Development Geography II: theory and practice
Central topics of concern of Key Concepts in Development Geography: the global incidence of mass
poverty and wide inequalities. The word ‘development’: at a basic level, development is about
improving the life conditions that are faced by the global majority and specifically this means
reducing existing levels of poverty and inequality at the world scale. The essence of development is
that there is a poor world and there is a rich world, and it is implicit that it is the responsibility of the
latter to assist the former.
Development studies has its origins in the 1940s, when development became an overt aim of
Western or advances states – those of Europe and North America. The relationship between
development and geography is from the 40s – the rise of development studies as an academic
subject dates from the 1960s.
Events on a decade-by-decade basis…
…The 1940s: modern roots of development practice, develop poorer countries in their own image.
Geography was characterized by forms of development-oriented enquiry which might be described
as ‘colonial’, ‘tropical’ and ‘regional’ geographies.
…The 1950s: post-war reconstruction and economic development. Traditional (classical) economic
theory, based on the importance of liberalizing. Underdevelopment was an initial state beyond which
Western industrial nations has managed to progress. The West could assist other countries in
catching up, by sharing capital and technology (trickle-down effect).
…The 1960s: emergence of radical political perspectives, such as the ‘dependency theory’. The global
pattern of Western-dominated development had served to keep the poor world poor. Less-
developed countries would do better to de-link from the developed world and to follow an
alternative development path. First development studies.
…The 1970s: emergence of more radical approaches in geography. Social justice and humanity
characterizes the emergence of ‘another development’. Critique on urban-based and top-down
inspired development policies.
…The 1980s: the rise of the New Right and Neoconservatism. Neoliberal agenda: free markets,
unregulated and popular capitalism. The accent was placed on Europe and North America.
…The 1990s: postmodernism as an alternative paradigm. ‘Development’ had to be questioned and
the ‘development mission’; could this ever have been successful given its essentially Eurocentric
stance? A given rise to doubts, uncertainties and reflections in development studies and geography.
Others think that postmodernism is just a next stage in the progress of modernity.
…The 2000s: Optimism in discipline, a more positive view of development-related issues in
geography. The world is now so deeply unequal that the need for a truly global geography has never
been greater. Complex processes such as globalization and climate change.
Chapter 1: Understanding development
Development is something that has to be conceptualized at the global level. This is because
development issues involve both poor and rich countries as well as poor and rich people and groups,
and the need is to move the former in each case to a more advantageous situation.
1.1 Meanings of development. International development is something that has to be pursued by
the world as a whole. Incomes and standards of living are key elements of development. It is about
freeing people out of poverty. The origins of the modern process of development lie in the late
1940s. It was the duty of the developed world or West to bring development to underdeveloped
countries. It was a sort of new-colonialism. The genesis of much of development theory and practice
lay in the period around 1950, the period of high modernism. Modernism is the belief that
development is about transforming traditional countries into modern, Westernised nations. This
included trusteeship, in which the holding of property on behalf on another person or group, with
the belief that the latter will better be able to look after it themselves at some time in the future.
The origins of modern development however lay in the Enlightenment period. Enlightenment
thinking is the belief that science and rational thinking could progress human groups from
barbarianism to civilization. By applying rational, scientific thought to the world, change would
become more ordered, predictable and meaningful. It included the primacy of reason/ rationalism:
the belief in empiricism (gaining knowledge through observation) and the ethic of secularism and the
notion that all human beings are essentially the same. Those who did not conform to such views
were regarded as traditional and backward. Development became associated with Western values
and ideologies: religion, science rationality and principles of justice.
Later, during the Industrial Revolution, the development theories became heavily economic. By the
late nineteenth century, progress was the unregulated chaos of pure capitalist industrialization and
development was of Christian order, modernization and responsibility. From the 1920s onwards, the
colonial mission began. In the 1950s, development became synonymous with economic growth.
Arthur Lewis argued: our subject matter is growth and not distribution. So, increasing incomes and
material wealth were seen as being far more important than making sure that such income was fairly
or equitably spread within society.
In the 1970s there came a counter movement, one that argued that development should be based
on local resources rather than economic efficiency – giving rise to development from below, rural-
based development and eco- (sustainable) development. Social indicators of development, such as
health, education and nutrition, became more important. The main issue is that even with growth
and the provision of more goods and services, it depends how these are distributed between
different members and groups of the society. In the new Human Development Index (HDI), income is
still a measure of standard of living, but also health and knowledge/education. The social indicators
were broadened to incorporate measures of environmental quality, political and human rights and
gender equality. ‘Development consists of the removal of various types of unfreedoms that leave
people with little opportunity of exercising their reasoned agency’, according to Sen. In addition,
Goulet recognized three components of development:
1. Life sustenance: provision of basic needs
2. Self-esteem: feelings of self-respect and independence
3. Freedom: the ability of people to determine their own destiny
Anti-development is sometimes also referred as post-development and beyond-development. They
are based on the failures of modernization. It is based on the criticism that development is a
Eurocentric Western construction in which the economic, social and political parameters of
development are set by the West and are imposed on other countries in a neo-colonial mission to
normalize and develop them in the image of the West. The movement has brought a re-emphasis on
the importance of the local in the development process.
1.2 Measuring development. Measures of development have closely reflected the various paradigms
of development that have been advanced and embraced over the years. In the 1950s, development
was measured in terms of economic growth. While in the late 1980s, wider indicators of human
(social) development were introduced. For economic growth, GDP and GNP per capita is suitable. The
HDI is good for human development. And you can also measure development in wider terms,
including human rights and freedoms.
GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and GNP (Gross National Product, also abroad) per capita have been
used since the 1960s as measures of economic growth. The higher the income of a country or
territory, the greater its development. The measure is directly affected by the number of people
working within a country and their overall level of productivity. The basic causes of poverty are seen
as the low productivity of labour that is associated with low levels of physical capital (natural
resources) and human capital (education) accumulation and low levels of technology. However, the
measure take no account of the distribution of national wealth and differences between regions. And
neither the wider well-being of people.
The HDI was developed by the United Nations in the late 1980s to include the non-economic values
of development. The HDI can be adapted and rendered as a strongly gendered measure of
development. And there was still a measure of economic standing, but also other principles:
A long and healthy life (longevity)
Education and knowledge
A decent standard of living (GDP)
Wider sets of dimensions, including those involved in the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals),
can be used to measure the multidimensional nature of development, including social welfare issues
and human rights – as in the Gender Inequality Index.
1.3 Space and development. We live in a highly unequal world and it is becoming more unequal:
between and within countries. As income and wealth inequality increase, health and social problems
rise. Inequalities lead to a reduction in social cohesion within society and they are linked to the
generation of social conflicts.
The origins of the label Third World in the 1950/1960s were originally essentially geopolitical,
denoting what were mainly former colonial nations. Almost all newly independent states lacked the
capital to sustain their colonial economies, let alone expand or diversify. Most remained trapped in
the production of one or two primary commodities, the prices of which were steadily falling in real
terms, unable to expand or improve infrastructure and their human resources. The world was firmly
divided into three clusters: the West, the Communist bloc and the Third World.
Critiques of the concept of the Third World appeared from the early 1970s. They stated: ‘when the
Third World was beginning to recognize its own underdevelopment’ and ‘developing countries
occupied third place in a hierarchy of the three worlds’. The main cause of the doubts that emerged
during the 1970s was related to the growing political and economic fragmentation of the Third
World. There was a widening income gap between developing countries. This was further reinforced