Conceptual and Theoretical Understanding of Development

The historical and intellectual roots of the idea of development could be traced back to the period, when major social changes took place in the world. The period from 17th to 19th centuries witnessed marked social, economic and political changes. The Industrial Revolution, the American War of Independence, the French and Russian Revolutions are among the great changes. The idea of development first entered the minds of administrators. The economists, sociologists and political scientists also began to think in terms of development. With a number of Asian, African and Latin American countries becoming independent in the 20th century, the need for development planning is increasingly realised on the part of these nations. “Before the Industrial Revolution, development was treated as synonymous with social progress”. In the contemporary period, development in the eyes of most people came to be identified in general, with stage by stage movement towards more modern and advanced, technological, economic, political, social and cultural forms of society. For a clear understanding of the present notion of development, its conceptual roots and theories associated with it have to be studied. The following discussion deals with these aspects.

Initially the concept of development, as mentioned above is related to the ideas of progress and well being. In the 20th century, development came to be used in association with modernisation. But in the post-Second World War period the concepts of modernisation and development shrouded with vagueness and controversy. “The distinction between modernisation and development increasingly blurred”. The Western development model laid emphasis on the achievement of economic growth in the lines of capitalist mode of production. Some East European countries, however, adopted a different model, not based on capitalist one. These are the Soviet Union and some other East European nations, which believed in state ownership of the means of production and began to give importance to industry and infrastructure, under the ideology of Socialism. Third World countries, without critical outlook and without understanding the inner contradictions of the Western model began to take for granted that the western sophisticated technology based economic growth model is the only available and suitable model for their development. “ This is partly due to the autonomous choices of Third World leadership but largely under the impact of Western colonialism and post-colonial domination”.

The Western growth-oriented developmental model could not attract the intellectuals of the Third World continuously for a long time. There was considerable protest against the Western model. The dependency theorists discarded the Western model saying that it only helps extracting resources and services from the periphery to the centre, leaving periphery to a state of subjugation. Mao and Gandhi also expressed strong dissent and suggested alternative development strategies. In this contest the opinion of D.L. Sheth is worth mentioning. He pointed out “development is now increasingly perceived by Third World scholars as a theory not about economic growth and elimination of poverty, but as an ideological and institutional device used by the rich and powerful nations to monitor economic and power relations vis-à-vis the underdeveloped nations in order to maintain the formers political domination and to establish cultural hegemony”.

It is clear from the above that the mainstream development thinking was analysed along a continuum between two ideological options- Capitalism and Socialism, the goal being modernisation. Peter Worsely rightly said that, “there is nothing like modernisation perse, there is either modernisation on Capitalist lines or on Socialist lines with all their respective implications”. As said earlier, the controversy over the feasibility of economic growth model of development led to witness two different phenomenon in the Third World countries. On the one hand, protests by the people and intellectuals and on other changing strategies of the imperialist West leading to neo-colonial and neo-liberal rhetorics could be noted. In the process of understanding these strategies, discussion regarding different conceptions of development could be relevant.

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