Theories of Development: discursive development of development discourses


Early economic development theory was but merely an extension of conventional economic theory which equated "development" with growth and industrialization. As a result, Latin American, Asian and African countries were seen mostly as "underdeveloped" countries, i.e. "primitive" versions of European nations that could, with time, "develop" the institutions and standards of living of Europe and North America. Therefore, "stage theory" mentality of economic development dominated discussions of economic development. This conception of course of development was made famous by Alexander Gerschenkron (1953, 1962) and, more crudely, Walt W. Rostow (1960), the stages theories argued that all countries passed through the same historical stages of economic development and that current underdeveloped countries were merely at an earlier stage in this linear historical progress while First World (European and North American) nations were at a later stage.

Ideas concerning stages of development or growth have a long history in various Enlightenment theories of human progress, in Marxfs mode of production, and in the German school of historical economics; in the latter case examples include the theories of Friedrich List, Bruno Hildebrand, Karl Bucher, Gustav Schmoller, and Werner Sombart. The most recent successor to this theoretical tradition is W.W. Rostow, who in his booklet gstages of economic growthh (1960) proposed an alternative to Marxfs theory of history. A historian at the university of Texas, Rostow argued that, in their economic dimensions, all societies lay within one of five historical categories:


1.      Traditional societies had limited gproduction functionh based in pre-Newtonian science, primitive technology, and spiritual attitudes toward the physical world these placed a ceiling on productivity and limited economies to the agricultural level. A hierarchical social structure, in which political power was held by the landowners, provided little scope for social mobility. The value system was derived from long-run fatalism. Rostow admitted that placing infinitely various, changing societies in a single category said little about them, but he justified such historical conflation as necessary for clearing the way to get at his main subject, the post traditional societies where each of the major characteristics if the traditional society was altered to permit regular growth (Rostow 1960:6 )

2.      The second universal stage was the development of a set of preconditions for take-off. These cohered in Western Europe in the late seventeenth centuries as the insights of modern science were translated into new production functions in agriculture and industry in a setting given dynamism by international expansion. Favored by geography and trading possibilities and political structure, Britain was the first to develop these preconditions. Elsewhere they arose not endogenously, but exogenously from intrusions originating in more advanced societies these external influences shook traditional society and either began, or hastened, its undoing. Essentially, this undoing involved the spread of the idea of progress, not just a possibility but also as a necessary condition for some other purpose judged to be good – for example, national dignity, or private profit. Education expanded, new people came forward, banks appeared, investment increased, the scope of commerce broadened, manufacturing plants sprang up – all, however, within societies still characterized predominantly by traditional methods, structures, and values.

3.       Takeoff was the ggreat watershed in the life of modern societies,h when blockages and resistance to steady growth were finally overcome. In Britain and the well-endowed parts of the world populated substantially from Britain the proximate stimulus for takeoff was mainly technological, but elsewhere a political context favorable to modernization was also necessary. During takeoff the rate of effective investment rose from 5% of national income to 10% or more, new industries expanded, profits were ploughed back, urban industrial employment increased, and the class of entrepreneurs expanded. New techniques spread to agriculture and, in just a decade or two, the social and political structures of society were transformed so that steady economic growth could be sustained. A question immediately arose: if the break up of traditional societies came exogenously from demonstration effects from other societies, how could the first takeoff in Britain be accounted for? Rostowfs answer (1960:31) was that a combination of necessary and sufficient conditions for takeoff in Britain was the result of the convergence of a number of quite independent circumstances, a kind of statistical accident of history which, once having occurred, was irreversible, like the loss of innocence. The more exact answer to the question unfolded as a synthesis of two features of post-medieval Europe: external geographic discoveries and the internal development of modern science. Rostow also found crucially significant Britainfs toleration of religious nonconformists (i.e., Hoselitzfs) social deviants, the countryfs relatively open social structure, and the early achievement of a national consciousness in response threats from abroad – this last, he said, placed the first instance back into the general case of societies modernizing in response to intrusion from abroad.

4.      Following takeoff, a society drives toward maturity over a long interval of time as modern technology spreads over the whole front of its economic activity, 10-20% of the national income is invested, and growth outstrips any increase in population. Some 60 years after takeoff a society attains maturity, that is, a state in which there is sufficient entrepreneurial and technical skills to produce anything it chooses – machine tools, chemicals and, electrical equipment industries were examples.

