Comments: Official approaches to human development
Human Development Project |
1. Selective expansion of scope of human development
(a) Official practice: Ian Miles (1985), in a review of social
indicators for development, notes: "Almost all political leaders claim
that human development provides the criterion against which economic, cultural,
and political development are assessed, and the framework within which
their strategies and policies are designed. But, in practice, the goal
is frequently obscured and obviated. Economic development, most often,
is taken to be the sine qua non of all development efforts, to be intelligible
in purely economic terms, and to have human development as its automatic
consequence... Many aspects of well-being and quality of life are placed
in jeopardy by current development patterns."
In the case of UNICEF (The Child in South Asia; issues in development
as if children mattered, 1988): "Let us see what development of
the human potential implies. It calls for the creation of conditions in
which the physical, mental and social well-being of all people in the country
is possible. For this to happen, appropriate economics is an intellectual
input, leading to the allocation of physical and financial resources for
human development, but it must be complemented not only by technology but
also by social values or principles. There need be no conflict within this
variety of economic and technological and social resources. The challenge
of development is to derive the benefit of their mutually reinforcing interaction."
(b) Human-centred development: Human resource development is
increasingly understood as referring to a process of human-centred development
which seeks to enhance the full capacities and capabilities of human beings.
In practice this is understood within the international community as expanding
peoples choices or entitlements. Thus Amartya Sen argues that this process
refers to "the set of alternative commodity bundles that a person can command
in society using the totality of rights and opportunities that he or she
faces...On the basis of this entitlement, a person can acquire some capabilities,
i.e. the ability to do this or that (e.g. be well nourished) and fail to
acquire some other capabilities. The process of economic development can
be seen as a process of expanding the capabilities of people....For most
of humanity, about their only commodity a person has to sell is labour
power, so that a the person's entitlements depend crucially on his or her
ability to find a job, the wage rate for that job, and the prices of commodities
that he or she wishes to buy." (Sen, Amartya 1984)
(c) Selective increase in scope: In an extremely useful review
of the human development literature, Céline Sachs (1989) notes that
there is no commonly accepted definition as to what in practice constitutes
human resource development. Successive fads in development theory have
in the past emphasized the pre-eminence of one factor over others, often
in a highly dogmatic manner. The current trend is towards expanding progressively
The Administrator of UNDP argued in 1986 (DP/1986/10) that human development
should be broadly defined, because of its intersectoral links, "as the
maximization of human potential as well as the promotion of its fullest
utilization for economic and social progress." This definition "requires
that people be given the opportunity to apply the full range of their skills
and abilities, fulfil their desires and ambitions, and make their contributions
to the improvement of their lives and their society. Thus human resources
development depends upon a political and social environment conducive to
individual expression, self-fulfilment and the utilization of human potential...it
thus depends on the very nature of society and its economic history and
culture." Furthermore the "lack of a broad operational definition
militates against the formulation of strategies to deal holistically with
the issues and the establishment of criteria for assessing progress in
In the UNDP's Human Development Report (1990), human development
is defined as a process of enlarging people's choices. "In principle,
these choices can be infinite and change over time. But at all levels of
development, the three essential ones are for people to lead a long and
healthy life, to acquire knowledge and to have access to resources needed
for a decent standard of living. If these essential choices are not available,many
other opportunities remain inaccessible. But human development does not
end there. Additional choices, highly valued by many people, range from
political, economic and social freedom to opportunities for being creative
and productive, and enjoying personal self-respect and guaranteed human
In UNDP's terms: "Human development has two sides: the formation
of human capabilities (such as improved health, knowledge and skills) and
the use people make of their acquired capabilities (for leisure, productive
purposes or being active in cultural social and political affairs). If
the scales of human development do not finely balance the two sides, considerable
human frustration may result." The Report points out that "it is
sometimes suggested that income is a good proxy for all other human choices
since access to income permits exercise of every other option." However
it then points out that "the simple truth is that there is no automatic
link between income growth and human progress. The main preoccupation of
development analysis should be how such a link can be created and reinforced."
(d) Inhuman development and "factory farming": Given the rising
concern of the international community with "adjustment with a human face"
and "human" development, it is difficult to avoid the impression that other
forms of development practised over the years could best be contrasted
as "inhuman" development.
It is worth exploring the extent to which the official approach to human
development cannot be usefully compared to factory farming production of
chickens, cattle or pigs. In both cases the emphasis is on providing the
minimum in order to ensure that maximum productivity can be achieved. For
unenlightened farmers this minimum ignored even the most basic needs. But
more scientific investigation led to the insight that by improving the
conditions of the animals, their productivity in fact improved. Enlightened
farmers have thus increasingly focused on more living space, appropriate
lighting, improved nutrition, with the adventurous even acknowledging that
music ("culture") played to animals enhanced yields.
It is difficult to avoid the suspicion that official interest in human
development emerges from a very similar mind-set. Recent enlightened extension
of the scope of human development may therefore have been made with similar
concerns in mind. Those responsible for the developmental inadequacies
of the early development decades remain in place, even if they are constrained
to present their arguments with a more enlightened vocabulary.
2. Misappropriation of terms
Even at a more mundane level, this section suggests the need for great
caution in responding to the use of certain "human development" terms by
international bodies and academic authorities. Valuable words, which in
other contexts point to experiences of great richness and subtlety, are
easily appropriated for use in signifying much more limited realities.
This may be done simply through ignorance of the more profound meanings.
It may also be done quite deliberately in order to profit from very positive
connotations with the intention of persuading people that some quite unimaginative
and insensitive programme is in fact responding to those dimensions.
Such appropriation is a basic technique of the advertising industry.
