Social processes of development

Social processes of development

We have described social development as the release and channelling of social energies through more complex social organization to enhance productive capacity and achieve greater results. This process depends upon mechanisms to direct and channel the collective energies of the society into new and more productive forms of activity. We can identify four distinctly different levels, or, types of mechanisms that serve this function: social aspirations, government authority, socio-cultural structure, and social know-how, in the form of science, technology, and productive skills.

i) Social Aspiration

Economically, development occurs when productivity rises, enabling people to produce more, earn more, and consume more. To do so, they have to be motivated to learn new skills, adapt to new work processes, and, to adopt new technology, changes which, in past ages, have met with considerable resistance. The driving force behind the whole movement is psychological.

At the deepest level, the energies of society are directed by the collective’s subconscious aspirations. Society’s self-conception of what it wants to become releases an aspiration of the collective for accomplishment. That aspiration exerts a powerful influence on the activities of the society. India’s twin revolutions were spurred by a growing aspiration of Indian society for security, prosperity, and enjoyment. A similar aspiration spurs middle class Americans, today, to invest their savings in the stock market.

We have traced the evolution of social aspirations in India from pre- Independence to the present day. The earliest expression was an aspiration for political freedom and self-determination. After Independence this aspiration evolved into an urge for self-sufficiency, a willingness to try new things and take risks. More recently it has matured into a  movement of rising expectations permeating all levels of Indian society.

ii) Role of Government authority

Like social aspirations, the authority of the government has the capacity to direct the flow of social energies through the instruments of law, public policies, administrative procedures, controls, incentives, and fear of punishment. Here, too, there is a graded hierarchy of stages through which government influences the development process. Monarchy is a highly centralized form of government organization with a significant capacity to restrict freedom and prevent unwanted activities, but with very limited power to promote social development because of its limited power to positively motivate and direct human initiative.

Modern authoritarian states have augmented the power of government to compel and control by evolving complex organizational mechanisms to reach out into every field of social activity. Its members submit, by necessity, to the power of the state, but continuously seek ways around the strictures and demands it places upon them. As the 20th century experiments in Eastern Europe amply demonstrate, its power as an instrument for development is severely limited. Countries with authoritarian governments that have succeeded in releasing social initiative for economic development, such as China, Taiwan and South Korea, have done so by loosening social control over economic activities, while retaining it over political activities.

Modern forms of democracy greatly enhance the development capabilities of society. They are not only capable of enforcing a rule of law which, to a large extent, the population willingly accepts as being in its own interest.

They also promote far greater development of individual aspirations, thought, capacity, skill, and initiative. The accountability of a democratically elected government necessitates that it continuously institute measures perceived as beneficial to the electorate. Working through decentralized self governing structures, it empowers more and more centres of activity in society, leading to greater creativity and innovation. The basic human rights it endorses elevate aspirations and release human energies for higher accomplishment.

The impact of democracy on development was illustrated by the Nobel laureate economist, Amartya Sen (1999), when he observed that no democratic country with a free press and independent judiciary has suffered a famine in this century. India’s Green Revolution is a powerful testament to the power of governmental authority, though, in this, and every other instance, government’s role cannot substitute for social readiness and social initiative, it can only aid in preparing that readiness, releasing that initiative, and organizing the new activities.

iii) Socio-cultural authority

Government exercises authority over its citizens through law, administration, and enforcement. Society exercises a far more persuasive authority over its members through its ideas, attitudes, customs, and values. Different societies may develop at very different rates and in different directions under very similar forms of government, due to differences in social and cultural authority.

Modern societies are far more free and tolerant than those of previous centuries, yet, they continue to exert a very powerful force on their members; only, the character of that force has changed. From being predominantly negative in the form of prohibitions and strictures, now the force of social authority acts far more as a spur to initiative, than a bar. The pressure felt by middle and working class families to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ has become pervasive throughout the world. The bold initiative of a poor farmer in rural India to dig a bore well and become prosperous could act as stimulus for the rapid development of ten surrounding villages because the competitive pressure of social authority would compel his neighbours to keep up with his level of accomplishment.

The spread of education tends to enhance this tendency. Apart from the practical knowledge and skills it imparts, modern education also instils a greater sense of individual self respect and social rights that impel an individual to seek and maintain his, or, her status in society. Here, we include the complete range of capacities that determine the ability of the people to physically direct their energies to achieve productive results.

The most important of these are scientific knowledge, technology, and productive skills. These may appear very different in nature and action from social aspirations, government, and social authority, but the character of their influence on development is quite similar. They provide the direction for the efficient organization of mental, social, and material energies. Each of them carries with it an inherent authority, and, imposes a certain discipline on the expression of social energies. This authority usually takes the form of an impersonal authority of standards, rules, and systems, such as the rules for maintaining an orderly flow of air traffic.

Adopting a higher level of technology, whether it involves the cultivation of hybrid wheat, space travel, or electronic commerce requires adherence to more stringent procedures and greater organization, without which, it does not work. The Internet is a recent example of a technology that promotes freer and easier commercial and personal transactions, but accomplishes it by imposing rigorous standards of discipline on users in the form of a common computer language for communication.