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Global Development Issues 101: Understanding the Concept of Development


International development remains a central topic in academic dialogues, particularly when explored through Public Administration and International Relations lenses. This field delves into the delicate equilibrium between a country’s internal growth objectives and its external diplomatic engagements. The focus is on how nations aim to enhance their economic position and the quality of life for their residents, a reflection of their global stature and internal prosperity.

From an academic perspective, development is defined by the myriad ways nations navigate their economic and societal progress. Even though the importance of development is universally accepted, the outcomes are diverse across countries, and shaped by varying factors. This variance in outcomes underscores the multifaceted nature of the factors that underlie developmental stagnation for certain countries, while others grow and thrive.

To comprehensively apprehend the essence of development, an exhaustive exploration of its historical antecedents is essential. Additionally, a meticulous examination of classical developmental theories holds paramount importance. Furthermore, an acute cognizance of the strategies employed to address global challenges becomes indispensable in the context of mitigating issues such as poverty and inequality.

This 101 series consists of seven articles, each dedicated to exploring the concept of development, its various components, and its potential prospects for the future:

  1. Global Development Issues 101: Understanding of the Concept of Development

  2. Global Development Issues 101: Causes of Growth, Development and Stagnation

  3. Global Development Issues 101: Classical Theories on Growth and Development

  4. Global Development Issues 101: The Role of Governments in Economic Development

  5. Global Development Issues 101: The Role of Culture and Institutions in Development

  6. Global Development Issues 101: The Connection Between Gender Equality and Development

  7. Global Development Issues 101: Achieving Sustainable Development and the SDG

Global Development Issues 101: Understanding the Concept of Development

In the ever-evolving tapestry of socio-economic dialogue, the term 'development' emerges as the enigmatic North Star guiding nations throughout the labyrinth of progress, both within their borders and on the global stage. With several possibilities ahead, development merges together economic vibrancy, societal evolution, and institutional renaissance. Picture countries on a grand chessboard, making moves that alternate between breathtaking strides forward and puzzling stands still. Yet, behind this complex action lies a fundamental question: What drives nations to surge ahead, and why do they sometimes languish in inertia? As the stage extends beyond national frontiers, a diverse cast of actors takes the spotlight, from international organizations to grassroots movements. Navigating through the labyrinth of theories and interpretations, this article embarks on a journey to uncover the core of development, exploring its essence and unpacking the forces that influence it.

The General Meaning of Development

To truly grasp the essence of development, one must explore its multifaceted meanings. The term “development” is not a monolithic entity; rather, it encompasses a rich tapestry of interpretations that beckon us to delve deeper. This term has sparked considerable controversy and ongoing deliberation within the realm of economic and social development, an arena rife with dynamic discourse. Szirmai’s scholarly insights shed light on this complexity, revealing the myriad viewpoints that kindled debate in this field (2015). The pursuit of a universally agreed-upon definition for development has proven to be an elusive endeavor. Scholars and practitioners have engaged in fervent dialogues aimed at pinpointing the optimal approach to conceptualizing this notion.

Figure 1: Globes (Vieubled, n.d.).

While this quest for a definitive framework is indeed noteworthy, it is equally essential to embrace the diversity of perspectives that converge under the umbrella of development. While debates and disagreements may persist within the discourse of economic and social development, the paramount lesson lies in the appreciation of divergence. By embracing various lenses, fostering critical thinking, and continually reassessing the tenets of development, we stand poised to navigate the ever-evolving landscape of progress with informed insight and wisdom. At its core, a fundamental interplay between growth and development has persisted throughout history. This correlation, a cornerstone of economic thought, often finds itself implicitly woven into the fabric of development studies. These studies delve into multifarious dimensions such as emerging economies, developed nations, and the pivotal role of development aid. However, the crux of the inquiry lies in dissecting the intricate layers of development occurring at various strata—the overarching trend, the micro level, and the macro level.

