Are we in the right position of Development?


Drawing primarily, but not exclusively, from the material covered in references, critique the following statements

“I think we are lucky, and that this is a brilliantly exciting time to be alive and working as development professionals. So much is changing, and changing so fast, and new potentials are continually opening up. If we are to do well this means massive and radical learning and unlearning. It means personal, professional and institutional change as a way of life. For some this is a threat; for others a wonderful and exhilarating challenge opening up new worlds of experience.”


Are we in the right position of Development?


It is true that many things are changing in the modern world, and that this changing is taking place at an alarming rate. These changes continue becoming necessary as new potentials keep opening up. If success is to be realized people the world over have to keep learning and unlearning concepts in a massive way. Their way of life has to be characterized by personal, professional and institutional change. Some people see this as a threat while others see it as an ‘exhilarating challenge that opens up new worlds of experience’.

This paper critically examines these statements in light of the position in which we are in terms of development. The paper analyzes the nature and magnitude of change that is taking place in the world of development. It also focuses on the new potentials for development that keep emerging making it necessary for people to engage in radical processes of learning new concepts and unlearning obsolete ones. The paper also contains an analysis of the personal, professional, and institutional changes that are increasingly becoming a way of life in these modern times.

A changing world in development-related thinking

Many changes are taking place regarding the way people think about development. In economic literature, for instance, a paradigm shift has occurred, characterized by a move from Keynesianism to neo-liberalism. In neo-liberalism, the most explicit explanations are those made with regard to the theories of employment determination and income distribution (Palley, 2005). According to the theories of income distribution, market forces ensure that the amount paid for factors of production is what these factors are worthy (Portes 1997, p. 238). This eliminates the need for trade unions and other institutions aimed at social protection. Neo-liberals argue that such institutions can lower the level of social well-being and lead to unemployment by virtue of their interference with the market forces.

The stand taken by neo-liberals is an indication of the drastic changes that are taking place at a fast pace. Prior to the popularization of the neo-liberal stance, trade unions were an integral part of employment relations. Employees used to feel that their rights would best be protected if they communicated their grievances through various trade unions and respective associations. This is in contrast to the view of neoliberals, who argue that price adjustment is the best guarantee of progress towards full employment.

The same thing can be said of institutions of social protection. Today, these institutions are firmly entrenched in most societies. However, in other countries, they are absent. The situation in these countries is such that either they have never been instituted or they have been scrapped away in reflection of the changing times. In countries where such institutions are now defunct, the underlying argument is that such policy interventions only end up raising unemployment and causing inflation. Neo-liberals argue that these events take place following a destabilization of the market process.

When talking about the changes that are taking place all the time, economists tend to differentiate between the circumstances of developed countries and those of developing countries. In developed countries, institutions of social support are firmly entrenched while in most developing countries, they are virtually non-existent. In the example of Latin American countries, Dos Santos (1970, p. 233) argues that the best way to overcome the cycle of dependence is to put in place qualitative changes in both internal governance structures and external relations.

Indeed, instead of putting in place internal structures of economic sustainability, most Latin American countries put in place structures of dependence. In the context of such structures, it becomes difficult to allow the market process to bring about progress towards full employment and development. The structure of dependence that many developing countries erect normally worsens the economic conditions of their citizens. However, in future, this is bound to change. Some developing countries are realizing the importance of sound internal policies and external relations. The problem is that these changes are sometimes frowned upon by the external forces that have all along stood to benefit from the impoverishment of these poor countries.

The changes taking place in some developing countries have certain been occasioned by an in-depth understanding of the situation of dependence and its demerits. In dependence, the economy of one country is subject to that of another, such that development can only take place on condition of improving economic prospects of the much-endowed country. On a positive note, an underlying assumption for the two countries involved is that at some point, interdependence between them will increase, leading to mutual benefits.

From a theoretical perspective, the notion of dependence is useful because it enables us to view the internal economic conditions of developing countries as an integral component of the world economy. In the Marxist tradition, imperialism is to blame for the situation whereby a few countries dominate the world, subjecting poor countries to a situation of seemingly perpetual dependence. However, the Marxist theory of imperialism does not end there; it portends that drastic changes are certainly bound to take place. Imperialists would view such changes as a serious threat to their long-established economic positions.


New potentials are opening up

The economic events of the 21 century have demonstrated the potential for less developed countries to transform themselves and change the balance of economic power. For instance, globalization makes it possible for new technology firms that are founded on innovation to emerge. Today, leadership in technological change is no longer the reserve of a few industrialized nations. This is evident in the way renowned technology parks have emerged in many developing countries. These firms have been positioning themselves in such a way as to tap into economic opportunities were previously the reserve of established firms from developed countries.

The dependence theory is of great relevance in efforts to motivate innovators to break away from the cycle of economic domination. Indeed, many other economic theories acknowledge the existence of an ‘external’ dependence, for example the capitalist development theory.  However, such theories fail to perceive underdevelopment as a consequence of the spread of capitalism across the world.

