The term development describes the growth, progress or positive change that accompanies improvement in the social, economic and environmental conditions in an area. Development aims at raising the standard of living through the eradication of poverty, hunger and disease and through employment and sustainable income opportunities. It also seeks to promote the democratisation of the political process and guarantee basic human rights to all people.
A number of different theories of development have been proposed. Some, such as those based on biological systems (e.g. Gregor Mendel and the laws of genetics) and markets (Douglas North), view development as a series of historical accidents, with more favourable innovations tending to survive and flourish and less favourable ones dying out. Others, such as lifespan theorists and behaviourists (Vygotsky and information processing theory) view human development as a continuous process.
Other theorists believe that cultural factors are crucial to understanding development, especially the changes that occur throughout life. Erikson’s model, for example, suggests that successful development depends on navigating through the psychosocial crises that occur during the lifetime – which are usually referred to as stages – and that each stage has its own developmental task.
A more recent approach, referred to as “human scale development”, calls for the state to give up its traditional paternalistic and welfarist role in favour of a facilitative one, acting as a catalyst in enacting and consolidating people’s solutions flowing from below. It is an inclusive and holistic approach that takes into account the need to nurture diversity rather than threaten it, to develop processes of economic decentralisation and encourage rather than repress emerging social movements that reflect the needs of civil society for autonomy and space.