What Is Development?


Development is a broad term used to describe economic, social and cultural progress. It is often associated with good change, such as improved living standards, better healthcare, education and opportunities for people. It can also be referred to as the ‘development agenda’ when used in a policy context.

However, as the term is so broad and encapsulates a number of different aspects, it can be difficult to understand and apply. There is a huge debate surrounding the topic of what exactly it means to be developed, with different theories and emphases from many different professionals.

For example, there is a difference of opinion over whether development should be seen as continuous or discontinuous. Theorists who believe that development is continuous see changes as gradual, such as a child’s physical growth or the acquisition of new skills (such as learning to demonstrate object permanence). In contrast, those who favour discontinuous development argue that certain changes are more dramatic and happen at particular times, such as an infant’s transition from a pre-operational stage to an operational stage.

Furthermore, it is possible to categorize societies based on their level of development. Sociologists have identified several major types of society, including hunting and gathering, horticultural, pastoral, agricultural and industrial. The United Nations rates countries on their level of development by using the Human Development Index, which combines measures such as life expectancy, literacy and standard of living.