The Companion to Development Studies

1.1  The Third World, developing countries, the South, poor countries

In 2001 Tony Blair described Africaas a ‘scar on the consciousness of the world’. The Blair government pushed for increased aid spending, debt forgiveness and trade reform in attempt to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals. His attempts were rather overshadowed by other foreign policy goals. Today, we have made little headway in the challenge of eradicating poverty. Aid budgets stand at roughly 0.7% of GDP; many believe aid is not the answer (e.g. agricultural subsidies). It is a recent phenomena that we so freely talk about the problems of the developing world. For so long, the world was split into 3 groups and the Third Worldwas long ignored unless it provided opportunities for either the 1st or 2nd Worlds.

Following the Korean conflict, First and Third World terms were deployed to distinguishAmericafrom it’s Soviet enemies. This division of the world into geo-political districts allowed the implementation of development programs, aid assistance, volunteer groups, trade stimulation, academic exchanges and arm sales. Although tied by the label, theThird Worlddid not experience a common fate during this period. Latin America, due to its close vicinity to theUSand particularly following the 1959 Cuban Revolution, was particularly closely guarded and made to fall in line withFirst Worldinterests. Strategically important allies (e.g.Israel,Pakistan,South Korea) received significant financial and military assistance. The Soviet Union also wielded significant power, for exampleIndiagained significantly as great numbers were trained in Soviet Universities. Many members of theThird Worldjoined the Non-Alligned Movement (1961) and resisted the intensification of the Cold War. By the early 1970’s,NAMwas joined by the ‘Group of 77’ in the UN and the advocates of the New International Economic Order. The movement suffered unfortunate timing (Vietnam, oil crises and Watergate) and received little attention. Millions perished from inadequate living conditions as it seemed more attractive for politicians to spend on tanks than water supplies.

The UN-sponsored Brandt Commission reported on the state of the world in 1980 and 1983; it was significant in reporting a world divided by North-South lines. The report called on the North to recognise the interconnectedness of the planet and called for a more equitable global political economy. This period saw an intensification of super-power rivalry, following the Soviet invasion ofAfghanistanand theUSdecision to fund anti-Soviet forces in various locations. Then the world witnessed one of the most important periods in modern history – the crumbling of the Communist world, the end of the Cold War and the consequent wave of democratisation that came with it. Some called it the ‘end of history’, a triumphant victory for market-based capitalist democracy.

Despite the global advances following the fall of Communism, the prospects for many in the global South remained bleak. Debt cancellation and structural adjustment have aimed to improve living standard but have also enforced stringent measures such as privatisation which many see as neo-colonialism. There have however been significant improvements to living conditions of millions. Many believe allowing developing countries to trade freely and successfully in the global world economy to be the best way to eradicate poverty. The WTO therefore receives significant criticism for the trade barriers than block developing countries from accessing markets and the ridiculous subsidies to uncompetitive agricultural workers in the North. Currently the Global South faces profound disadvantages in the supporting its own interests in the WTO. It is important to also note the impact of Diaspora communities who’s finance is positively impacting living standards in their respective nations (e.g.London’s 500,000 West Africans who regularly send finance home).


1.8 Development and economic growth

The 1 billion globally who live in absolute poverty presents one of the great challenges to mankind at present. The standard of living of a population is usually measured in Gross Domestic Product per capita. This is usually reported in the nation’s own currency however to allow ease of comparison US dollars are usually used. To take account of distortions made through conversion to dollars, measures of poverty used by the World Bank reflect the purchasing power parity of the currency. An increase in GDP/person represents economic growth; this is not the same as growth in economic development (however there are links). The economic and social well-being of a nation is not represented by its growth in real income; development is a concept which embraces both economic objectives and variables as well as social objectives and values for which a society strives.

Denis Goulet explained 3 values that must be included in any definition of development:

  • Life sustenance: the provision of basic needs including housing, food, education etc.
  • Self-esteem: feelings of self-respect and independence, e.g. freedom from colonialism or foreign dominance.
  • Freedom: ability of people to determine their own destiny. Material prosperity can allow a person to flourish.

Amartya Sen also argued that economic growth was not an end in itself. Development should be judged by the expansion of people’s ‘entitlements’ and ‘capabilities’. Entitlements are defined as the ‘set of alternative commodity bundles that a person can command in a society using the totality of rights and opportunities that he or she faces’ – for most this depends on the ability to sell one’s own labour and the price of basic commodities. Unemployment is therefore crucial, as is access to state welfare and the distribution of resources across society.