Initiating the explanation with a panoramic lens, the concept of development is commonly conceived as the steady progression of a specific indicator over the course of time. This perspective offers the ability to witness transformations as they unfold over temporal intervals, enabling individuals to anticipate the potential outcomes arising from these changes (Szirmai, 2015). Through this lens, development becomes a canvas on which changes occur, rendering a dynamic portrait of societal progress. This viewpoint provides a fundamental framework for understanding the trajectory of growth and transformation that societies, economies, and communities embark upon.

Figure 2: Neapolitan Street (Barbey, 1964).

Transitioning to the micro level of development, the focus shifts to its application on a more personal scale—that of individual growth and progress of small groups. Here, the temporal scope narrows, allowing us to monitor the changes in abilities, knowledge, and capacities within a condensed timeframe (Szirmai, 2015). The micro-level encapsulates continuous progression, embodying the notion that personal and collection development is an ongoing journey. This perspective highlights the subtle yet impactful shifts that occur in the day-to-day lives of individuals and localized communities, contributing to the intricate human progress.

Conversely, the macro development landscape pertains to a grander arena—that of national or regional aspirations. At this scale, development extends its reach beyond individual growth and micro-level dynamics to encompass comprehensive policies and transformative measures (Szirmai, 2015). These initiatives are meticulously designed to enhance or reshape the socioeconomic conditions of entire nations and regions. The macro level of development functions as a powerful engine propelling countries and regions toward specific goals. These goals often encompass a broad spectrum of ambitions, ranging from bolstering economic prowess to elevating the overall well-being of citizens.

In the context of this series, the focal point gravitates towards the macro level of development. This strategic emphasis serves as a prism through which we elucidate the connections between development and the spheres of public administration and global affairs. By concentrating on this broader perspective, we gain valuable insights into the mechanisms by which countries navigate progress. This perspective also unravels the historical narratives of nations, unveiling the strategies and trajectories they pursued across epochs to enhance their conditions. In essence, this comprehensive exploration delves into the multifaceted dimensions of development. It covers everything from the sweeping trends that define eras to the intimate intricacies of individual growth, as well as the grand endeavors of nations on the macro stage. The series is poised to provide a holistic understanding of development’s complex interplay within politics. It sheds light on the ways in which societies ascend the ladder of progress, chart their courses, and etch their imprints on the tapestry of history.

Figure 3: Map of the World (Laiz, n.d.).

The Approaches to Development

Within the discourse surrounding development concerns, there exists a foundational recognition. Nations actively undertake strategic actions to attain their objectives, encompassing facets like bolstered economic expansion and the enhanced quality of life for their populace. Nevertheless, the exposition by Myint (1980) introduces a dual-pronged framework that encapsulates the overarching paradigms within development issues. These encompass the fight against poverty, and the analysis of long-term economic and social development.

The Fight Against Poverty

The primary hallmark of the first approach lies in its profound engagement with the challenges faced by developing nations and their populations. An intense concern resonates within this paradigm, directed towards the harrowing circumstances in which a significant portion of the global population, surpassing a billion individuals, finds itself ensnared. Within the confines of this approach, scholars are driven by an unwavering conviction that the state of poverty, misery, and injustice is simply untenable. Their mission is to proactively devise recommendations that pave the way for substantive actions, ushering in a transformation of dire situations.

Furthermore, the association of this approach with developing countries and the relentless battle against poverty creates a symbiotic connection. This connection extends to development policies and strategies across multiple tiers. These spheres encompass international, national, regional, and local domains. Through a technocratic lens, individuals harness policies and the array of tools available, thereby developing projects aimed at eradicating the foundational roots of poverty entrenched within nations. This technical facet underscores the pragmatic drive to engineer tangible change by addressing the underlying sources of poverty.

Figure 4: People living on the other side of the coin (Bhaidasna, 2010).

