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

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 its scope.

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 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 human terms."

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 rights."

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 dimension.

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 lives.

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

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed by Anthony Judge
under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.