Worse still, the packaging of the programme may lend itself, through deliberate
ambiguity, to well-intentioned endorsements concerning the recognition
of such subtler dimensions. But under the slightest political or budgetary
pressure these may then be completely dropped in practice, whilst still
being able to use the same words to imply the presence of such subtlety.
As noted earlier, extreme caution should be used in assessing the use
of terms such as "human potential", "personal fulfilment", or "development
of the personality" by bodies such as the World Health Organization, the
International Labour Organisation, UNESCO, or their national equivalents.
They may refer only to the most basic needs and there is little evidence
to the contrary. The Human Development Report of the United Nations
Development Programme is the latest example, despite the modest breakthrough
that it signals from prevailing practice.
3. Suspect "human developers"
Following from the previous point, it is important to learn from the
use of the term "development" by the international community over the past
decades. It could be argued that "development programmes" attracted support
precisely because of the ambiguity with which the term could be interpreted
both by those attempting to respond to the interests and needs of the "developees"
and by those "developers" anxious to profit (personally) from the economic
opportunity represented by those receptive to "development". This ambiguity
has allowed any degradation of the environment (such as "clearing" the
land of trees) to be defined as development even by intergovernmental organizations.
It is indeed possible that a significant measure of support for bodies
such as the United Nations Development Programme was assured precisely
because it could be readily treated as a "United Nations Developers' Programme"
rather than as a "United Nations Developees' Programme". Unfortunately
achievements for developees over the past decades have been less than they
were led to expect.
There is great risk that emerging enthusiasm for "human development"
will prove to be counter-productive through reliance on an analogous ambiguity.
Thus imposition of simplistic cultural and education models to replace
"out-dated" traditional psycho-social structures and processes of great
richness can easily be justified under the banner of "human development".
It may take some decades to recognize that irreplaceable cultural "rain
forests" are destroyed by this process, whether through good intentions
or not. It would also be most regrettable if new-found enthusiasm for "human
development" were to be accompanied by a "human developmentalism" equivalent
to the "developmentalism" of the economic preoccupations of the past decade
(George Aseniero, A Reflection on Developmentalism, 1985).
In exploring the richer, subtler dimensions of human development, there
is therefore a need to be extremely wary of "human developers", whether
official or private. As with the geopolitical parallel, those who have
pioneered these domains reflect both human strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps
it is in this sense that the reprehensible activities of a number of recently
publicised cults should be viewed.
4. Denial of the experiential
As an example of the peculiar bias of the international community against
the insights of psychoanalysis, the response to the work of C G Jung merits
investigation. It might be assumed that the many dimensions of his pioneering
work would in some way assist in an improved understanding of human development
by international organizations. In a key publication sponsored and vetted
by the United Nations University on "Human Development in its Social
Context", the only reference to Jung is the phrase "...the great
dreamer who flirted with Nazism..." (p. 148). Given the importance
attached to Jungian insights by many concerned with human development,
this is further indication of how out-of-touch intergovernmental organizations
are with non-establishment perspectives on human development. It is of
course ironic that the book should have been prepared whilst Kurt Waldheim
was Secretary-General of the United Nations, itself headquartered in a
city where the elites are renowned for their dependence on psychoanalysis.
At a time when there is increasing recognition of the importance of
spiritual values, it is important to recognize that the United Nations,
like all intergovernmental bodies, is unable to accord any recognition
to this dimension. Such bodies have essentially secular preoccupations
and are only equipped to deal with problems from a perspective which ignores
subjective experiences and spiritual dimensions. This also implies that
they are handicapped in being unable to benefit directly from integrative
insights arising from spiritual development or any transcendent insight.
Unfortunately their actions reinforce attempts to ensure that the letter
triumphs over the spirit. Recognition of human potential is limited to
the quantifiable, with no capacity to acknowledge the patterns of insight
from what cultural leaders have regarded as the heights of human achievement.
The way in which experiential information is handled, or denied, in
society suggests that fruitful insights might be gained by contrasting
explicit and implicit responses. It is obviously in the interests of institutions
to accept the existence of only those forms of experience which can be
explicitly articulated in their mandates and programmes, and only
then when they are under pressure to do so. Other forms of experience may
be recognized and discussed informally, or they may simply not be acknowledged
at all. Such experience can be considered as associated with an implicit
The contrast between the two situations of the previous point can be
illustrated by the way established institutions and academic disciplines
respond to interpersonal love, sexual ecstasy, induced states (through
alcohol or drugs), and spiritual insight. For such bodies these terms are
void of meaning, suggesting only varieties of delusion to which individuals
may be subject (possibly describable in terms of pulse rate and other physiological
factors). This may be contrasted with the importance attached to one or
more of these by the responsible individuals in those bodies.
Attraction to the implicit dimension through alcohol and sex is a major
factor at intergovernmental and academic meetings and has been used to
manipulate their outcomes on many occasions. Most of the participants are
liable to have been in love and to attach much importance to the love they
bear for their family. Some at least may have a deep spiritual commitment
and may consider daily prayer or meditation a vital dimension of their
Within the Japanese culture, special terms are used to contrast such
distinct realities. The "tatemae" of the situation, the explicitly stated
reality, is that human development can only meaningfully be concerned with
observable behaviour, as typified in this case by consumption of alcohol,
copulation or religious ceremonial. But the "honne", the unspoken reality
of the situation, is that without the vital experiences (of which such
behaviour is a pale misrepresentation) individuals find "human development"
to be a sterile concept. "Man cannot live by bread alone". But appearances
("tatemae") can be used as a more or less polite way of discouraging discussion
of, or even obscuring, the complex richness of the underlying experiential
reality ("honne"). When population and drug programmes fail to recognize
this dimension, their abysmal failure becomes comprehensible. It also augurs
badly for human development programmes conceived from a similar mindset.
From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential