The Rise and Fall of Development Theory

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However, all approaches are concerned with the relationship between development and governance. Development is usually seen as crucially determined by structures of governance; governance is interpreted through and shaped by the goal of development. Most development theory equates development with national economic growth and sees the state as its primary agent; consequently, one of its central concerns is to understand and explain the role of the state in development and the nature of government-market relations.

Development theory has changed over time with changes in ideology and the international environment , and, as it changes, so do its conceptions of development and governance and how they are related. Changing conceptions of governance and its relation to development can be traced through the major perspectives on development that have emerged since World War II , as represented by theories of modernization and growth, dependency and world systems theories, the resurgence of neoclassical theory, and an array of newer critical perspectives.

Development involves innumerable variables, including economic, social, political, gender, cultural, religious, and environmental factors. But though development theory integrates concepts and perspectives from a range of disciplines , it was highly influenced by economic thought from the start. Early theoretical models of development equated development with economic growth and industrialization, and theorists saw countries that had not yet achieved these as being at an earlier or lower stage of development relative to Europe and North America.

The most influential proponent of this view was the American economic historian Walt W. His book, The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto , elaborated a linear-stages-of-growth model that defined development as a sequence of stages through which all societies must pass. This conception of the nature and process of development became the basic blueprint for modernization theory.


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Modernization theory emerged following World War II to address the issue of how to shape the economies of states emerging from European colonization. Modernization was, thus, conceived of as the relations of production and standards of living characteristic of western Europe and the United States. Theorists emphasized increased savings and investment as the key to development and argued that international trade in products particularly suited to national factor endowments would enable more efficient resource allocation and greater earnings, and these could be translated into savings and then used to promote development.

Theorists envisioned that—by disseminating technology, knowledge, managerial skills, and entrepreneurship; encouraging capital inflow; stimulating competition; and increasing productivity—foreign trade, together with foreign investment and aid, would be the engine of growth for developing countries.

Development theory. By contrast, Colin Leys has provided an eminently readable, well argued and concise survey of "western" development theory, which provides much of interest for the initiated and novice alike. Given the author's long engagement with development in Africa, the volume has a certain autobiographical quality.

It would make an excellent student text, despite occasional overlap between chapters, which stems from the fact that the book is a compendium of Leys's relevant output from onwards. Two of the nine chapters were originally published as recently as Three chapters, namely the opening overview, a critique of "new political economy" and brief concluding essay, were specially written. These are excellent and, together with the overview of the Kenya debate, among the best I have read.

Despite his involvement with the subject and firmly held views, Leys's style is moderate and his coverage balanced.

Colin Leys

This lends authority to his argument just as Cowen and Shenton's invective detracts from theirs. Leys begins with a brief historical glance towards the origins of development theory, pointing to the importance of capitalism and especially industrial capitalism in the late 18th century in spawning conceptions of "a universal history". He regards Hegel and Marx as the "true originators of development theory" because "they recognised that it was the sudden acceleration in the rate of change that the establishment of capitalist production and bourgeois society had generated that made it necessary and possible to think of history in this way".

However, he points out that this is not what most people have meant by development theory, and shifts his concern to the transformation and enhanced productivity of the European colonies and ex-colonies following the second world war. For him - and in sharp contrast to Cowen and Shenton - this new theory can be distinguished on three principal grounds. First, it has had a strong practical orientation - explaining and providing a framework for improvement on the ground.

Second, the theories formulated were tainted by cold war considerations, since the new states represented a key prize for the contending superpowers. Third, the establishment of the Bretton Woods regime provided a distinctive regulatory framework for trade and investment.

The Rise and Fall of Caribbean Development Theory | SpringerLink

In the later chapters, Leys also points out, that whatever the strengths and weaknesses of competing theories and actual development performance until the s, the current international trading and investment regime is very different. It presents substantively new challenges for which neither the old theories nor nostalgia will be adequate. He reaches the frank conclusion that Africa will have to increase capitalist productivity as well as overall output, and that this will require a transition to commercial productive relations from what he somewhat misleadingly refers to as "simple commodity production", ie often complex peasant-based systems.

However, this is no advocacy of naked market competition. For all countries, "the conclusion In Thinking About Development, Paul Streeten provides a well-written and authoritative autobiographical survey of his set of key postwar issues and institutional changes. Originating as the series of Raffaele Mattioli Lectures at the Universita Commerciale Luigi Bocconi in Milan, this book benefits from the addition of a brief introduction and a fascinating extended autobiographical essay by the author, a full listing of his publications from to , a set of short commentaries by five other eminent economists and a complete bibliography.

Purely out of interest, I began with Streeten's autobiography but would recommend this route since it provides wonderful insights into his nature and character, enabling one to understand his analyses more fully. The range of issues and debates in which Streeten has participated is formidable, despite his being most widely known for his contributions to basic-needs philosophy and practice.

This is clearly the work of an economist, giving it a somewhat different slant from the two other books. Streeten's position as an enlightened and progressive analyst marginally to the left of centre is clear but unobtrusive. While I would not agree with all his analyses, they are well formulated and expressed.

His core argument is that the IMF and World Bank orthodoxies of full liberalisation and privatisation as articulated in the so-called "new political economy" are misguided and harmful. Indeed, "a liberal framework of prices and markets requires an active and efficient state State action is needed in order to stimulate private action through complementary public services These services will go beyond the provision of a framework of law and order He ends less pessimistically than Leys or Cowen and Shenton, indicating that the present assault on the economic liberties of the welfare state is achieving the opposite results from those intended, that less brazen and extreme policies can better achieve improved efficiency and accountability without hardship and pauperisation.

Unicef's record exemplifies what can be achieved. The student of development studies and development theory has an unprecedented range of books to choose from.

The Rise and Fall of Development Theory

The material on offer varies substantially, but the literature has certainly been enriched by these three volumes. One regret, though, is that none of them really addresses the challenges posed by the most recent theoretical turns in the field, such as postmodernism, postcolonialism and ecocentric development.

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David Simon is reader in development geography and director of the centrefor developing areas research, Royal Holloway, University of London. Get a month's unlimited access to THE content online. Just register and complete your career summary. Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:. Already registered or a current subscriber? Sign in now. Lennard Davis wonders whether activist academics have wrongly prioritised exuberantly bad behaviour over the hard graft of working for real change.