What is Development?

Through its everyday use in a variety of different contexts, the word ‘development’ has become a colloquial term; However, rarely do we stop to analyse the word’s true meaning.



In order to discover this word’s genuine meaning, I began by searching for the definition of ‘development’ on Google. From doing this it was immediately made evident that the definition isn’t as straight-forward as it may appear, and in reality, it has a multitude of different meanings which are often contested.

Some see development in terms of economic development. For example, a country’s GDP. Through improving their GDP, through things such as trade, and their industry, some would see this as them becoming developed. Others may argue that improving the social factors of a country would be them ‘developing’, more specifically by investing into education and health care.

However, there are others who have a more abstract concept of the word development. Robert Chambers wrote that “the eternal challenge of development is to do better” (Chambers, 1997: 1743). Here Chambers summarises why development is so difficult to define, since there are countless ways that a country can ‘do better’ depending on their specific context. This shows that the word ‘development’ can be incredibly complex, and that it can shift its focus in order to suit the situation presented. What is classed as development for one area may not be for another. Similarly, in the article “Development as a Buzzword”  Gilbert Rist argues that the meaning of development “depends on where and by whom it is used” (Rist, 2007: 185). Further reiterating the idea that the definition is dependent on the situation.

Some may define development in relation to the criteria set out in the ‘Sustainable Development Goals’, a UN initiative which includes 17 goals, covering a range of development indicators, which must be met by 2030. These goals are further proof of the diversity of the meaning of development, as they cover a variety of development measures, ranging from eradicating hunger and poverty, to achieving peace and justice.

dev-2(Sustainable Development Goals)

Although these goals allow us to see the range of factors that development encompasses, it still fails to include what some countries may class as development. For example on the blog, ‘The Development Set’ it is argued that child welfare is an issue that is often ignored in mainstream media. Furthermore, it is an important factor when considering the development of certain countries and areas, despite not being included as a topic that is addressed in the Sustainable Development Goals (Bansal, 2016). This therefore demonstrates the breadth of the term, and how it would be near impossible to list all the ways in which development could occur, and consequently what development truly is.


To summarise, I believe it is fair to say that it is almost impossible to truly define the term ‘development’. As I have demonstrated, the meaning of development varies over different contexts, authors and places. Although in general, development may be defined as an overall process in which a country is improving, the improvement can take place in a variety of ways. This therefore is what makes development a complex and multifaceted concept.


Bansal, S. (2016) Shining the light on child welfare. Available at: https://medium.com/the-development-set/shining-the-light-on-child-welfare (1 October 2016).

Chambers, R (1997) ‘Responsible Well-being: A Personal Agenda for Development’, World Development, 25(11): 1743-1754

Rist, G. (2007) ‘Development as a buzzword’, Development in Practice, 17(4): 485-491

Shah, V. (2016) The business of achieving the sustainable development goals. Available at: http://www.eco-business.com/news/the-business-of-achieving-the-sustainable-development-goals/ (1 October 2016).

(No Date) Available at: https://www.google.co.uk/– q=development+ (1 October 2016).





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