief of poverty. In the development process ‘structural and institutional factors were assigned a key role in the development process. In the initial phase of the field, the state was also assigned a large role in promoting development almost as a historical imperative’.

Jimi O. Adesina

One thought on “Development as transformation

  1. In my understanding, the old or classical (from my point of view) concept of development (the subject of courses in development studies) was the difference in wealth between LDCs (less developed countries) and industrialised countries. Why did this gap exist and how could it be closed? These were the fundamental questions around which further inquiries (into social, structural, institutional matters etc.) were organised.

    So one could argue both ways: “poverty reduction” was the main/organising theme, and, yes, at the same time, development studies encompassed broader issues as well, such as the plight of women – most of which themes being arguably closely related to poverty.

    What Nick writes is indubitably true: “…richer countries are … still ‘developing’ socially and economically…”

    It would be interesting to look for differing as well as converging patterns in the socio-economic development of LDCs and industrialised countries/regions today.

    Will LDCs pursue what used to be the path of the West and strengthen purposive/instrumental (Max) Weberian rationality, while the West experiences a sacralisation of society, with a new magical thinking becoming culturally dominant.

    Will there be a reversal of the “classic” juxtaposition: LDCs hampered by irrational beliefs, the West attaining high levels of wealth thanks to Weberian purposive rationality?

    Or will the Third World succumb to the eco-imperialism and deindustrialising ambition of the reactionary left?

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