ICTD2010 (XVI). Development Theory ‘Teach-In’

Notes from the Information and Communication Technolgies and Development — ICTD2010, held at the Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, UK, on December 13-16, 2010. More notes on this event: ictd2010.

Katie Willis, David Simon
Development Theory ‘Teach-In’

Development can be understood as employment, human rights and freedom, environment conservation, education, consumption, etc.

The ‘resources cost hypothesis‘: if your country finds a valuable resource for the rest of the world (e.g. oil, diamonds, gold, etc.) your country may be exploited, screwed and turned into ruins. Indeed, slavery and other related practices have traditionally been the way to either get rich or get exploited, depending on the side you are in.

  • What does development include?
  • How should it be achieved?
  • Where should development take place?
  • At what scale should development take place?
  • Who should decide what development it and how it should be achieved?
Modernisation Theory

The idea that development is about progress, innovation, modernization. Coined in a post-World War II and Cold War geopolitical context.

Walt W. Rostow (1960). The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-communist Manifesto.

It is normally characterized by a top-down approach, based on the more economically developed countries and the Global North experience and led by governments or large international agencies. One size fits all. “Do the right thing and you will end up where we are”.

Dependency Theory

Developed in the 1960s and 1970s, it is based on the experience of less economically developed countries. It analyses the glogal economic systems and its relationships of dependence of poorer people to the economic elites.

Andre Gunder Frank (1967). Capitalism and Underdevelopment in Latin America.

It triggered several policy responses, like greate4re protectionism, policies of import substitution to help domestic industrialization, revolutions and the implementation of communist forms of economic and political organization.

It is a very deterministic approach and takes a an approach that looks at reality/economies as a very static thing.


Stated 1980s onwards (now mainstream in international development thinking), it stresses on the role of the market rather than the state.

The key policy dimensions focus on privatisation, reduction of state expenditure, currency devaluation, opening up of domestic economy to foreign investment, etc. It is usually implemented through structural adjustment policies (SAPs) and Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRPSPs).

Normally, these plans come with strings attached: if a government does not apply certain measures, it will not get more aid for development, commerce agreements, and other kind of conditionings.

Bottom-up / Grassroots Development

It comes as a response to preceived failure of top-down development from 1980s onwards. It features a rise of NGOs as key actors in development.

In some ways, some see it related with Neoliberalism, as it is NGOs, at the micro level, the ones addressing the problems of the population, instead of the State, at the macro level, the one doing it. It is local people the ones that drive change, that are champions of change, that leverage social capital, through participatory mechanisms, etc.

Grassroots development’s features are small-scale, it recognises diversity of developmetn goals, highly efficient, empowering, environmentally sustainable, many times having a very slow path because it requires consensus, etc.


After colonialism there is a recovery of ‘lost’ / subordinated identities

Thus, some conceptions of development go in the line of recovering, on the one hand, tradition and cultural heritage; but, on the other hand, also the productive practices that where abandoned but that might still be applicable and even beneficial and sustainable in its usual context.

Its critics state that it is driven by a fundamentally anti-Eurocentric feeling, that it is inherently post-modern, supposedly empowering, yet often exclusive and even elitist too.

Anti- and Post-Development

Anti-Development: rejecting development as corporate, capitalist, neocolonial perversion/betrayal. Emerged in the mid 1990s. We have to find a new vocabulary for development, find new resources (other than merely economic). More a critique and a call to start over again, rather than “anti-“.

Post-Development: moving beyond conventional development, rethinking/reinventing alternative visions of development. Leveraging local skills while introducing external input, like technology.

Technologies in Development

Not neutral in terms of applications and implications. Impacts often diverse by scale and social group, and with intended and unintended consequences. The technology itself might be neutral, but it is not once it is applied.

Socially contingent: winners and losers, cultural norms and values, progressives vs. conservatives. Quite usually richer people are amongst the winners, and poorer amongst the losers, often a matter of affordability.

How sustainable? Financially, technically, socially, politically.

The coevolutionary process: there are multiple relationships amongst values, the organization, the environment, knowledge and technology.


Some state that Amartya Sen’s capabilities is but part of a neoliberalist approach, as it focuses on the freedom of choice and on empowering the individual.

We have seen that in recent decades the discussion has gone from the macro- to the micro-level, but ICTs are sort of being able to think again not only at the macro-level but, actually, at both levels at the same time, as many solutions are more or less equally applicable at the domestic and at the state level, or have an impact at both levels.


Information and Communication Technologies and Development (2010)