5.      This led eventually to the final stage of high mass consumption, where the leading industrial sectors become durable consumer goods and services. Real income rises to a level permitting a large number of people to consume at levels far in excess of their needs, and the structure of the work force changes toward the urban skilled and office types of employment. Western societies at this level might choose to allocate increased resources to social welfare and social security. Stage 5 was reached by the united states in the 1920s and more fully in the immediate post-war decade; Western Europe and Japan entered this stage in the 1950s; the soviet union had the technical capacity to enter stage 5 should its communist leaders allow (Rostow. 1960).



Those mentioned above are not the exact history of the world, and some parts of the description are inconsistent with the real history of the world. However, as Peet (1999) argued, this western ethno-centralized idea about the development of the world---a notion that there is only a single and universal process of the evolution of civilization--- occupied theories and policies on development. It was very natural way of thinking at that time.

With this universal linear conceptualization of social progress, it became rational to think that development must go through industrialization, and underdeveloped countries should make use of the gadvancesh already made in the first world. It was thought that what is necessary to make gdevelopmenth happen was capital formation. To generate capital formation, the obstacles to industrialization or development must be removed. Development was conceptualized as equal with output growth.

The idea that development must go through industrialization constituted the core of general development models, and it was clear that the development must be deliberately produced, and obstacles to development had to be removed. One of the most influential documents of the period, prepared by a group of experts convened by the United Nations with the objective of designing concrete policies and measures for economic development of underdeveloped countries argued that:

There is a sense in which rapid economic progress is impossible without painful adjustments. Ancient philosophies have to be scrapped; old social institutions have to disintegrate; bonds of caste, creed and race have to burst; and large numbers of persons who cannot keep up with progress have to have their expectations of a comfortable life frustrated. Very few communities are willing to pay the full price of economic progress. [Escobar page 1951 3]


This statement might seem most of us today rather ethnocentric and inappropriate. However, it made perfect sense when it was actually uttered in 1951. It was a time when developmentalism --- ideology of western modernism --- invaded into the discursive space of the world other than Europe, and it functioned as dream of progress although it is quite doubtful if it realized its dream.

The statement clarifies that deliberate actions were necessary to remove obstacles to industrialization, which would boost development. This action must proceed as experts planned, which derives its validity from development economics. Experts suggested that scarce resources must be rightly allocated to the right section; market price should be corrected; savings must be maximized; foreign investment should be directed to the right place; government must accept instructions from IMF and World Bank.

The naturalization of industrialization as inevitable path of society was made possible through the effect of scientific truth such as what Rostow argued. To be more precise it was effect of true discourse in historical transitions that enabled one to speak about the course of development in a particular way. The truth on development was constructed through unfolding in science of economy. Especially, it was development economics that played an important role in shaping possible enunciative subject positions, each of which has scientific validity according to the times.   

Development economics is thought to have been initiated by Colin Clarkfs quantitative study on global economy. His study, as I have mentioned earlier, found that there were poor areas around the world. Regarding those underdeveloped regions, Rosenstein- Rodan and Kurt Mandelbaum followed Colin. Paul Rosenstein-Rodan, who is credited with having "initiated" the theory of economic development, argued in his thesis, based on Young's famous 1928 paper, that government-induced industrialization was possible. In an article of 1943, he also argued that industrialization could be regarded as the "initiator" of economic development. Rosenstein thought that industrialization required a large, and carefully planned initial effort, and small isolated efforts would tend to fail.

However, mostly economists including those above-mentioned were concerned with post-war reconstruction of Europe. Development economics as solid domain of an economics emerged in 1950s, when early development theorists, prompted by Ragnar Nurkse (1952), identified capital formation as the crucial component to accelerate development. The celebrated early work on the "dual economy" by Sir W. Arthur Lewis (1954, 1955) precisely stressed the role of savings in development. Early Keynesians, such as Kaldor and Robinson, attempted to call attention to the issue of income distribution as a determinant of savings and growth. Even modern Marxians such as Maurice Dobb (1951, 1960) focused on the issue of savings-formation. Though Harrod-Domar model had already shown the mechanisms of economic growth in 1940s, it was around the 1950s that economics which exclusively placed focus on gunderdeveloped economyh in which the poverty is so widespread phenomenon.



Go to the Next Chapter: Development Economics; Nurkse and Lewis