What Is Development?

At the present time, no  widely recognised definition truly exist for development. Views on development and its true definition vary from theorist to theorist and there isn’t one definition that overwhelmingly stands out. Despite this, development is constantly measured. There exists several development indicators, which include GDP per capita, literacy rates, gender equality, infant mortality rates, and the environmental performance index among others. As shown by these indicators, we tend to relate development to concepts such as social justice, economic growth, poverty reduction, personal well-being, and environmental health. In essence, a developed country will have, for example, a thriving economy, low levels of poverty, and high levels of gender equality, while an underdeveloped country will have just the opposite. As Robert Chambers said and as shown by the above information, development gives connotations of ‘good change” (Chambers, 1997). Therefore, I’d argue that we could vaguely define development as good change. However that brings up a further question: what is good change?

Are the MDGs an accurate representation of good change?

The answer to the question ‘what is good change?’ depends on a few important factors: what change matters, where and when the change is taking place. Good change in one place and at a certain time may not necessarily mean ‘good change’ in a another place and time. Therefore it is not a universal value as it is subject to other factors. For example, several development projects run by different nations and organisations in African countries focus on economic growth. These projects are considered to promote ‘good change’ by these entities, as they are believed to be the change several of these countries require at this time. However these same projects would not particularly be considered as ‘good change’ in a country such as China, because China doesn’t currently need help stimulating their economy. Perhaps in the 1960s, these projects would’ve been considered ‘good change’ in China because of their past economical frailty, however, today they are the world’s second largest economy. When describing development as good change, we can safely say that development does not have an absolute definition, but rather a relative one.

There are some that argue that development isn’t essentially good change due to the adverse effects of development-promoting projects that have previously been put into place. One of those is development theorist Gilbert Rist. Rist believed that development should be defined by its impacts and consequences rather than what we ‘want to believe’ it is. He defined development as “the general transformation and destruction of the natural environment and of social relations in order to increase the production of commodities (goods and services) geared, by means of market exchange, to effective demand” (Rist, Gilbert 2007) 

Rist on Development – “the general transformation and destruction of the natural environment and of social relations in order to increase the production of commodities (goods and services) geared, by means of market exchange, to effective demand”

He believed that the very word ‘development’ was a political tool more than anything else, and that development couldn’t be referred to something as good due to the way its been carried out and advertised for alternate purposes.

However I believe that development should be defined by what is believed it should be: vaguely, ‘good change’. Actions taken for development may lead to adverse effects however this isn’t always the case.  ‘Development’ isn’t always coupled with adverse effects which are the direct cause of itself, as Rist implies in his definiton. A perfect example of this would be the Ivorian economic ‘miracle which took place between the 1960s and 80s. There are too many other factors involved to be able to plainly say that development ultimately leads to unwanted results. Development can therefore be defined as good change specific to space and time, and anything else can not explicitly be referred to as development.


  1. Chambers, Robert (1997) ‘Responsible Well-being: A Personal Agenda for Development’, World Development, Vol. 25(11):1743-1754
  2. Rist, Gilbert (2007) ‘Development as a buzzword’, Development in Practice, 17: 4, 485-491

3 thoughts on “What Is Development?

  1. I enjoyed reading this, structured well and straight to point keeping it engaging. You’ve linked in the key readings well to support your points and included your own knowledge on China.


  2. I think your blog was great and really well written and easy to read. One paragraph flowed to the next and you discussed the topic really well and , also like the conclusion, To improve you could just add a couple images or video to make it look nicer and more interesting also you need to reference your blog . G8bnjeBg


  3. A well thought-out and clearly presented piece, well done. You cover the fact that defining development is a contested field, giving different possibilities, and ending with your preferred definition of good change. To turn this into a more solid academic piece though, for next time I suggest you include more references in the text to points to make, and include a bibliography at the end. And you can make the blog more visually appealing using relevant pictures and hyperlinks. A strong foundation, good luck!


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