However, the radical political facet within this approach amplifies the engagement to a fervent crescendo. Here, the impetus is not solely confined to technocratic endeavors; it transcends into a realm of political mobilization and action. This transformative force becomes imperative for stirring the masses and instigating a groundswell of demand for profound change. The radical political orientation transforms the approach into a powerful agent of mobilization, channeling the collective will of the people to effectuate sweeping alterations within the sociopolitical sphere. At its core, the initial approach materializes as a dynamic and multifaceted entity, sparked to life by an inherent apprehension for the challenges encountered by developing nations. It traverses the realms of intellectual exploration, policy crafting, and grassroots mobilization, converging these dimensions into a cohesive whole. Steeped in technocratic principles, it harnesses systematic foundations to orchestrate pragmatic remedies. Meanwhile, the radical political facet injects a passionate fervor into the equation, igniting a palpable drive for sweeping transformation. By addressing the intricate web of poverty and its far-reaching repercussions, this approach intricately weaves together the aspirations of society and the impetus for political engagement. It also incorporates the transformative vigor intrinsic to policy implementations.

However, this viewpoint is not without its limitations, primarily stemming from its concentration on short-term measures (Szirmai, 2015). This perpetual drive for change and an enhanced standard of living is indisputable, the strategies often adopt a short-term outlook, neglecting the imperative of long-term sustainability. This drawback is compounded by the gradual pace at which measures to alleviate poverty unfold, leading to a sense of disillusionment among policymakers and advisors. As the landscape evolves and new, more enticing solutions come to the fore, a surge of renewed enthusiasm frequently ensues. However, this optimism, while invigorating, is paradoxically intertwined with a cyclic disillusionment. The anticipation of swift outcomes, bolstered by these appealing remedies, often becomes a double-edged sword. When the anticipated results do not promptly materialize, a disheartening pattern emerges—one where initial optimism wanes, giving way to discouragement and wavering commitment.

The Analysis of Long-Term Economic and Social Development

In the discourse surrounding the battle against poverty and its prevailing short-term orientation, a distinct paradigm emerges within the second approach. This analytical standpoint proffers an alternative lens, focusing its attention on understanding the disparities in global development. Central to this perspective is the diligent pursuit of identifying the underlying factors that elucidate the intricate patterns observed. Unlike the first approach, which is steeped in a personal dedication to alleviate poverty, this analytical approach diverges. It places paramount importance on uncovering the complexities of divergent developmental trajectories across nations. The distinctiveness of this approach is underscored by its divergence from a personal commitment to poverty mitigation. Instead, it undertakes a scholarly endeavor to unearth the foundational mechanisms that drive particular nations towards advancement in specific domains. Concurrently, it observes others remaining stagnant. This analytical disposition notably engenders a sense of detachment, facilitating an environment conducive to rigorous comparative analysis and reflective contemplation. Its objective revolves around the meticulous examination of the substantial discrepancies that have historically permeated developmental trajectories on a global scale.

Figure 5: Human Rights (Cristofani, n.d.).

Central to this perspective is a heightened emphasis on economic growth, particularly in its modern manifestation, as a pivotal driver of a nation’s advancement. Noteworthy voices like (Landes, 1998) and (Maddison, 2001) underscore the crucial role of economic progress, particularly evident in Western societies. This approach does not seek to instigate competition or profess the existence of a superior developmental mechanism. Rather, its purpose revolves around gaining profound insights into the shared attributes and distinctive disparities that permeate the intricate fabric of development processes.

Primarily, the second approach constitutes a scholarly pursuit detached from immediate poverty alleviation efforts. It involves thorough comparative analysis and an exhaustive exploration of factors shaping diverse developmental trajectories. Rooted in the centrality of economic growth, this approach seeks to unravel the intricacies of development, identifying commonalities and distinctions. It transcends competitive paradigms, delving into the nuanced complexity of progress.

