Literature review week 4: Development: The rise and decline of an ideal

Development: The rise and decline of an ideal

By Wolfgang Sachs

Reviewed by Pinal Desai and Tatiana Armijos Moya

In this literature, the writer highlights in great detail the definitions of the terms developed and underdeveloped. He defines how the definition of development changed from a process of maturation in history to the actions proposed by planners and engineers: those who set out to systematically remodel societies to accelerate maturation.

The lead runners of “development” are the forefront of social evolution. Economic performance had become the all encompassing measure of a country’s excellence after 1945, thus re-defining development in terms of growth in input and output per head. This means that a developing country has a low per capita income then advanced countries like U.S.A, Japan and Western European countries. Some countries are thereby categorised as underdeveloped regardless of their way of life or ideologies or culture. They are only judged as per the economic value for the development criteria. However, this concept of growth began to be contested in 1970’s when the attention shifted to the poor.

Specifically designed interventions triggered redefinition of growth as something transcending growth, as economic growth + redistribution + human development. The development thus extended to areas like employment, equality, poverty eradication, basic needs and women. The author proposed that in this system, the development can be both injury as well as therapy. He describes the ‘human development index’ comparable to GNP, a deficit index where it ranks countries hierarchically, assuming there is only one best way of social evolution. And a situation described in “dependency theory”, simply put means, a condition which shapes a certain structure of the world economy such that it favours some countries to the detriment of others and limits the development possibilities of the subordinate economics... (Fann, Hodges, 1971). This also triggered “Fair world Order” that triggers wiser use of biosphere with a drawback that is only concentrates exchange in between the American states but negates between countries.

Development further took on an improved its meaning to sustainable development: that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generation to meet their own needs (WCED 1987, 8). The author finds this ambiguous as it does not define whose needs and which needs - survival or luxury? Furthermore, this definition also allows economic protagonists to label their shifted focus from nature to capital accumulation as sustainable, but this economic growth does not trickle down to the poor. The article further address issues of urbanised world and difficulties of people in finding a dignified living in towns and cities. However this development has produced both order (resource mobilization) and chaos (due to dissonance with dynamics of a given community

Further, the paper highlights the neglect of ecology in the “race” of social evolution as the natural resources of materials is getting scarce and the emission of co2 levels is rising. This means that to bring up the standard of living of all countries, resources amounting to an equivalent of 5 planets are required.

What is more, development is close related with two important aspects: globalization and security. In one hand, globalization contributes to the stability of the transnational economy. On the other hand security helps protecting against risks.

Regarding development, it was stated that the “road of progress” is being exchanged by the “connectivity of networks”. It was stated, that globalization turns to destabilize social solidarity in different levels. In fact, after globalization the border between countries and people has changed, it is not a line anymore. It is a mental state that separates people regarding interest and resources. On one hand, globalization within the global middle class accelerates and intensifies the integration of people due to the worldwide circuit of goods, communication and travel. On the other hand, globalization somehow increases the separation between the global middle class and the excluded social majority with an invisible border that separates the rich from the poor. For instance rural areas are excluded from the circuit of the world economy. Therefore, globalization is removing barriers between nations, but at the same time it is building up new ones.

On the other hand, it was stated that security was conceived as a preventive tool against threats to human survival and dignity. While globalization increases immigration, civil wars and environmental competition within the global middle class, the excluded social class turns into risk zones and its citizens as risk factors.

Development aims global justice. It was mentioned, that in the future justice is going to be achieved by changing rich people lifestyles and behavior. In order to create sustainable scenarios and regarding climate change, it was mentioned two possible approaches: contraction and convergence. In one hand, some countries went from high consumption levels of fossil fuel to sustainable levels regarding ecology and equity. This is known as contraction. On the other hand within convergence approach, societies start from relatively low level of fossil energy flows and then they increase in order to catch up industrial countries aiming sustainable levels. What is more, within an ecosystem people it is important to consider and link democratic rights and resource productivity in order to achieve sustainable development.



Fann K.T., Hodges D.C, The structure of dependence, Readings in U.S. imperialism, Boston: 1971, p226

World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) (1987) Our common future. Oxford Univ Pr: Oxford


Pinal Desai , Tatiana Armijos Moya

Log on or sign up to comment.