Development Theory

Katie Willis

in Geography

ISBN: 9780199874002
Published online February 2013 | | DOI:
Development Theory

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  • Earth Sciences and Geography
  • Human Geography



At the heart of the concept of “development” are notions of improvement or betterment. However, what is to be improved, at what scale, for whom, where, and how are all contested. Development theories seek to explain development processes and development inequalities based on particular definitions of development. Policy formulation coming out of these theories fed particularly into post–World War II international development assistance and aid. While development theories usually have a spatial element, in that they consider how and why levels of “development” vary between locations, geographers have often been at the margins of theory formulation. A notable exception has been in Marxist-inspired theories of spatial inequalities. Where geographers have been much more engaged is in seeking to understand how particular development approaches have been operationalized in particular spaces, from modernization theories in the 1950s and 1960s, to dependency theories in the 1960s and 1970s, and to neoliberal forms of development from the late 1970s onward. Geographers’ interventions in these debates have often sought to challenge the very limited ideas of space mobilized in some theoretical and policy research. Additionally, geographers have engaged with postcolonialism and postdevelopment, which seek to decenter the perspectives of global North elites in interpreting and implementing development, instead focusing on the worldviews of marginalized, indigenous, low-income men and women in the urban and rural areas of the global South. Geographical work has also sought to examine the actors involved in development practice at a number of scales, including states, multilateral organizations, private-sector companies, nonprofit/nongovernmental organizations, and community groups. Collaborations within and between these different groups, and the networks involved, have also been a part of geographical research. Finally, geographers have worked at the interface between humans and the natural environment, considering how and why these relationships shift and the potential for sustainable development.

Article.  10392 words. 

Subjects: Earth Sciences and Geography ; Human Geography

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