Catriona O’Connor: Dinner party development

Catriona O’Connor’s blog is a runner up in the 2017 Trinity College Dublin and Development Issues blog series

The topic of development is one of constant discussion between academics, socialites and bar-stool politicians in modern society. We analyse the concept from an economic perspective, detaching ourselves from the lives it touches and assess from an economics perspective; is it sustainable? will it grow? will we ever reach a point of total development or just continue to play a game of catch up in the standards that divide different parts of the world? Some of us are more empathetic in our approach to the issue, discussing the quality of life, exploring socio-economic factors that influence the inequalities of wealth in our world, discussing the choices and events that lead us each to the position we hold in the world today. But can we ever, as the ‘developed’, truly comment on the inequality and importance of development without sounding just that little bit privileged or ignorant?

Development is a complex and multi-faceted expression that considers social, political and economic factors. It cannot really be discussed without reference to inequality. It is not a blanket term; something is not simply developed, or not.

In modern society, we explore development within a country predominantly with comparisons to another. In 1998, Indian economist Anartya Sen explored development as ‘concern with the achievement of a better life’ and from this perspective, whether born into the 1% or the 99%, we can all understand the journey of development. We will never quite have the life we want, always striving for more. So the term “developed” is redundant. It is a never-ending journey, never quite achieved.

Coming from a ‘developed’ country, I think it is particularly difficult to speak accurately on the topic of development when so much of our position comes down to luck of the draw. We discuss poverty, hunger and deprivation as if we have any personal understanding of these things ourselves. We casually explore the ‘means of progression to bridge a gap of inequality’ but most of us cannot even comprehend what it is like to be personally restricted by the country to which we were born.

Photo: Escondido (31st December 2008) Alex Lanz CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 via Flickr

We analyse through statistics and data, foster theories from our conclusions, but we are not empathetic to the struggle presented by the gap. I do not assume to say that one must have personally gone through the struggle to be able to empathise or aspire to help, but I fear that we become to detached from these struggles through our privilege. We remove humans from our equations and have a tendency to consider these less developed countries only as the statistics they present on a page.

We are not coming at development from a bad place but perhaps in a bad way. The inequality gap has become so great that it’s created an ‘us’ and ‘them’ attitude in our eyes. Sen explores development in a way that is not purely focused on economic factors – income is not the beginning and end of our value. The inequality that exists today makes it more important than ever to bridge the gap but it also makes it more difficult to do so.

It is important and necessary to discuss and tackle issues of unequal development and, crucial to remember when we do so, not to dismiss other types of living simply because to us they appear to be missing something.

As a concept, a theory and a conversation topic ‘development’ is problematic but it is, however, essential.

Photo credit: Escondido (31st December 2008) Alex Lanz CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 via Flickr