University of Earth
Projects Overview (Explanations)
Human Development Project (Explanations)

Significance: Co-existence of unrelated human development paradigms

Human Development Project


1. Biased approaches to human development.

As might be expected with a process so fundamental to human society, quite different sectors of society have very different understandings of the significance and place of this process. These different perspectives may be viewed as "biases", although from a broader view their insights may be assumed to be compatible. Few texts address themselves to the nature of the compatibility between these perspectives. It is easy to get locked into the logic associated with any one of these perspectives and to forget that there are other important ways of viewing the process.

A useful insight into the confusion concerning "human development" may be obtained from the notes on the following pages on some basic sets of biases. Others, especially favoured by some, to which reference might have been made, include: physical development, emotional development, moral and ethical development, mental development, development of creativity, aesthetic development, and political development. These, briefly reviewed, are:

(a) Socio-economic biases: These reflect the obvious concerns to provide for the basic needs of individuals and to ensure the survival of economies and the societies that depend upon them. This pattern of biases is central to "development" as most commonly understood by the international community, and especially by development and relief agencies. This understanding is underpinned by many of the applied social sciences, especially economics and the behavioural sciences. In addition to the economic variant, there are social and educational biases and cultural and educational biases.

(b) Psychological bias: Whereas the socio-economic biases reflect a preoccupation with society as a whole and the contribution of individual human development to its well-being, the psychological bias primarily governs recognition of individual patterns of development. This may be understood to be largely condition by society, but the concern is primarily with the individual and the manner in which he fulfils his potential within society in psychological terms. This bias is naturally cultivated by psychologists and the institutions in which they are employed. These are typically those related to education and training. Increasingly these institutions include large corporations who recognize the long-term economic value of investing in effective personnel relations. There is also some indication of concern by public health authorities with the psychological well-being of individuals in highly stressful industrial societies.

(c) Modes of awareness and experiential biases: The above biases reflect perspectives of institutional and academic establishments in dealing with individuals in society. Individuals themselves pursue their own understandings of human development, however deluded these may be considered to be. In their most common form these involve pursuit of status, cultivation of self-image, self-esteem and a sense of prowess, as well as the search for exciting stimuli. This pattern of concerns is reinforced by folk wisdom on the one hand, and by the media on the other. It is perhaps most striking in the pursuit of fashion understood as a daily striving for personal development. In this sense human development may be understood by many as becoming more fashionable and cultivating a higher order of personal style. Beyond the pursuit of common stimuli, there is the cultivation of other modes of awareness. In their more accessible forms, these may be associated with music and the delights of the flesh. But beyond these are the cultivation of other modes of awareness. These may be achieved through stimulants, whether alcohol, nicotine, or drugs (legal or illegal). They may also be cultivated through group processes or personal disciplines. The latter may range from physical exercise (jogging, mountaineering, etc) through to disciplines of the mind (including breathing exercises and the like). It can be argued that most individuals are primarily concerned with forms of personal human development governed by these experiential biases.

(d) Mythical, religious and spiritual biases: This of course is the best developed preoccupation with human development. It also has the longest history. On the one hand it reflects archetypal concerns with the place of the individual in the universe and his need to come into harmony with its rhythms. On the other it corresponds to the concern with coming into relationship with whatever are to be understood as the invisible dimensions and integrating forces of psychic and spiritual life. This preoccupation may also be considered as quite independent of the others.

2. Confusing range of meanings

In each of the above cases there is a well-developed constituency that has achieved a certain degree of consensus on the dimensions of human development, whatever the disagreement concerning the details of the process. There is however very little effective communication between these constituencies.

Many seemingly unrelated concepts, perspectives and methods are considered by their advocates to be central to full understanding of the meaning of human development. But even within the domain of psychology, there are different, and even mutually antagonistic, schools of thought on the matter. For psychologists the term is commonly used to describe changes in behaviour which occur with age. But even then "development can be endowed with many connotations or it can be given limited meaning within a highly restrictive context. The precision of definition often depends on whether the writer is more interested in describing the achievement of broad stages or plateaus of behaviour or the mechanisms which apparently govern the transitions between stages. How we define development subsequently limits what we then observe." (John Eliot, 1971).

The term "human development" is commonly used by psychologists and is increasingly used in international debate by those concerned with the limitations in practice of the conventional concern with economic and social development. One of the first working meetings (Tokyo, 1975) of the United Nations University was on human and social development. A proposal has even been made to hold a United Nations Conference on Human Development. Despite the emergence of this term into favour there is little consensus as to its meaning or range of meanings.

There is a certain incongruity in attempting any verbal description of concepts and processes for which the verbal mode of presentation may be considered inappropriate, insensitive and even totally inadequate. This is particularly so when the same editorial (information-oriented) approach is used in handling the descriptions of concepts that may be considered essentially incompatible by their respective advocates. Nevertheless many verbal descriptions have been attempted in the past. The resultant multiplicity of presentations of concepts presumably bear some relationship to one another since they all concern the individual human being. But this multiplicity facilitates neither comprehension of their particular emphasis nor empathy for the seeming excesses of their advocates. The very enthusiasm of available descriptions of some concepts of human development, let alone the existence of specialized jargons and neologisms, certainly facilitates the task of those who would prefer to ignore all but the most simplistic concepts of human development.

The following notes attempt to highlight the extent of this confusion, the alienating sterility of the depersonalized interpretations prevailing at the international level, and the relatively recent emergence of a variety of concepts which merit greater attention and more widespread recognition.

From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential

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