What Is Development?

What is development?  Development as a word has come to mean many different things to different people.  Is development about wealth?  Is it about opportunities?  Equality?  Or is it just about happiness?

There are many different views on what development means, some positive and some negative.  Rist (2007) has a negative view on the term development and believes it is used to make people feel better.  Development is characterised by ‘wishful thinking’ (Rist, 2007 p.488).  Chambers believes that development can be defined as ‘good change’ (1997, p. 1744).  A more generalised view of the meaning of development can be seen in Glennie, Straw and Wild’s research into the British public’s opinion on development (2009).  They thought that people in less developed countries do not have ‘access to food, clean water, education or the ability to make informed choices’ (Glennie, Straw, Wild, 2009 p. 8).  The majority of people understand development to be about what is missing, thinking of development as being about statistics – how many people are starving, how many children don’t go to school.  Development should be about quality not quantity – improving quality of life, education and health.

People in developing countries are affected more by environmental change

I believe a key aspect of development is sustainability – both environmental sustainability and the ability to have a lasting impact.  Environmental sustainability is important as people in less developed countries are affected considerably more by environmental degradation (United Nations Development Programme).  Development should provide ‘intergenerational’ equality (World Bank, 2004 p.9).  It should be sustainable so that each new generation has equal or better opportunities available.

Chang believes that development has come to mean many different things such as ‘poverty reduction, provision of basic needs, individual betterment’ (2010, p.2) but that the traditional meaning of the word has been lost.  In my opinion this may be true but it is a slightly negative view.  Even without an obvious definition, the concept of development will still inspire people to attempt to make a difference to inequality in the world.

The personal aspect of development is also important. Chambers said development is about giving ‘priority to the values and preferences of the weak’ (1997, p.1746) and about ‘disempowering oneself to empower others’ (1997, p.1751).  I think that development has personal meaning to different people and agree that the language of development can ‘depersonalise’ (Chambers, 1997 p.1745) attempts to make change.

Freedom is an important meaning of development.  In the World Bank article ‘What is Development?’ (2004), freedom of choice is mentioned as a key goal of development.  This is linked to equality, both gender equality and equality across different countries.  I believe this shows the importance of basic human rights and the availability of equal opportunities for all.

Overall, I believe development is about freedom – freedom from illness and disease, freedom from hunger and poverty and political freedom.  Development is also about equal rights – the right to equal opportunities, the right to well-being and the right to pleasure and happiness.  I believe there can be no one definition of development as it incorporates a range of different problems and therefore a range of different solutions.  For me, Chambers (1997, p.1749) best summarises the meaning of development in that it should be beneficial to all:

‘The objective of development then becomes responsible well-being by all and for all’


Chambers, R. (1997) ‘Editorial: Responsible Well-Being – A Personal Agenda for Development’, World Development, 25(11), pp. 1743-1754

Chang, H. (2010) ‘Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark: How development has disappeared from today’s ‘development’ discourse’

Glennie, A., Straw, W. and Wild, L. (2009) Understanding Public Attitudes to Aid and Development, London: ODI and IPPR

Rist, G. (2007) ‘Development as a buzzword’, Development in Practice, 17(4-5), pp. 485-491

United Nations Development Programme, ‘Environment and Energy’. Available from: http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/ourwork/environmentandenergy/overview.html (accessed 26/09/2012)

World Bank (2004) ‘What Is Development?’. Available from: http://www.worldbank.org/depweb/english/beyond/beyondco/beg_01.pdf (accessed 26/09/2012)

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5 Responses to What Is Development?

  1. Very good, you have obviously read around the subject a lot by looking at your references and you have considered many different aspects of development i.e. sustainable development and gender equality. But I would advise you to use more of your own opinion in such a short piece, rather than using so many different opinions to make it more personal to you. Overall I found the piece very interesting and a strong image.

  2. I really like your personal response about freedom! I completely agree with that idea, freedom is a great word to use! Really good idea to put someone elses opinion in and then say what you think about their opinion too.

  3. The most striking part of this blog for me was the different meanings behind sustainability, I had never really thought of that before. I agree with the other comments that perhaps more of your own opinion would work well rather than just quoting other authors, although it is a very impressive bibliography! The last paragraph was also very strong as I felt that here you told us what you really think in your own words.

  4. Roz Lytham says:

    I really like the layout of your blog, I found it striking in image and easy to read at the same time. I completely agree with you about sustainability within development and liked how your blog was a full and rounded account of the different aspects of development. I would have like to hear more of your personal opinion too though. But I really enjoyed your final paragraph, I thought it was very strong.

  5. Pingback: Reflections « Thoughts About Development

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