RebeccaT's Travel Journals


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Living Routes Senegal Fall 2009

Living Routes study abroad program in Senegal, Fall 2009 (September-December 2009)

Sustainable Development Course (Excerpt from first reflection paper)

Senegal Dakar, Senegal  |  Sep 14, 2009
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 One question raised in class was, 'By whose definitions and values do we measure development?' But a rich discussion could arise from asking the question, 'By whose definitions and values should we measure development?' 

(This entry is an excerpt from my first reflection paper which was written on September 14, so I am posting it under that date even though it is now October 9.)

In the first week of our Sustainable Development course, we covered topics related to defining and measuring development.  The lectures were a bit basic for me since I've taken other courses in the U.S. that have covered these topics, often in a critical, discussion-based manner.  But I know that the class is made up of students from very different backgrounds, so it is important to ensure that we all understand the basic concepts and background.

What I found most intriguing were the discussion elements of the class.  Discussions are especially interesting (although also more difficult) in groups that include people from very different backgrounds.  In fact, I would have liked to have a lot more time for discussion.  I realize time was especially limited this week due to changes in the schedule, but I hope there will be more in-class discussion in the future.

One interesting point that came up in our discussions involved defining development.  Some students suggested that development could mean a change in any direction, while others thought that the term only referred to positive progress.  I believe the real issue here is point of view.  I think “development” in the sense that it is most commonly used when referring to economic/human/social development is always positive from a certain point of view (generally that of the World Bank, IMF, UNDP, economists, governments, etc.).  But from other points of view (such as, for example, indigenous peoples who may be forced to give up their traditional ways of life and assimilate into Western culture in the name of “development”), this same definition of development may be seen as a negative phenomenon. 

This ties into another question raised in class, “By whose definitions and values do we measure development?”  Unfortunately we did not have time to really go into this in class.  The most evident answer to this question is that, generally speaking, we measure development according to the definitions and values of the World Bank, IMF, UNDP, economists, governments, etc.  But a rich discussion could arise from asking the question, “By whose definitions and values should we measure development?”  In a world full of ethnic, cultural, linguistic, geographical, historical, political, and socio-economic diversity, should we even attempt to establish standardized definitions, goals, and measures?  Would a relative approach be more effective and just, or would it simply be impractical?

While covering basic concepts and theories is undoubtedly vital to the course, critical reflection and discussion of the issues surrounding them is also very important.  I hope we will have a good mix of both over the coming weeks and months.

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