In the context of the new potentials that are cropping up, there is a trend towards the establishment of a world economy in which ‘national economies’ are integrated into the world market. The main areas of this integration include labor power, commodities, and capital. Technological innovators have been taking advantage of this integration to establish a sphere of influence through the establishment of firms that thrive on revolutionary ideas.

In the new world economy, monopolistic control tendencies are easier to break. In future, this may work out well in ensuring that the surplus that is generated in poor countries is not usurped into the developed ones. Similarly, this will eradicate the perennial problem of financial relations that are based on the export of capital and provision of loans. In the end, these loans and capital exports are the ones that earn the dominant countries a lot of interest, thereby strengthening their control over the dependent countries.

The need for the process of learning and unlearning

If we as humankind are to do well, then a massive and radical process of learning and unlearning is imperative. This whole process has to entail adjustment in social, economic, and political systems within which people lead their lives. This holistic approach is necessary because ideally, development should lead to the betterment of the circumstances of the whole person (Pleskovic 2000, p. 13. The life of everyone has to be improved for development to be said to have taken place.

In the context of the present world where the level of inequality is extremely high, a better life for majority of the people means satisfying basic needs: food, shelter, affordable health services, and treatment with respect and dignity. Today, these needs have to be met in a context of a constantly changing world. Technology has revolutionized the way people relate with each other, do business, and even the way they spend their leisure time.

The need for adjustment is reinforced by the view that development entails a firm belief in modernity. This very modernity entails a relentless, rational, pursuit of ideals that will change the world and transform it into a better place. In this context, recent advances in technology, social organization, and democracy come to mind. Everyone who has had to live through these changes has had to go through the process of learning new things and unlearning old ones. At the institutional and governance level, this process has entailed the entrenchment of ethics and values so as to infuse a humanitarian face to the highly commercialized process of scientific and technological development.

Personal, professional and institutional change as a way of life

In the modernist tradition, development entails personal, professional and institutional change as a way of life. Development is viewed as radically different from the conventional notion of ‘economic growth’ (Peet & Hartwick, 2009). This is because it entails a cooperative project whose ultimate aim is to make the world better for everyone. However, it is impossible to bring development to individuals if these individuals are not making decisive steps towards embracing change. The same thing may be said regarding professional and institutional foundations.

For these changes to take place there is need for the notion of ‘economic growth’ to be differentiated from that of ‘development’. Economic growth has to do with massiveness of the economy. It is about production of more products on the one hand and a larger income on the other. Economic growth can occur without a corresponding growth in development, mainly because of inequality in income distribution. Development experts consider this paradox to be the greatest tragedy in modern economic practice. For this tragedy and ethical anomaly to be solved, personal, professional, and institutional change is imperative, so that money stops being ‘fed’ to the already rich in the name of economic growth (Peet & Hartwick 2009, p.2).

The need for personal, professional, and institutional change is derived from the fact that sociologists, unlike economists, do not offer a simplistic explanation of human beings as economic actors (Bernstein 1971, 145). In the economics of growth, a simple character has traditionally been portrayed in relation to people as economic actors and economic behavior. Consumers have simply been branded as people who maximize utility while entrepreneurs have been viewed as economic actors who minimize cost.

Such a mistake does not occur in sociology. This explains why economic sociologists are preoccupied with the personal, professional, and institutional changes that need to be made for development to be achieved. A crucial reference point for determining the nature of these changes is the social evolution process through which the modern human character has been undergoing. This evolution has been taking place largely through social-cultural and political institutions. This process is far from complete because the goal of development has not yet been achieved. Therefore, from personal, professional, and institutional perspectives, it is possible to remedy the prevailing inequalities in income distribution, thereby contributing to development.


From this discussion, it is clear that as development professionals, we are very lucky to be living in this exciting time. Many changes are taking place across the world at an alarmingly fast pace. As new potentials continue to open up, there is hope that inequalities between the wealthy and the poor will be reduced significantly in the near future. However, this cannnot happen unless people have the will to adjust to new circumstances, to learn new things, and to unlearn obsolete concepts. This would create an excellent platform for development-friendly technologies. Unfortunately, whereas this change is good news to many, there are others who view it as a threat. It would be great if these people viewed the changing world as an exhilarating challenge that opens up new horizons and possibilities for development.


Bernstein, H, 1971, ‘Modernization theory and the sociological study of development’, Journal of development Studies, Vol. 7, No. 2, pp. 141-160.

Dos Santos, T. (1970) ‘The structure of dependency’, The American Economic Review, Vol. 60, No. 2, pp. 231-236.

Escobar, A, 1995, Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Palley, T. (2005) ‘From Keynesian to neo-liberalism: Shifting paradigms in economics’, In Saad Filho, A. and Deborah J. (Eds.) Neo-liberalism: A Critical Reader, pp. 20-29.

Peet, R. & Hartwick, E. (2009) Theories of development: Contentions, Arguments, Alternatives (2nd Ed), New York: Guilford Press.

Pleskovic, B. (2000) Annual World Bank Conference on development economics: 2000, The World Bank: Washington, D.C.

Portes, A. 1997, ‘Neoliberalism and the Sociology of Development: Emerging Trends and unanticipated Facts’, Population and Development Review, Vol. 23, No. 2, pp. 229-259.

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