During October half-term, pupils on our online course introducing pupils to key themes in international development were challenged to write a 500-word blog post with a choice of titles. The first winner is (who will be awarded with a £30 Amazon voucher) is… Ed Warren, previously from Brighton College, and one of the first pupil Reading Spots pupil ambassadors! It is great to see many of the key themes in the course so clearly articulated and summarised. Do post any comments below, especially if there’s anything you disagree with – I know Ed loves a debate! To read or get involved with our online development studies course, visit www.readingspots.org/course1 for the first post.
1. Defining Development
The first element that makes this such a complex matter is the very definition of ‘development.’ Numerous scholars have offered conflicting interpretations, yet each has attracted significant criticism and failed to establish a consensus. The theory of modernisation, for example, targets national economic growth, following the precedents set by industrial revolutions in the West. Yet, according to its detractors, this Eurocentric model leads directly to the destruction of native cultures and can serve to benefit major corporate interests, rather than indigenous populations. On the other hand, the rival theory of dependency proposes substantial control of the economy by the state, thereby limiting external influence. However, this also has its critics, who claim that free market policies have been vital to the development of larger nations, such as India, and that comprehensive economic control can lead to high levels of government corruption in countries such as Zimbabwe. This fundamental disparity, combined with the addition of innovative approaches like Amartya Sen’s and various post-development approaches, has made it almost impossible for scholars to reach a fixed definition of ‘development’ – rendering it an enormously complicated subject to explore.
2. Measuring Development
A similar factor, which further enhances the complexity of this concept, is the issue of measuring development. As with the problem of its definition, there exist various methods of calculating growth – all which suffer from several limitations. Perhaps the most significant is the simple measurement of Gross National Product – commonly favoured by institutions, such as the World Bank, on account of its clarity and comparability. However, its critics assert that, by failing to reflect the distribution of wealth and other social factors, GNP cannot serve as an effective measure of human development. A more holistic approach is the UN’s Human Development Index, which looks to shift the basis of development by incorporating a number of human, rather than purely economic indicators. Yet, this too has faced significant opposition, owing to the somewhat arbitrary manner in which it equally weighs its three components and the fluctuating availability and reliability of the data it requires. Perhaps, as so-called ‘post-development’ theorists may contend, the inherently Eurocentric nature of all Western measurements leaves them intrinsically flawed – adding a further challenging dimension to an already complex issue.
3. Practising Development
Lastly, the practice of development is made even more difficult by the cultural barriers that exist between the would-be ‘developers’ and societies they wish to ‘develop.’ A perfect example of this is the fiasco surrounding PlayPumps –a US-backed scheme of constructing water pumps in Southern Africa, powered by the energy created as children ‘played’ on adjoining merry-go-rounds. The project, however, was laden with all manner of flaws, including the enormous cost of maintaining the pumps, their lack of adaptability to local conditions and their reliance on what UNICEF saw as a form of child labour. This disastrous initiative proves that if Western ‘developers’ fail to fully engage with the societies that they seek to ‘develop’, then no amount of money and magnanimity can force effective change. Successful development can only be ensured by certain levels of perspective and awareness which, due to the time and effort that is required to obtain them, adds further complexity to the matter of development.
by Edward Warren 30th October 2017
Reading Spots Pupil Ambassador (starting 2015). Here he is below, playing ‘duck duck goose’ in Abofour!