Two views of development
Both culture and development have become protean concepts, with an elusive and sometimes bewildering variety of meanings. For our present purpose, however, we can confine ourselves to viewing development in two different ways. According to one view, development is a process of economic growth, a rapid and sustained expansion of production, productivity and income per head (sometimes qualified by insistence on a wide spread of the benefits of this growth). According to the other, espoused by annual UNDP's annual Human Development Report and by many distinguished economists, development is seen as a process that enhances the effective freedom of the people involved to pursue whatever they have reason to value. This view of human development (in contrast to narrowly economic development) is a culturally conditioned view of economic and social progress. Poverty of a life, in this view, implies not only lack of essential goods and services, but also a lack of opportunities to choose a fuller, more satisfying, more valuable and valued existence. The choice can also be for a different style of development, a different path, based on different values from those of the highest income countries now. The recent spread of democratic institutions, of market choices, of participatory management of firms, has enabled individuals and groups and different cultures to choose for themselves.
Various indicators of the quality of life have been suggested such as longevity, good health, adequate nutrition, education and access to the world's stock of knowledge, absence of gender-based inequality, political and social freedoms, autonomy, access to power, the right to participate in the cultural life of the community and in important decisions affecting the life and work of the citizens, and so forth. Clearly, any set of quantitative indicators is bound to be less rich than the concept of human development. But these are the things that matter according to the second view of development -- which focuses on increasing the capabilities of people and enlarging their choices -- not just the enlargement of material products; and providing the opportunities.
The role of culture is different in the two interpretations of development. In the view that emphasizes economic growth, culture does not play a fundamental role but is purely instrumental: it can help to promote or hinder rapid economic growth. Thus Protestantism and Confucianism have been thought to encourage saving, capital accumulation, hard work, hygiene and healthy living habits, and entrepreneurial attitudes. More recently, evangelical fundamentalism that has spread in East Asia, Latin America and Africa has been regarded as the religion of micro-entrepreneurs who constitute the germ of capitalist economic growth. When cultural attitudes and institutions hamper economic growth, they are to be eradicated. Culture enters into this analysis not as something valuable in itself, but as a means to the ends of promoting and sustaining economic progress.
Without doubt, this instrumental view of culture is of great interest and importance, since the process of economic growth is generally highly valued. Admittedly, there are groups in rich societies that reject indefinite or infinite growth and consumerism in favour of a modest standard of sufficiency and adequacy: they consist of some academics, some ministers of religion, members of certain action groups, of some communities. But even for those who value economic growth, the question does arise as to whether economic growth should be valued for its own sake, while the instruments, including culture, are valued as means only, or whether growth itself is only an instrument with less claim to a foundational role than cultural aspects of human life. On reflection, most people would value goods and services because of what they contribute to our freedom to live the way we value. It is also difficult to accept the view that culture can be fully captured in a purely instrumental role. Surely, what we have reason to value -- the court of last appeal -- must itself be a matter of culture. Education, for example, promotes economic growth and is therefore of instrumental value, and at the same time is an essential part of cultural development, with intrinsic value. Hence we cannot reduce culture only to a subsidiary position as a mere promoter of economic growth.
It is therefore important both to acknowledge the far-reaching instrumental function of culture in development, and at the same time to recognize that this cannot be all there is to culture in judgements of development. There is, in addition, the role of culture as a desirable end in itself, as giving meaning to our existence. This dual role of culture applies not only in the context of the promotion of economic growth, but also in relation to other objectives, such as sustaining the physical environment, preserving family values, protecting civil institutions in a society, and so on. In the promotion of all these objectives some cultural factors will help, others will hinder, and in so far as we have reason to value these specified objectives, we have grounds -- derived and instrumental grounds -- to value those cultural attitudes and features that foster the fulfilment of those objectives. But when we turn to the more basic question: why concentrate on these specified objectives (including economic growth, reduced inequality, environmental conservation, and so on), culture has to enter in a more fundamental way -- not as a servant of ends, but as the social basis of the ends themselves. We cannot begin to understand the so-called "cultural dimension of development" without taking note of each of these two roles of culture.