What is Social Development? Meaning, Types, Examples, Theories

To examines social change in society, social development is a broad notion that studies the overall transformation of people or groups through purposefully initiated policies.

It should be highlighted that development and change are distinct concepts; unlike the latter, the former refers to a change that is intended or wanted. In this sense, we can assert that while not every type of change is development, every development is a type of change.

Social Development Examples

Moreover, there are even different notions of development. For example, there could be a socio-cultural dimension of development and even an economic dimension to it.

However, when we talk about Social Development, we tend to emphasise the qualitative aspect of change in the social structures and processes. Each and every society is made up of certain cultural values, norms, traditions, customs, culture, etc. all of which must be carefully analysed to examine the social development of a society.

In this view, social development studies and deals with the production and perpetuation of social and economic inequalities, the moral development of society’s most vulnerable people, the provision of proper housing and sanitary facilities, and the general expansion of other social welfare amenities, etc.

Different Approaches to Social Development:

Furthermore, we now have “the sociology of development” to study different approaches to Social Development. Some of those approaches have been discussed below:

  • Development from the top: Top-down development, as it is called, in this developmental approach, the apex bodies of administration plan and formulate the development schemes. This approach, however, has numerous flaws, as it might fail to involve the beneficiaries directly.
  • Development from bottom: Bottom-Up approach, as it is called, unlike the first development approach, this second approach takes into consideration the needs of beneficiaries by giving them the opportunity to project their needs and requirements.
  • Sectoral development: The development of a specific sector of the economy, such as the agricultural or industrial sectors, is referred to as sectoral development. For example, post-independence Indian planners emphasised the expansion of Indian businesses.
  • Area development: When we try to shift our attention to some specific underdeveloped area or region, we are actually adopting an area development approach. For example, we might use this approach to improve the standards of living in rural communities in some particular areas.
  • Target group development: This approach focuses on some specific target groups, such as child labour, women, small farmers, etc. This method of development is perfectly demonstrated by the example of the reservation policy for SC/STs.

A Sociological Perspective on Social Development :

And if we take the Sociological perspective into the account, it offers a unique way of looking at the specific problems of Society. Sociological Imagination offers us a variety of angles to study a particular social problem or pattern. Within modern sociology, the functionalist, conflict, and interactionist perspectives are the three main schools of thought used to investigate human behaviour.

All those above-mentioned viewpoints have different takes on social development. In fact, different sociologists see the concept of development differently. For instance, Classical sociologist Emile Durkheim attempts to pinpoint the transition from a mechanical to an organic society,’ wherein mechanical solidarity has features of a simple society and organic solidarity has features of a more complex society. Whereas Conflict theorists such as Karl Marx, in his famous work, ‘Das Kapital’ study social development in relation to class struggle. For him, the Asiatic, Ancient, Feudal and Capitalist modes of production point toward social development. However, as per Marx, it will be the socialist and then communist mode of production which will bring us to the final stage of development. On similar grounds, Max Weber, in his seminal work, ‘Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Capitalism’ asserts as reasoning advances, a shift in the nature of capitalism is brought about. For him, societies grow from ‘traditional societies’ to modernizing economies,’ marking social development. Whereas interactionists such as George Herbert Mead, emphasise how interactions between people on a daily basis are central to the development of any particular society.

Additionally, the founding father of Sociology, Auguste Comte classified the entire developmental process under his theory of law into three stages namely, (1) the theological stage, (2) the metaphysical stage, and (3) the positive stage. The positive or scientific stage is where social development blossoms, as per Comte.

The different models that trace social development from a simple to a heterogeneous society were created by intellectuals like Herbert Spencer in response to Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species.

Furthermore, social development needs to be understood through people’s living standards. Human development is the most important aspect of social development. By drawing inspiration from Amartya Sen’s capacity approach, Mahbubul Haq first developed the human development method, which was later adopted by the United Nations Development Programme. (UNDP)

The six fundamental components of human development are equity, sustainability, productivity, empowerment, corporation, and security, as per the UNDP. The Human Development Indicator (HDI) however includes per capita income, education, and life expectancy as its core elements. (Raka, 2018)

Theories of Social Development and Underdeveloped:

There are various theories of development as well; the libertarian theory was the earliest and was influenced by Max Weber and Gunnar Myrdal.

