In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Development

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Reference Works
  • Bibliographies
  • Classic Works
  • Modernization School
  • Dependency School and World-System Theory
  • Aid
  • Sustainability
  • Security
  • Post-Development

International Relations Development
Christopher LaMonica
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0079


When the term “development” first became popular in the field of international relations, in the 1950s, there was less critical thinking on the subject. Initial proponents of development ranged from conservative “modernization theorists” to the more progressive supporters of democratic development. For a time, both conservatives and progressives were united in their optimism for development in Third World states (a term coined during the Cold War). In fact, many scholars of the subject initially used the terms “progress,” “modernization,” and “development” interchangeably. Importantly, early scholarship was almost completely dominated by Western state scholars; a decidedly less enthusiastic response to the Western-state-led project of development soon emerged in the form of postcolonial literature and scholarship. Using the ideas of Marx, Lenin, and others, several critical theories of development emerged, notably from Latin American scholars, under the rubric of “dependency.” Today, although the modernization versus dependency rift does still exist, other forms of development study have emerged to include, notably, sustainable development, human development, grassroots development, and green development. Critical theorists now speak of a postdevelopment era, while others now link matters of security to development in what is termed a “development-security nexus.” What seems clear today is that the consumer-oriented forms of twentieth-century industrial development were so remarkable that they went largely unquestioned, at least among the powerful states of the world. As such, “development” became a primary objective and hope for a growing number throughout the world, mostly under Western state tutelage. Even within the former Soviet bloc and other Marxist-inspired states, industrialization was generally considered a worthwhile development objective. In the twenty-first century, however, growing concerns over sustainability and global environmental change have caused many development theorists and practitioners to reconsider their traditional development paradigms.

General Overviews

Post–World War II, development was considered to be the best path to independence from the colonizer, and, at least initially, it was applauded by most Western observers and the decolonized alike. In the new and emerging development literature, sometimes referred to as “modernization theory,” scholars inevitably made references to Western theories and models of development and drew especially on the classics of Western civilization. Twentieth-century “moderization” theorists like Max Weber and Emile Durkheim (see Classic Works), viewed developmental pressures and change as inevitable and, by contrast, tended to focus on gradual historic change. Weber, for example, famously argued that social progress necessitated a transition from traditional forms of authority to rational-bureaucratic ones. And, at the height of the industrial revolution, Durkheim argued that the specialization of labor was not only materially best for society, it was also the most moral arrangement for society because it ultimately allowed for individual workers to be arranged according to ability, in what he termed an “organic solidarity.” Whereas the Marxist-Leninist literature focused on exploitation of the weak and material inequities more generally, proponents of the Western model emphasized the “miracle” of economic efficiency via specialization. Much of the Cold War scholarship on development was especially critical of communism, as best expressed in Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto (Rostow 1960, cited under Modernization School). Like other modernization theorists, Rostow contended that all societies go through five stages of development, which start at the level of traditional society and end in a society of mass consumption that actually moves beyond people’s basic needs to the consumption of durable goods. Another notable work of the period, Almond and Coleman 1960, had a tremendous impact on discussions within the field of political science, and more specifically within the field of comparative politics. The overarching inevitability and optimism of development/modernization theories was soon replaced by an increasingly critical literature that was, in many ways, a reflection of the lack of economic and social development as well as the unfortunate patterns of coup d’états, authoritarian regimes, and so on. In the 1960s and1970s, one reaction was to focus on “basic needs” and noneconomic development indicators (such as infant mortality, literacy, and others as measured in the UNDP’s Human Development Index), while another was to latch onto theories of underdevelopment and dependency that were largely inspired by Marxism-Leninism. In the 1980s and 1990s, development studies was strongly influenced by a growing critique against state “aid,” which was now viewed by many as inefficient and wasteful, and even as hampering the prospects for development. Importantly, critique of the state came from both conservative (neoliberal) and progressive (grassroots development) schools of thought. Moreover, a desire to move beyond a largely ineffective “development era” was expressed, as critical theory and the notion of post-development became central to the subject. In 2000, with the establishment of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), came a growing recognition of the complexity of “development” and of the now firmly embedded institutional challenges underlying aid and development. With the optimism notably expressed by development economist Jeffrey Sachs (Sachs 2005 cited under Contemporary Works: Neoliberal), the MDGs included, inter alia, the eradication of “extreme poverty” by 2015, the achievement of universal primary education, and an appeal to the OECD states of the world to contribute at least 0.7% of their annual GDP to “official development assistance” (ODA). Critiques of development aid have nevertheless continued to grow in the post–Cold War period; even proponents of increasing aid have supported the push for “aid effectiveness” via a series of meetings sponsored by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the High Level Fora on Aid Effectiveness, which resulted in the 2002 Rome Declaration, the 2005 Paris Declaration, and the 2008 Accra Agenda for Action. A fourth “high level forum” took place in December 2011 in Busan).

  • Almond, Gabriel A., and James S. Coleman, eds. The Politics of Developing Areas. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1960.

    This much-cited collaborative study includes sections on Southeast Asia by Lucian W. Pye, South Asia by Myron Weiner, sub-Saharan Africa by James Coleman, the Near East by Dankwart A. Rustow, and Latin America by George I. Blanksten. The book has an introductory theoretical section titled “A Functional Approach to Comparative Politics,” written by Gabriel Almond (p. 3–64).

  • Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The High Level Fora on Aid Effectiveness: A History.

    This online resource discusses and provides relevant documentation on the High Level Fora on Aid Effectiveness in Rome, Paris, Accra, and Busan—in 2003, 2005, 2008, and 2011, respectively.

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