The Concept of Development

The term development is often used to describe economic progress, but it also can be applied to social and political change. Whether a project is designed to increase income or improve quality of life, the goals are similar: to provide greater opportunities and to build a better future for people.

Various professionals and researchers have developed a wide variety of definitions, emphases and approaches to the concept of development. Some, like Nobel prize winner Amartya Sen, have emphasized the importance of “capability.” His approach defines development as a tool that allows individuals to achieve their full potential. This approach is a basis for measuring human development by the UN’s HDI (Human Development Index).

Many sociologists, economists and other specialists have explored the inter-relationship of different sectors of society in the context of development. Studies of aging have looked at the interaction between health and economic development, while analyses of family dynamics and gender ideology frequently use development theory to examine historical transformations.

Sociological theory on development has a long history of exploring the relationship between societal changes and power relationships. Theories of economic development have examined the role of the state in redistributing power and wealth among society’s members.

A key feature of the developmental perspective is its emphasis on culture. This is reflected in the way that the United Nations rates the level of development of nations: it takes into account a range of indicators, including education, health and income levels.