What do we mean by development? The term is not new; it is highly complex, contradictory, and full of debates and discourses. The term means different things to different people, based on economic, geographic, political, social, cultural, religious and ethnic contexts. And finally, development can be viewed from the perspectives of a number of “academic disciplines”. Because it means different things to different people, it is a term difficult to define and understand.
Development has been a field of study extensively explored from various perspectives especially in the second half of the twentieth century. To establish the link between current development perspectives and the use of ICTs to address development, it is necessary to understand how development discussions coalesced into the human development framework.
Current development perspectives originated from the post World War II era when the term “development” was used as part of a rationale for post-war reconstruction in Europe and the “underdeveloped parts” of the world. These perspectives also emerged from the immediate post-colonial experience where most of the newly independent countries of Asia and Africa were, according to Western values, left far behind in terms of progress.
Mowlana and Wilson2 argue that “development” as a conceptual framework for a number of individual, institutional, national and international changes is essentially a post World War II phenomenon. The term became synonymous with growth, modernization, change, democracy, and many similar Western values, and in the beginning was focused largely on economic development.
There are three dominant political perspectives to the study of economic development, dependent to a large extent on their origin. Within the neoliberal Western economies, the perspective of a free market economy with little or no state intervention prevails. In leftist, socialism dominated political systems, planned economies with extensive state intervention in the planning and management of the economic processes prevails. And in many of the developing countries, a model of a mixed economy prevails, with both a private sector market led engagement present alongside state intervention, regulation and participation in the economic activities of the country.
Since it was in development economics that the concepts of planned social change first emerged soon after World War II; much of the early discussions centered on economic growth. The assumptions that current economic development is based on is about the inherent nature of human beings-that free individuals operate in free markets, with competition as its defining
feature. There is little or no state intervention in the working of the economy. Economic indicators such as Gross National Product (GNP) and GNP per capita, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and GDP per capita, and per capita income formed the indicators of development that they studied. Therefore, as the GNP and GDP grew, and as per capita income increased, development would gradually percolate, move or “trickle down” to the larger population and the poor.
Much of the policy and advocacy of the World Bank Group of institutions, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF), has been based on this economic theory since their formation in the immediate post World War II era. New paradigms have emerged since, such as the Washington Consensus, structural adjustments, and a view that poverty could essentially be alleviated through increased private sector generated growth. Many countries adopted the economic reforms proposed in the Washington Consensus with varying results, but there was extensive criticism of the social and political consequences of such reform, especially in the context of growing globalization. The Asian financial crisis of the 1990s and more recently, the 2008 global financial crisis ended the era of the belief that economic change alone through private sector led growth could, by itself, trigger development.
The second major perspective to economic development came from the planned economies of the erstwhile Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and China. The state became the major, often, the only player in the economy, and development took a Marxist-Leninist approach to economic development. Other countries such as India followed a middle path, with planned economic development through extensive state intervention in the economy operating parallel to private sector growth.
Social, Psychological and Cultural Theories of Development
Schooled in Western political and social philosophy, a parallel group of scholars focused more on the modernization of individuals and groups to understand the forces that would bring about change and development at an individual and a larger societal level. Teams of political scientists, sociologists, and psychologists from many of the West’s elite institutions tried to draw contrasts between the “traditional” and the “modern” individual and societies in terms of social traditions and personality traits. Modernization and development for these scholars meant a move from traditional, community-based, feudalistic societies to ones that stressed innovativeness, education, political participation and access and exposure to information that changed people’s way of thinking.
The perspectives described here are neither mutually exclusive nor exhaustive. None of them explain in totality the phenomena of development; each brings a different value addition to the discussions. They each intersect and overlap with other perspectives such as the basic needs
approaches, the sustainable development perspectives and the women and development perspectives-all introduced in the early 1970s.
Criticisms of these early approaches quickly emerged. Macro-level statistics collected in many countries often hid the ground realities. Improved economic growth did not necessarily lead to the eradication of poverty; instead it sometimes led to greater inequalities in the distribution of income. Empirical evidence continued to point to the failure of growth theories to alleviate poverty and reduce hunger. Instead, there were often high growth rates alongside large scale poverty and deprivation, inequalities, social disorder and environmental degradation. The dissatisfaction of countries with existing theories of development came from a realization that these theories did not really address or translate into improving the quality of people’s lives. Human rights groups and grass-roots movements continuously drew attention to the failure of economic models to address core issues concerning people all over the world, and especially in the poor, developing countries.