What is International Development?

The short answer to what is International Development (or Global Development): No one has really figured out. Another answer is it is everything around you, especially if you are viewing it from the social sciences angle. International Development can be traced back to the work of Plato and his famous text The Republic, defining what is meant by a “just” society. It can be also that of other philosophers such as Locke’s Two Treatise of Government or Hobbes’ Leviathan. It can be about attaining the perfect political system: be it democracy, communism, socialism or even social democracy. It can also include social relations between individuals, households and society.

Broadly of course, international development has been associated with economic development which also has various competing perspectives. It would take time to list the range of models but following from Todaro and Smith (2006) here are the various models:

Development as Growth and the Linear-Stage Theories
Rostow’s stages of Growth
Harrod-Domar Model

Structural Change Models
Lewis Theory of Development

Interdependence Revolution
Neoclassical Dependence Model
False-Paradigm Model
Dualistic-Development Thesis
Market Fundamentalism model (Neoclassical Growth Theory)

Contemporary Models
New Growth Theory Theory
Romer Model
The Big Push
Kremer’s O-ring Theory

I’ll probably pick on the Structural Change model and the Market Fundamentalism model which depicted most of the development discourse of the later twentieth century. Although not fully covered in the structural change model, countries such as Finland, Sweden and the East Asian economies (I include Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the North East Asian economies like Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong) were said to have undergone structural transformation in order to reach their level of economic achievement. On the other hand of the spectrum comes those that adhere to the “market is the best” theory or what has been come to be known as neo-liberalism or simply the Washington Consensus (WC) (for the actual formation of the WC see Williamson, (2008)).

Such theorists view the state as a hindrance or a non necessary in development and that the market alone can best allocate to create growth and development. Although based partly on Milton Friedman’s Monetarism, it was forwarded by the Reagan and Thatcher governments and through the World Bank’s Structural Adjustment Programmes and the IMF’s Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility.

Neo-liberalism as a developmental model however, has had adverse impacts economically, socially and political on countries, including developed ones. There are a whole range of criticisms of the WC, so I shan’t go into it. What then should development be? Some like my main lecturer in Cambridge, Ha-Joon Chang, argued that there should be a continuous state market action. Others still hold on to the neo-liberal model but say parts of it should be altered. Another angle comes from the less popular (in terms of scholarly works and publications) human development paradigm, created by Mahbub Ul Haq and the Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen. Here, especially in response to neo-liberalism, development is about humans (human development) and it extends beyond that of rigid economistic theories (see Murphy, (2006) for more on the UNDP and development)

My view is a rather long story but to summarise, yes I see development as more than just economic models and a strong mix of state-market interaction. I see human development as a funademental part, but more drawing from the writings of Karl Polyani (his books The Livelihood of Man: Studies in Social Discontinuity and The Great Transformation: The political and economic origins of our time).

Murphy, C.N., 2006a, The United Nations Development Programme: A Better Way?, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Todaro, M. P., and Smith, S. C., 2006, Economic Development, 9th Edition, Harlow: Pearson Education Limited

Williamson, J., 2008, “A Short History of the Washington Consensus” in Serra, Narcis and Stigltiz, Joseph (eds.) The Washington Consensus: Towards a New Global Governance Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp.14-30

Other suggested readings:

O’Brien, R. and Williams, M., 2007, Global Political Economy: Evolution and Dynamics, Second Edition, Basingstoke: Palgrave (Chapters 2, 3, 4 and 10)

Wade, R.H., 2005, “Globalization, Poverty and Inequality” in Ravenhill, J. (eds.), Global Political Economy, Oxford: Oxford university Press, pp.291-316

NB: Never ever use the idiotic site Wikipedia to find out any topics or issues relating to International Development.


10 Responses to What is International Development?

  1. Pingback: 0.7%? 0.07%? 7%? The lure and wonder over how much aid countries should give | Ipeanddevelopment's Blog

  2. Enjoyed reading your blog and thanks for the link to our website. Could you correct the link though to read ‘Institute of Development Studies’ i.e. replacing ‘for’.

    Many thanks and keep blogging!

  3. Thanks for the correction and the comments Robin.

  4. burningthecouch says:

    Well, this made me chuckle! Don’t fret, I mean in a good way. Though clearly written by a PhD student, you’ve captured well the complexity of the concept. In answer to your question, about readers’ own definitions, perhaps you’d be interested in reading something I wrote recently and published on my own blog. As someone working in development (currently based in Southern Morocco working with a local NGO with street kids, and on the establishment of an income generating exercise with and for some of the mothers of the kids who visit our drop in centre) I’m constantly reevaluating what ID means to me, but wrote an opinion piece lately which made the claim I’d finally come to some sort of personal resolution!


    Cheers, and thanks for posting. Enjoying reading your blog ! BM

  5. I never stated that my PhD was on international development.

  6. burningthecouch says:

    Of course not – I was actually chuckling at the succinct intro/contention. Apologies if I somehow managed to offend you.

  7. Pingback: So you want to start another organisation to combat poverty? A possible case of too many cooks spoiling the broth | Ipeanddevelopment's Blog

  8. it’s quiet interesting to have all this nice information about International Development as am about to enroll in my PhD in the same field bravo the blog

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