What Is Development?

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A development is a change in progress or growth under changing circumstances. The term is used to distinguish progress that is positive and desirable from the kind of change that is unfavorable or even destructive. It can refer to economic as well as social or cultural change.

The aim of development is to improve living standards through increases in food, housing, education, employment, sanitation, health services and travel. It also aims at increasing growth in self-esteem through improving or introducing social, political and economic systems that respect human rights, increase freedom of choice, and empower people to participate in decision-making processes. The United Nations measures the development of countries by their per capita income in addition to other factors such as literacy rates, school enrollment and life expectancy.

There are a number of assumptions that guide the study of development. They include: the nature versus nurture debate as to whether or not human beings are at the whim of genetic inheritance and the environment around them or whether or not they are active participants in their own development. Some theorists, such as Piaget, believe that human beings play a more active role in their own development, while others, like maturational theories (like Arnold Gesell’s) assume that behaviors develop in fixed sequences and that children engage in those behaviors when their nervous systems are mature enough to do so.

Other theorists, such as Amartya Sen’s capability approach and Martha Nussbaum’s empowerment of women’s roles, endorse a more contextualist approach to development. The systems or lifespan meta-theories are based on the idea that development can take a variety of forms depending on the cultural, historical, and societal context under which it occurs.