Meta-Theories of Development


Development is the process of improving people’s lives and their country’s economic well-being. This work is often done by organizations that are international in scope, such as the United Nations and the World Bank. Other organizations are smaller and local in focus, including private companies that offer loans or grants to developing countries to help them grow their economies and make a better life for their citizens.

A large part of what defines development is economics—the growth of a nation’s economy as measured by its gross national income (GNI) per capita. A GNI is the total value of all goods and services produced in a country, divided by its population. It includes the production of things like agriculture and raw materials, manufacturing, banking and finance, education, hairdressing, and plumbing. Developed countries are generally those with high levels of GNI.

The development sector is also concerned with social issues, such as literacy and school enrollment rates, and with the quality of a country’s health care and life expectancy. To be rated as a “developed” nation, the United Nations requires that a country have at least a minimum level of human development.

As you learn more about development, keep in mind the meta-theories that guide its study. These are the assumptions that researchers begin with when they start to develop a new theory or research project. For example, your instructor may endorse a lifespan approach to development, an assumption that fought its way through many different perspectives in psychology, such as the behaviorist perspective (development ends at adulthood), to become one of the dominant meta-theories today.