Nonetheless, it advances a pessimistic rationale elucidating the limited resonance of the long-term approach among scholars and practitioners. In contrast to the prevailing contention surrounding poverty abatement, which emphasizes its transitory focus and inadequate sustainability, the long-term perspective tends to overlook the foundational factors contributing to stasis (Szirmai, 2015). Solutions addressing tangible challenges are conspicuously scarce within this framework. It primarily functions as a strategic instrument for delineating similarities, disparities, and anticipatory forecasts grounded in established patterns. In general, both methodologies enable scholars, practitioners, and the broader public to grasp the viewpoints from which development can be examined. Nevertheless, development continues to encompass various elements that will be delved into in the subsequent section.

Elements Involved in Development

As per Szirmai’s analysis (2015), there exist eight factors that exert an impact on development. These include the initial aspect of growth and development, alterations in structure, the alleviation of poverty, enhancements in social welfare through the use of social indicators, the ongoing trend of modernization, an increase in various forms of freedom including political liberty, a heightened emphasis on environmental sustainability, and a drive towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). So what is it meant by “development” and how it is measured?

Figure 6: Human Development (Centro Cultural San Francisco de Asís, 2012).

Economic Growth

First, the notion of development is intrinsically linked to economic growth, as people instinctively associate progress with economic advancement. This connection arises from the stark contrasts between impoverished nations and prosperous ones, sparking curiosity about the driving force behind the varying levels of well-being (Szirmai, 2015). This understanding translates into the metric of national income per capita, which embodies the idea that greater financial resources propel nations toward greater advancement. Economic growth enables investment in crucial sectors like education, healthcare, and infrastructure, fostering a cycle of improved living standards and increased opportunities. However, the relationship between development and economic growth prompts a nuanced perspective. While economic progress is pivotal, a holistic view of development recognizes that it encompasses more than just material gains. Development must encompass social, environmental, and qualitative aspects to strike a balance between quantitative prosperity and overall well-being. In sum, the synergy between development and economic growth underscores the significance of strong economies. It also advocates for a comprehensive approach that accounts for multifaceted dimensions of progress.

Structural Changes

Moreover, economic growth plays a pivotal role in facilitating investment, subsequently driving structural transformations—another key factor in development. Kuznets (1966) elucidates that economic evolution invariably accompanies structural shifts, characterized by significant alterations in industrial operations, typically instigated by major economic advancements. This dynamic often involves substantial expenditure and expansion within the spheres of production and employment. It happens particularly in manufacturing, while primary sectors such as agriculture experience a diminishing proportion (Szirmai, 2015). Industries at the forefront of development, notably technology and information and communication technology (ICT) underscore the trajectory of progress (Abramovitz, 1989; Szirmai, 2015). Nevertheless, it is imperative to acknowledge that economic growth can transpire in the absence of concurrent structural transformations. While development does not mandate their simultaneous occurrence as indicators, it is noteworthy that structural changes require the financial underpinning derived from economic growth. This financial support promotes novel modes of production, as highlighted by Szirmai in 2015. In this framework, the connection between economic growth and structural alterations merits careful examination. While economic growth and structural shifts do not necessarily have to occur simultaneously to manifest independently, the latter relies on the former as a prerequisite. It generates essential financial means for pioneering novel modes of production.

Poverty Reduction

A third pivotal element pertains to development through the lens of poverty reduction. This facet demonstrates a strong interconnection with one of the previously mentioned development approaches. It also underscores the notion that economic growth and transformative shifts should be accompanied by a concomitant decline in poverty levels, both on a national and global scale. Despite the expansion of economic prosperity in various nations, some countries have failed to witness commensurate increases in well-being or substantial reductions in poverty. In response, scholars emphasize the necessity for additional conditions to be fulfilled in order to assert the actual occurrence of development (Seers, 1979). Seers contends that a comprehensive developmental narrative requires diminished income inequality and a decline in poverty and malnutrition. In addition, it also needs augmented employment opportunities within the community. The absence of these prerequisites effectively undermines the legitimacy of development, given that a substantial segment of the populace remains marginalized from reaping the associated benefits.

Figure 7: Refugees transform tubes into homes in the city outskirts (Barbey, 1971).

