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Questioning the Dominant Conception of Development: New Dimensions, New Ideas, New Approaches

This panel will bring together new approaches to the conceptualization, measurement and classification of development in the 21st Century.

Country classifications are notorious for reducing the complexity and heterogeneity of developing countries to, at worst, a reductionist, one-dimensional and arbitrary set of groups. The dominant analytical country categories used by many multilateral organizations to classify ‘developing countries’ by income levels have been called into question by the fact that two quarters of the world’s extreme poor – by income and multidimensional poverty measures – remain in countries classified by the World Bank as “middle income countries”. This apparent separation of the world’s poorest countries and the mass of the world’s poor people raises a question as to whether the country analytical classifications remain useful for analytical and operational purposes. The weaknesses and ambiguities in relation to this issue have led to an intense (formal and informal) debate about the real benefits of this type of classification whose validity seems to be lost.

The implications of this are not irrelevant because there is a direct influence on how the notion of development is built. Moreover, understanding the intricacies of economic and social change and its dynamics is one the biggest challenges in development studies, which demands major interdisciplinary dialogue. In this regard, this panel is an attempt to both question the dominant conception of development, and to provide a ‘fresh’ look into different dimensions, ideas and approaches in relation to the international classification of development. This reflected both the needs for a better understanding of an emerging polycentric world, and the current concern of development scholars and practitioners about the limits of conventional view regarding social, economic and political change.

This is not a minor issue because it has strong implications not only to explain different paths of development across countries –especially for those of the global south–, but also to face some of the most urgent challenges with regard to the future of the global agenda for development: to reduce inequality, delinquency, violence and insecurity, to support the emergence of the middle classes, to consolidate the rule of law and to strengthen government institutions and citizenship in an increasingly interdependent world, among others.

The literature on development has provided deep insights in the process of socio-economic change, but it has still important shortcomings. In this context, it is important to incorporate to the analysis a more complex perspective in which the non-linear effects and the instability of the global system are an integral part of the explanation of development in the short, medium and long term.