The Theory of Development


In its broadest sense, development is improvements in the well-being of people and their societies. It is measured by sustained improvements in a broad range of indicators including economic growth, health, education, nutrition, and life expectancy. It also encompasses the eradication of poverty, hunger and disease, the provision of shelter and safe water and sanitation, the advancement of women’s rights and the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The international agenda for development began to take shape in the second half of the twentieth century. It focused on promoting sustainable economic growth and addressing issues such as poverty, hunger, disease and illiteracy. It also emphasized the need for democracy and the rule of law, the protection of civil liberties, transparency in government, and the participation of all citizens in the governance of their country.

Assumptions about the causes of development include whether it is determined by nature (genes, biology) or nurture (environment and learning). Some theorists, such as Piaget and Vygotsky, assume that people play a more active role in their own developmental journey than others, for example, the behaviorists.

Other theorists, like the information processing theorists, assume that people do not acquire new skills as they age but instead use their existing skills more effectively or change their ways of thinking and behaving. Finally, there are those who subscribe to an organismic meta-theory that sees human beings as structured wholes, like a caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly. These theorists assume that people move through discontinuous qualitatively different phases of development, but these stages are driven by the affordances and opportunities provided by their environments.