Social Welfare

Sequentially assessing developmental markers, we encounter the dimension of social welfare as a pivotal and multifaceted aspect. It underscores the imperative that development transcends the confines of economic growth and progress. It expands its purview to encompass a broader spectrum of objectives—chief among them being the augmentation of the collective well-being of a nation and its populace. This redefinition of development urges integration of the social dimension, a proposition notably underscored by Szirmai (2015). Within this enriched perspective, a nation’s evaluative framework encompasses not only traditional economic metrics but also an array of key social indicators, notably literacy rates, life expectancy, and nutritional standards, as enunciated by the insights of Sen (1999). In contrast to a narrow fixation on economic growth, as represented within statistical indices, the very essence of development is inextricably linked. It is linked to the populace’s experiential dimensions of happiness and satisfaction, as emphasized by Easterlin in 1972. This shift in perspective propels discussions that pivot around the hypothesis that the trajectory of social welfare can indeed improve independently of economic growth. Such a proposition steers the conversation towards discerning how resources are allocated within a nation, shaping the environment for social development. This viewpoint underscores the nuanced interplay between the allocation and utilization of resources. It indicates that the equitable distribution of resources, rather than solely the inflow of economic prosperity, significantly contributes to social welfare.


Moving forward, all these improvements tied to development require modernization. This process of modernization extends beyond the conventional contours of structural enhancement, economic expansion, and heightened societal well-being. Rather, it encompasses an ideological underpinning that propels progress aligned with foundational principles that transcend the realms of material advancement (Szirmai, 2015). In the context of this evolving narrative, the notion of development takes on an increasingly imbued dimension of values, characterized by a heightened emphasis on rationality in the process of policy formulation. This shift in perspective is accentuated by a deepened scrutiny of both overarching objectives and the strategic methodologies employed to initiate transformative changes (Szirmai, 2015). In tandem, the phase of planning assumes a notable level of significance. It demands the harmonization of a coherent array of policy instruments specifically tailored to mitigate undesirable trends and foster constructive transitions. The interdependent cultivation of refined planning methodologies and the articulation of rational policy frameworks converge synergistically. This ultimately results in an enhancement of both production yields and living standards—a phenomenon firmly grounded in the bedrock principles of operational efficiency.

Moreover, the paradigmatic tenets of modernization engender a robust emphasis on the cultivation of institutions characterized by operational efficiency. These institutions emerge as pivotal factors safeguarding both productive capacities and the civil rights of citizens. In doing so, they contribute substantively to the consolidation of national autonomy and the perpetuation of democratic norms. Exemplifying paramount agency within this orchestration, governmental bodies wield formidable influence. Through the conferment of rights and the imposition of civic obligations, governments articulate the framework. This framework translates overarching objectives into tangible trajectories of progress.

Figure 8: Modernization (Genpact, n.d.).


As various spheres of society witness discernible advancements and governments respond congruently, a consequential outcome emerges—the attainment of heightened freedoms. This nexus between societal progress and governance comportment marks a significant juncture. In this context, the modernization paradigm surfaces as a catalyst, facilitating the populace’s active engagement in shaping the nation’s trajectory. Through modernization, citizens gain a platform to voice their political opinions and actively participate in discussions that pertain to the nation’s future.

Underpinning this participatory narrative is the principle that various transformations are subject to a rigorous assessment. This assessment ranges from economic growth to social and political shifts and is founded upon their impact on human freedoms, as highlighted by Szirmai in 2015. In line with this sentiment, Sen (1999) expounds on the multifaceted nature of freedoms, delineating them as both intrinsic ends and instrumental means. The capability to take action sustains the cadence of societal progress. It propels the march toward advancement, regardless of whether these actions involve various actors beyond the general populace. However, it is the capacity to actively exercise these actions that fundamentally enriches the pursuit of objectives, consequently increasing freedoms. This interplay between progress, agency, and freedom underscores the intricate dynamics at play. The empowerment of individuals, channeled through modernization, nurtures an environment. In this environment, expressions of political opinion and active involvement in the nation’s trajectory are not just acknowledged but encouraged. The dialogues and debates surrounding economic growth, social dynamics, and political transformations thereby gain a deeper significance. This significance is measured by the extent to which they contribute to broadening the horizons of human liberties.

