What is development?

Development is a word that is applied to numerable situations across the globe, from the creation of a new housing estate to the new version of an iPhone. Development can either mean a state of ‘growth or advancement’, or a ‘new stage in a changing situation’ (Oxford Dictionaries, 2013).

It is my belief that due to its many meanings, the word ‘development’ is now applied where it should not be. In this blog I will argue how the muddled use of the word has hindered real development, referring to the work of Gilbert Rist. I will then suggest a solution, referring to the work of Robert Chambers. Finally I will account for what I believe development really should mean by drawing on my own personal experiences.

I would say that the word ‘development’ has become over used iso that we now consider all change as development, and also overlook that what may be a positive change in one respect may be a negative change in another respect. Rist highlights that using economic growth to aid social development can hinder real progress, stating ‘the essence of development is the general transformation and destruction of the natural environment and of social relations in order to increase the production of commodities’ (Rist, 2007, p.5). An example of this is the first attempt of the British to aid less developed countries in the ‘Colonial Development Act of 1927’. Here, the British tried to use the development of colonial areas to aid the British market and, arguably ended up stunting both, with the attempt described as the classic example of ‘between two stools we come to the ground’ (Abbott, 1971). I would therefore say that in particular, the misconception that economic growth classifies as development, and that this ‘development’ enables social development that has hindered real progress.

However I would argue that a solution to avoid the misuse of the word, brought forward by Chambers, is the use of word combinations. Attaching words such as economic, social or cultural to the word ‘development’ helps give a better understanding of the word development in context (Chambers, 1997). In my opinion this use is advantagous as it allows us to focus on individual issues and hence work on development in a more effective way.
For more details on his thoughts and works watch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hDFRItvmNBo&list=PLNI18GVaeqKtkSzIoA0qeN2_HWtlHh0MQ

I have come to agree with what both authors say after seeing the effect of the confused use of the word development in the rural village Bukit Lawang in Indonesia. Here, the livelihoods of the locals are dependant upon the rainforest, leaving few with enough income to afford commodities such as a brick house. However, despite the promise of a better salary and better standard of living in the nearest city Medan, the people are afraid of moving to the city as it will mean leaving behind their way of life. To me, this shows that although economic activities can be used to improve social standards, unless it can be used in a way that agrees with the local environment and culture, economic development can not be promised to promote quality of life. Hence, development should be a positive change to the quality of people’s lives that does not adversely affect the environment.

Home in Bukit Lawanf
The rural village of Bukit Lawang

The streets of Medan

In my opinion development should always be a positive change. The word should be used in context, so that separate matters requiring development should in line be treated separately and, as the human and physical geography of all locations is varied, what development involves should be accordingly varied. However, I believe that often it is the case that economic growth is thought of as development and hence other aspects of development are poorly managed, an issue that I would like to help to overcome through undertaking my degree.


Abbott, G. (1971) ‘A Re-Examination of the 1929 Colonial Development Act’, The Economic History Review, New Series, Vol. 24 (1): 68-81

Chambers, R. (1997) ‘Responsible Well-being: A Personal Agenda for Development’, World Development, Vol. 25(11):1743-1754

Oxford Dictionaries (2013) http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/development

Rist, G. (2007) ‘Development’, Development in Practice, 17(4-5):485-491.

3 responses to “What is development?

  1. I really liked how you touched on the idea that development can mean something different to everyone. I feel like it really brought to the light the reality of how difficult questions like “what is development” can be to answer. Stemming from that, I also enjoyed your conclusion in which you talked about how development also relies on the human/physical geography of the area in question. What can work in one country might not work in an other country.

    One wish I have, however, is that you would place the pictures within the body of the text. I feel like it would help break up the long body of text and illustrate your stories better.


  2. suzanna,
    this blog is brilliant as you used examples to illustrate your point.
    Also, the fact that you analysed the definition is really as it adds complexity to the blog.
    The blog would have been even more brilliant if you would have used videos/clips.

  3. Suzanna,

    I like your pic and incorporation of the readings. In future you could think about how you structure the blog and focusing on a few key points and shorter sentences. This will make your argument clearer.

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