We all arrived with our own opinions on what ‘development’ was, possibly not realising that they all differed in some way. My thinking, which was quite common, was that ‘development’ is about making a positive change to disadvantaged people. Although this is somewhat valid I quickly realised after starting the course that it wasn’t that “tomorrow things will be better, or that more is necessarily better” as Rist (2007) found was a common modern assumption but that it means different things, both positive and negative, in different contexts and “depends on where and by whom it is used”(Rist, 2007, pp.485-491).
An issue that comes with defining ‘development’ is knowing when countries are ‘developed’ or ‘developing’ and comparing them. Each country has different priorities for development (Soubbotina and Sheram, 2000 pp.7-9) which may be focused towards economic, social, environmental or other changes. A country may achieve some social goals such as improved healthcare and therefore believe it is ‘more developed’ than another country which has not achieved these goals – thus viewing it as ‘less developed’. GDP and other income measures are often used to define and measure ‘development’ however HDI and other composite indexes may be better ways to define it as this takes into account quality of life and more data based statistics (Chang, 2010).
Recently, development is often viewed as making countries more westernised with many non-western countries being described as ‘underdeveloped’. Paget-Clarke (2005) interviewed Gustavo Esteva who talks about the arrival of President Truman who took away what he and the rest of his city believed to be normal by calling them ‘underdeveloped’ even though they had not seen a problem. This created a longing for more and “a fascination with the idea of development” (Paget-Clarke, 2005). This type of situation automatically creates a negative hierarchy.
This concept is also shown in the ActionAid (2015) video which highlights the fact that Westerners who are further up the perceived hierarchy take advantage of the land and other resources of more ‘undeveloped’ countries and thereby make them worse off. This enhances inequality and therefore makes the difference between ‘developed’ and ‘undeveloped’ even greater such that ‘development’ has a negative effect.
Andrew Mwenda (2007) talks about the ignorance of Western people due to lack of coverage by the media of the opportunities in Africa. The idea of development is used generally to cover the whole of Africa and rather ignorantly fails to see its potential. This does not accurately portray the real situation and is also applied to countries which are seen as ‘more developed’. The issues of poverty and inequality may be ignored as the whole country is seen as not needing help. This Unicef (n.d.) advert highlights such a naïve approach to development. It portrays the typical Western view of an ill African child and implies that all Westerners have enough money to help, which is not the case.
The dictionary definition of development is simply “growth, or changing from one condition to another” (Development: Encyclopedic entry, n.d.). However development has increasingly become connected to the idea of poverty and aid which has both positive and negative stigmas attached to it. A question that arises is ‘Can a country ever be developed?’. I believe the idea of development is ongoing and as technology and cultures change, countries will continue to develop. All countries have their own ideas of what ‘developed’ may so we should not enforce our Western opinions on others but instead ask for individual ideas of what is needed in a community, village, city or even country to achieve ‘development’.
ActionAid International (2015) The Rigged Game [Viewed Online – 02/10/16] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vy3nTrlgch8
Chang, H. (2009) Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark: How development has disappeared from today’s ‘development’ discourse. [Online – 02/10/16] http://hajoonchang.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/HamletwithoutthePrinceofDenmark-revised.pdf
Development: Encyclopedic entry (n.d.) [Online – 01/10/16] http://nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/development/
Mwenda, A. (2007) Aid for Africa [Video recording, TED, Online – 03/10/16] https://www.ted.com/talks/andrew_mwenda_takes_a_new_look_at_africa/transcript?language=en#t-995582
Paget-Clarke, N. (2005) Interview with Gustavo Esteva, The Society of the Different, Part 1: The Center of the World [Online – 30/09/16] http://www.inmotionmagazine.com/global/gest_int_1.html
Rist, G. (2007) Development as a Buzzword, Development in Practice pp485-491 [Online 01/10/16] https://www.jstor.org/stable/25548245?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
Soubbotina, T. with Sheram, K. (2000) Beyond Economic Growth, What is Development? pp7-9 [Online 30/09/16] http://www.worldbank.org/depweb/beyond/beyondco/beg_all.pdf
Unicef (n.d.) He’s starving. We’re not. [Photo, Online 03/10/16] http://www.unicef.org.uk/Latest/News/somalia-famine-update-august-18/