Figure 9: There is still time (Silvester, 2019).
Environmental Sustainability

Another dimension that has garnered significance over the recent decades is that of sustainability (Mishan, 1967). The concept of “sustainable development“ embodies the fundamental proposition that the course of development must not compromise the rights and prospects of following generations. Otherwise, it stands to be invalidated as true development (Brundtland et al., 1987). In essence, any strides in economic progression, societal transformations, and governmental initiatives necessitate an astute awareness of their ecological ramifications. Ideally, this entails a proactive assessment of their potential impacts on the environment, with a forward-looking scrutiny of forthcoming consequences. The foundational perspectives articulated by Mishan in 1967 substantiate and enhance this evolving discourse, underscoring the increasing recognition of sustainability’s significance. Inherent in the notion of sustainable development is a profound acknowledgment that the pursuit of progress is intrinsically intertwined with the imperative of safeguarding the environment. The prism of sustainable development offers a reframed perspective, advocating for a delicate equilibrium where progress harmonizes with ecological stability. Thus, the conscientious examination of environmental consequences becomes a vital facet within the broader fabric of developmental undertakings.

Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The final marker of development discussed within this article centers on the progress made towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also referred to as SDGs. Development inherently carries normative implications, entailing the pursuit of an improved state of affairs and the incorporation of the aforementioned indicators. Recognizing this, the United Nations strategically embraced the concept of Sustainable Development Goals, a framework underscored by Szirmai in 2015. These goals constitute quantifiable policy targets, underpinned by a comprehensive monitoring process designed to facilitate their realization. This ultimate indicator of development seeks to not only bolster economic growth but also intricately intertwine it with the enhancement of social well-being, the instigation of structural shifts, the integration of environmental considerations, the mitigation of poverty, the pursuit of modernization, and the broadening of freedoms. Articulated within stipulated timeframes, these goals serve as a catalyst, urging nations to elevate their individual circumstances while concurrently contributing to the collective pursuit of global aspirations.


In conclusion, development entails a multifaceted journey that extends beyond mere economic growth. It encompasses the betterment of individuals, groups, and nations as a whole. This article highlights that true development hinges on factors such as social welfare, the presence of freedoms, and the achievement of sustainability. It is evident that a comprehensive understanding of these elements is essential for guiding nations forward and addressing the obstacles that have hindered their progress. Embracing a holistic approach to development will not only lead to prosperity but also pave the way for a more equitable and flourishing future.

Bibliographical References

Abramovitz, M. (1989). “Thinking about Growth”, in M. Abramovitz, Thinking about Growth and other Essays on Economic Growth and Welfare. Cambridge University Press, pp. 3-79.

Brundtland, G. et al. (1987) Our Common Future, The World Commission on Environment and Development. Oxford University Press.

Easterlin, R. (1972). ‘Does Economic Growth Improve the Human Lot’, in: P.A. DAVID and M.W. REDER (eds.), Nations and Households in Economic Growth: Essays in Honor of Moses Abramovitz. Stanford University Press.

Kuznets, S. (1966). Modern Economic Growth: Rate, Structure and Spread. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Landes, D. (1998). The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are so Rich and Some so Poor. New York/London: Norton.

Maddison, A. (2001) The World Economy: A Millennial Perspective. Development Centre Studies. Paris: OECD.

Mishan, E. (1967). The Costs of Economic Growth. New York: Praeger.

Myint, H. (1980). The Economics of the Developing Countries, 5th ed. London: Hutchinson.

Seers, D. (1979). ‘The Meaning of Development’, in: D. LEHMAN (ed.), Development Theory: Four Critical Studies. London: Frank Cass, pp. 9–30.

Sen, A. (1999). Development as Freedom. New York: Anchor Books.

Szirmai, A. (2015). Socio-economic development. Cambridge University Press.

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