Such work lead to the development of alternative measures to analyse economic and social development (e.g. the human poverty index or HPI). “Although GNP growth is absolutelt necessary to meet all essential human objectives, countries differ in the way that they translate growth into human development” UNDP’s Human Development Report. The UNDP’s Human Development Index is based on the following variables:

  • Life expectancy at birth
  • Educational attainment (based on literacy rates and % of population in education)
  • The standard of living (measured using real per capita income at PPP)

It is measured on a scale from 0 (being least developed) to 1 (most developed).

The UNDP’s human poverty index is based on 3 variables:

  • % population expected to live beyond 40
  • Adult literacy rate
  • Deprivation index (based on access to water and health services, as well as infant malnutrition levels).

The UNDP has calculated the cost of eradicating poverty across the world to no more than 0.3% of world GDP. It is political commitment and not financial resources that pose the real obstacle to ending poverty.

1.9 Development and social welfare/human rights

Critical Development Studies: discourses on development have become much more morally informed since the ‘80s to include issues of human rights, participation and democracy. Important to this shift has been the work of the UNDP to look at broader definitions of development and recognition that many of today’s world population lack the basic cornerstones of human development. For example, ‘rights-based development’ has gained strength mostly through rethinking and critiques of the dominant train of thought in development studies, neo-liberalism.

Rights & Development as separate concerns: support for human rights/wellbeing have always influenced decisions of governments in international institutions however it is only in recent years that these areas have been tied so closely tied to development. Debates on development were controlled by the traditional Western interpretation of the term and emphasised material prosperity.

Basic Needs Approach: by the 1960’s there was growing disillusionment with standard development practice and indicators used to measure it. Development began to represent a people-orientated, broader process that did not solely represent economic growth. Alternative approaches such as the Basic Needs Approach were viewed as critiques of past development/modernisation theory. BNA resulted in numerous programmes focused on households, covering aspects such as healthcare, education, agriculture etc.

Buying and selling welfare: BNA did little to raise the profile of international development on the global political agenda. The 1980’s are considered by many to be a step in the wrong direction for development policy. Neo-liberal policies became the only acceptable routes to increased living standards. Commodities (water, healthcare) which at the start of the decade were viewed as essential rights began to be traded and subject to the laws of the free-market.

In 1986 the UN adopted the UN Declaration on the Right to Development – this identified development as an inalienable human right. The 90’s saw a number of alternatives and critiques to previous development policy emerge, exhibiting criticism from all sides of the political spectrum. New measures such as the HDI, HPI and Gender Empowerment Measure were introduced to offer new insights. Development began to be perceived as a human right and freedom. It has come to stand for more than a specific indicator, but a broader, holistic approach to improving global living standards.

2.1 Theories, strategies and ideologies of development

The meaning of development since its establishment as a field in the 1940’s has changed over time, as has its practice in the field. Literature in the field has boomed, particularly post-1980’s. Development covers both theory and practice – or theories about how development occurs and real-life applications which put theory into practice.

A useful way to categorise development-thinking is through Hettne’s classification; there are:

  • Development theories: sets of logical principles concerning how development has occurred in the past and how it is likely to occur again. Either normative (what should happen) or positive (based on what has happened).
  • Development strategies: practical paths to development which may be pursued by international agencies, NGOs and community organisations. An attempt to change current situations to improve the problems facing decision-makers.
  • Development ideologies: different development agendas reflect varying goals and objectives reflecting various economic, social, cultural, ethical and moral influences.
Development thinking has evolved over time. Hettne drew attention to the ‘tendency of social science paradigms to accumulate rather than fade away. 

Here is a useful framework for considering development theories.

The diagram shows the divide between Normative and Positive theory, as well as between Economic and Holistic approaches.

The varying schools of theories can be classified as follows:

  1. Classical-traditional approach
  2. Historical-empirical approach
  3. Radical political economy-dependency approach
  4. Bottom-up and alternative approaches
Each approach to development is different and has gained the ascendancy in various periods. Plurality and contested views are part of every-day development thinking. 
“Theorising about development is therefore a never-ending task” – Hettne, 1995