Approaches for measuring development

Essay 2012 6 Pages

Sociology - Political Sociology, Majorities, Minorities


1 Introduction

Development is seen as a highly subjective concept and as such has different meaning reflecting the ideology of different groups and classes of people at different locations and time period. This is confirmed by Tadaro’s (1997) assertion that, development is relative term, which may mean different things to different people. To him development is both physical reality and a state of mind in which society has through some consideration of social, economic and institutional processes secured as the means of obtaining better life. According to Gunner Myrdal (1975), development is the movement upward of the entire social system. To him the social system includes both economic and non-economic factors such as health, education, water, electricity and others. Regardless of the different meaning of development upheld by different scholars, development throughout history has been understood as “change in a desirable direction and encompassing many different dimensions”.

Traditionally, development was equated to economic growth. Development policies were dominated by the thinking of economists for whom development was seen as a process through which all countries would pass provided conditions were right. The barriers to such modernization were seen as a lack of capital, foreign exchange, trained personnel and what might now be termed an “enterprise culture”. The intention of development strategies was to close these gaps. The indicator of success was seen as growth of the gross national product (GNP) and ministries of economic development and planning produced development plans that largely reflected this approach. This approach to development was based on the premise that growth in GNP was seen rather as the necessary precursor to social development- the generator of resources to allow the social sectors including health, education and others to grow.

However, by the early 1970s there was increasing recognition that any growth in GNP which had occurred was not having concomitant effects on social indicators (infant mortality, literacy rates, and income distribution). Also social thinkers recognised that defining development on economic basis had a great deficiency on the ground that, averaging the material wealth per head of a population conceals the great discrepancies of income which actually exist between individual and groups. Again it was possible to see massive expenditure on luxury goods by a minority at a time when the majority is barely able to survive (Thmompson, 1984). On the basis of the weaknesses of the economic approach to development, others argued that development could not be thought of simply as an accumulation of wealth but that it must be concerned with the distribution and use made of that wealth, with the impact both on the way in which it has been created and the way in which it is used upon the quality of the lives people lead. Based on the above, attempts were made at conceptualising development to reflect the chief evils of the world rather than a mere growth in GNP. New ways of reconceptualising development included the following:

- The first conceptualisation of development was expressed in the Cocoyoc Declaration in 1974. The declaration was made at a seminar organized by the Technical Council on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the United Nation Environmental Programme (UNE) in Cocoyoc (Mexico). The declaration states that;

“Our first concern is to redefine the whole purpose of development. This should not be to develop things but to develop man. Human beings have basic needs: food, shelter, clothing, health, and education. Any process of growth that does not lead to their fulfilment, or even worse disrupts them is a travesty of the idea of development” (Ghai, 1977:6).

- In 1975, the Seventh Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly asked for a more effective way than that of the International Development Strategy adopted for achieving social objectives of development. Due to this, the ILO in June 1976 organised a conference on Employment, Income Distribution and Social Progress which gave birth to a new conceptualisation of development known as the Basic Needs Approach.
- Another conceptualisation of development focused on Human Capital. This approach saw education accomplishment as basically a means to higher competitiveness and therefore, was a variant of the economic growth perspective

2 Measuring Development

Development is measured by outcomes- indicator of human well-being improves. Approaches used to measure development are often contingent upon the conceptualisation of the term (Development) hence different indices for measuring development has evolved over the years. For instead prior to the 1970 traditional economists used GDP as a measure of development. But this measure of development didn’t suffice for long since it was too narrow because development is more than just economic growth. As a result, there have been numerous efforts both to remedy its defects and to create other composite indicators that could serve as complements or alternatives to this traditional measure. Basically, such indicators fall into two groups-those that seek to measure development in terms of a “normal” or “optimal” pattern of interaction among social, economic and political factors and those that measure development in terms of the quality of life. One of the early major studies on the first group of composite indicators for measuring development was carried out by the United Nations Research Institute on Social Development (UNRISD) in 1972. The study identified 16 indicators (9 social indicators and 7 economic indicators) for measuring development. The ideology of the second group was also underpinned by a study conducted by lrmaAdelman and Cynthia Morris. The study identified 40 indicators for measuring development.


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Title: Approaches for measuring development