Liberal Theory:

As indicated before, Weber argued that rationality contributes to the development of contemporary capitalist society in his magnum work, Protestant Ethics and Spirit of Capitalism.

Similarly, Gunnar Myrdal claimed in his well-known book ‘Asian Drama’ that structural change and the modernization process might elevate the spirit of development.

Socialist Theory:

The socialist theory of development, which was developed after World War II, contrasts with the capitalist theory of development. Instead, the core of this theory is the state’s ownership of property and other means of production for the benefit of the entire population. Marxism had an impact on this theory, which is frequently criticised for being too idealistic to be practical. The Nehruvian approach, also known as the mixed approach to development, which was adopted in the Indian context, had a significant impact on this model of development.

Gandhian Theory:

The Gandhian idea or model of development could also be taken into consideration, in which Mahatma Gandhi prioritised 1) one’s own development over material prosperity, and 2) the expansion of rural or village-based industries. Gandhi’s concept, however, was created and refined expressly for India.

Feminist Theory:

However, feminist theorists have a very different perspective on the idea of development. These theorists attempt to explain the entire development process in relation to gender by focusing on gender and development. To better comprehend the social development process of the most marginalised members of society, they aim to concentrate on current inequalities including low-wage female labour and movement within female sex-typed occupations.

Dependency Theory:

To understand the development process in relation to various countries, there is also the dependency theory. This hypothesis, developed by Andre Gunder Frank, describes how “core” countries gain profit from the “peripheral” countries, as the resources move from the latter to the former ones.

And that is how poor countries come to be totally dependent on these affluent countries, which cruelly exploit them and reduce them to nothing more than puppets in their hands. The degree to which the USA controls the global economy was expounded by Samir Amin’s Uneven Development in the same context.

World-system Theory:

By grouping all nations in the globe into three units, Wallerstein’s World-systems approach advanced similar ideas. First, he believed that in the global economic system, it was the Core nations—the USA, Japan, and the Western European nations—that took the lion’s share of the profit.

On the other side, peripheral countries are low-income nations that are heavily dependent on agriculture, such as some South African and Latin American nations. The Core nations take advantage of these nations. Rich in minerals and other natural resources, peripheral nations frequently export raw materials to core nations. In exchange, the core nations sell finished items to the periphery nations—and that too at profit.

Finally, the semi-peripheral nations—including Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina—occupy an intermediate position. In other words, these are referred to as developing nations that reap revenues from the periphery and yield profit to the core nations.

Also Read: Sociology of Development

Importance of Social development:

  • Man is a social animal and his thoughts are shaped by social interactions. And it is Social development that enables people to adapt to members of various social groupings for better functioning of society.
  • Society deeply influences a person’s thought process because everything is acquired from society. In order to keep up social ties, one must abide by the law of society and learn from it. Social development enhances the ability of people to tolerate or make peace with other peoples’ viewpoints.
  • For a “holistic” approach to development, some sociologists say that the psychological, social, and moral elements must be considered. For them, social development is crucial since it improves all aspects of life, including physical, psychological, social, and cultural well-being.
  • Some sociologists also believe that social growth leads to improvement in social quality, which in turn promotes social cohesion in society.
  • However, contemporary sociologists like Yogendra Kumar believe that a striking result of improper development planning also results in dissatisfaction among people, which worsens the issue of violence and lawlessness in the nation.
  • Despite this, social development is an important process for introducing new patterns in people’s preferences.
  • Developmental policies can assist people in enhancing their well-being and realising their full potential if they are implemented wisely.
  • Hence, developmental policies and strategies must be applied intelligently to yield the desired results and to bring the ability for people to become the best versions of themselves.
  • Studying social development is much more crucial in sociology since it promotes more fruitful discussions on the relative significance of the material and cultural foundation of social development.


  • Raka, K., & Shanker,S. (2018).Sociology: A textbook. Chapter 3, p. 344 to 357. Jawahar Publishers & Distributors.
Share on:

I graduated with a Master’s degree in Sociology from Jamia Millia Islamia. Apart from that, I get immersed in poetry, listen to Sufi music and I’m fond of Autumn foliage.