a Definition of Development
Yossef Ben-Meir Marrakech
idea of development itself, its definition, and even the method we use for
defining it, would be a good place to begin toward discovering its
potential in our lives. We cannot rely on any single, or even ten,
definitions. We need to look at the full range of literature that arose
following the end of World War II, decolonization, and reconstruction from
when international development spawned in our era. How has development
been defined across the decades?
of the ways this information can be organized is by looking at the
explanations--some concise, some longer--of what development is, and
taking those few sentences and putting them into a file, building a
database of development descriptions. This process gave me several
hundreds of pages from several thousands of books or authors that can help
one come to an understanding of what is development.
next step is to break down the definitions into their components. You have
a box for development as it relates to economics. Another relates to
social aspects. Still another is about the political side of the issue,
and another is about geography. Other components will include change,
growth, and process. When you have built a database of information and
broken the concept down into its elements, you are then in the position of
defining the term based on the range of its basic elements.
can extend this method to other aspects of your life and work, where I
hope you find the most passion. Defining the terms will be essential to
creating a foundation for your research, investigation, analysis,
understanding, teaching, and training. In my own investigation, absorbing
all possible literature on the development field that emerged from the
1950s up until 2011, at which time most of my energies transitioned from
academic study to development practice in Morocco, I can share what I
gathered. One result of dedicated study can be the formulation of new
definitions, created by drawing from all of the “baskets” of broken
down and organized parts, and then reassembled into working definitions.
we find with all of these words--development, empowerment, sustainability,
participation--is that there are great differences and lack of consensus
in their meaning, with entirely different emphases, depending on the
context. There are also some other words--like progress, change, movement,
mobilization, action, unpredictable, and multi-dimensional that reappear
when we discuss development. Lack of predictability does not mean
uncontrollable or unmanageable, but rather requiring flexibility or the
ability to adapt with ever-changing circumstances.
do we mean when we say “multi-dimensional”? What are these dimensions?
Economic, environmental, cultural, social, political, technological,
financial, historical, and physical-ecological--these have all been
identified as elements of development, recognizing that they touch every
aspect of community life or the totality of human life. Development
experiences also identify a spiritual aspect, connecting to the universal,
recognizing that the impact of development is also internal and
perceptional. These dimensions surround our community lives and are within
the fabric of our relating to one another.
the early decades to today, “modernization” has been the underlying
perspective for approaching development. All societies experience or need
to experience this espoused linear progression from point A to point B as
part of their development process. The agricultural economy needs to be
productive to the point where it can feed a growing urban population, so
that people in the cities can manufacture and have industry. If we are in
Morocco or anywhere else, modernization’s progression--at least
according to its own view--is necessary for development.
we talk about development that doesn’t support this model--it’s not A,
B, C, D, E for everyone. What works for you might not work for us and
might actually hurt us, take away our autonomy, and won’t let us build
our economy based on our choices and capacity and agricultural opportunity
Not taking into consideration our geographical and environmental
situations, our history, our culture, our traditions, strict modernization
is often a source of our poverty. Development which tries to readdress
this rigidity is labeled “alternative”, controversial, or even
definition of development must include growth and expansion and meeting
human needs. There are, however, profound differences among different
societies on how those things are achieved and what the nature, quality,
and characteristics of the growth look like. This is why a single
definition is so difficult to land on. It dooms us to not be fully
adequate in our definition. Forms of development can be conflictual. We
can’t have full industrialization in developing countries based on
products that are in demand in developed countries and expect the same
outcomes on all sides of the exchanges. The modernization model may create
a cost borne by developing/less-industrial countries because they will
only grow as a reflection of demand in the developed ones.
the birth of development, there has always been an alternative approach,
rejecting external control that mainstream prescriptions bring and instead
emphasizing internally strengthening (and diversifying) people-driven
change. Today, it is the norm to advance people’s participation--in
Morocco, it is the law--but that point of view did not used to be mandated
and was distrusted by those in the mainstream who believed it was putting
collectives of people in positions to make decisions they were not
equipped to make. The outcome and what public participation would mobilize
was feared and distrusted.
is to benefit from development and enhanced quality of life through
mobilization, action, change, and a multi-dimensional process improving
upon all aspects of human life? The goal is all or the majority of people,
but particularly the people who experience poverty and marginalization. We
will always have to make choices because budgets are never endless.
However, when making choices, we focus on people who are disenfranchised,
disadvantaged, and remote--the individual and the collective. Not just in
Morocco, but around the world, most poverty is concentrated in rural
areas, and within these places, typically the highest rate impoverishment
is in mountainous and dry regions.
what definition of development have we come to after reviewing literature,
breaking down into parts, and reconfiguring these elements into something
workable? It is a process that considers in its planning, economic,
political, institutional, cultural, environmental and technological
factors to achieve its goal of generating benefits in these areas directed
at all or the majority of people, especially those who experience poverty.
we go through this process together, across our localities, we will be in
a superb position to manage public health in a pandemic. We will be in a
position to encourage calm dialogue in the face of terrible unrest and
unfairness. We will understand how we may effectively govern and campaign
to govern, to devise infrastructure investments for maximum
community-level return and widely shared management and benefits, to guide
our trade relationships emphasizing self-reliance, regional bloc markets,
and global engagement, and to address the root causes of people’s
dissatisfying work and interconnectivity with each other. To best face the
time we’re in, there is no greater immediate and long-term urgency than
the process of development requiring inclusion.
Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir is a sociologist and President of the High Atlas Foundation, a U.S.-Moroccan non-for-profit organization dedicated to sustainable development in Morocco.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions of the authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect ethioobserver position. ethioobserver does not exercise any editorial control over the information therein. ethioobserver cannot accept any responsibility or liability for any actions taken (or not taken) as a result of reading the material displayed.