Something this experience has made me question is the meaning of development. In the traditional sense, when we think of development, we think of infrastructure, money, growth, and things like that. We think of development often purely in an economic sense. We think of maximizing profits and minimizing costs. We think about how to get the biggest paychecks and make everybody richer. That is what development has meant for centuries. That’s why we have urban sprawl. That’s why we constant construction work in Lexington. That is why in many ways we have the world that we do today. We have the high-tech developed world, but at what cost? Many of our rivers are polluted, our forests destroyed, our glaciers melting. We have people dying and oceans rising. Doesn’t development mean improvement? If I were to describe development, I would think of things improving, getting better, more efficient, making people more well-off. If the things we are doing in our society today are going to bite us in the ass in the future, is it really development or were we just deceived for the first couple centuries of it until our world reverts to chaos?
I know I’m exaggerating, but it’s something we need to think about. The Tohono O’Odham I believe think of development in a far different way, because when outsiders and the Bureau of Indian Affairs and white Europeans and Americans came in to help them develop, we essentially decimated their culture, stole their water, made it incredibly difficult for them to grow their own food, gave them diseases, and left them as some of the poorest people in the country. That doesn’t sound like development to me because we have completely forgotten about a huge part of development. Call me hippie-dippie but we have forgotten about the spiritual side of development, the cultural side. We only think of economics, our focus so narrow as opposed to looking at the full breadth of our actions and the effect they will have on the world. If we considered the value of oceans and water and the richness they bring to our culture, we surely wouldn’t have developed our world in the way we did. That’s how we can learn from the Tohono O’Odham. By developing now, they are reverting back to many of the ways of living from the past. That’s not typical development as we would think of it but it is for them because it is allowing them to strengthen their culture, return to their traditional ways of growing food and living, and having a more fulfilling, healthy lifestyle. Development means improving life, not just improving the size of our wallets.
2 Replies to “Post 5: What does development really mean?”
Great post Eric, rich with your reflections on the meaning of development. What many people don’t realize is that the term, unlike evolution, means a process directed towards a goal. As such it is value oriented. The problem is most of us have taken for granted that this goal is not only good for those of our society but the world in general, In the process of bringing our single minded economic standards to others we have destroyed much of what gave their lives meaning and value.
“In the traditional sense, when we think of development, we think of infrastructure, money, growth, and things like that. We think of development often purely in an economic sense. We think of maximizing profits and minimizing costs. We think about how to get the biggest paychecks and make everybody richer. That is what development has meant for centuries.”
Let me defend economics for a minute. I don’t think that most economists would define development in terms of money income. In fact, most economists would absolutely agree that development should imply improvements to the health and welfare of the people in question. Income from wages is only one part of the story. Health statistics such a life expectancy, infant and child mortality rates, chronic disease are commonly recognized as key development indicators. Most would also include statistics the reflect security and crime, environmental quality and happiness.
That said, I completely agree that there is a long and quite poor track record of development efforts and oftentimes the failures can be traced back to not recognizing the importance of culture. This is one of the main themes that Cornell and Kalt talk about in our readings. Namely that governance systems (which in turn shape economic development efforts) must match or at least not be completely incompatible with the culture of the people.