Psychology and Development: A Conceptual Itinerary (W-2)

Psychology and Development: A Conceptual Itinerary (W-2)

Publication details

  • Thursday | 01 Oct, 1992
  • Arshad Zaman, Riffat Moazam Zaman
  • Working Papers
Download File


This paper suggests that psychology can contribute to a better understanding of conditions prevailing in "underdeveloped" countries. To do so, however, psychologists must overcome psychology's almost exclusive focus on the individual; and economists the tendency of their to look at "developing" societies not in terms of their own experience but in terms of the experience of European-type societies. With these shifts, the paper proposes a three point strategy: a) "underdevelopment" should be defined not in terms of deficits of wealth and capital accumulation, but in terms of appropiately selected psychological variables (for example, by combining Hirsehman's Exit-Voice-Loyality framework with Bandura's social cognitive theory, deficits of perceived self-efficacy -- at individual and collective levels -- can provide a potential alternative defination); b) an ideological theory of "social helplessness" if then sketched, in the light of historical experience of Pakistan; and c) the possiblity of psychological thearapeutic (or, policy) interventions with reference especially to Bandura's work on human agency and Beck's work on treatment of depression. In conclusion the paper calls for a greater consensus on the paradigm proposed, or extentions of it, before further research takes place.

The purpose of studying economics is not to acquire a set of ready made answers to economic questions, but to learn how to avoid being deceived by economists.
    Joan Robinson (1960:17)

In the animal kingdom the rule is eat or be eaten. In the human kingdom, define or be defined.
     T. S. Szasz (1973:20)

This paper puts forward the view that psychology can contribute to a better understanding of what is loosely called development, or less coercively, of the economic conditions which prevail in what have been called "underdeveloped" or "less developed" nations, to use the older terms which have gone out of fashion. In particular, we believe that psychologists can help us better understand the economic problems and prospects of the Muslim community in the Indus valley, or henceforth, of Pakistan, for short.

For some time now across many countries there have been many psychologists who have sympathised with these, or similar, sentiments (Sinha 1989, and references therein, including Moghni 1987). Yet, the enthusiasm for the project of psychology-in-aid-of-development (development as practice, or as understanding) had been exceeded only by the paucity of concrete achievements (the notable exception being the work of McClelland and his colleagues (see McClelland 1957, 1961, 1971; McClelland & Winter 1969), and to a lesser extent, Hagen (1963). This paper analyses the constraints to the realisation of this project and proposes how these constraints may be overcome to get ahead with the task.

The major constraint to a psychological construction of social reality (economic development, political modernization, or social change) had been the pervasive individualism of psychology - in epistemology, methodology, and substance (Manicas 1987). For deep-rooted historical reasons, the unit of analysis of psychology had been the individual; even social psychology has not been a psychology of the state of society, but a psychology of the individual-in-society or as he interacts with society (Pepitone 1981). Clearly, if psychology is to contribute to a better understanding of development, then psychologists must begin to get interested in social development as a primary phenomenon deserving study.

A second constraint has been the insistence of economics to look at non-Europeanate societies in terms of the experience of Europeanate  societies. The implicit assumption being that there is a uniform process in history, exemplified in the Europeanate experience, against which the experience of all other societies can be seen - in terms of conformity with or departures from it. To speak of the "development" of Pakistan, for example, is to be coerced into explaining why the economic history of Pakistan has not followed the early economic history of Europeanate societies. Clearly, if developments in Pakistan are to be understood in terms of their own logic, then the key features of Pakistan's economic history should be explained without forcing them into the procrustean patterns of Europeanate history.

Once psychologists become interested in social phenomena, and that too in those relating primarily to the country or countries under study, then a three-point strategy is proposed in this paper to realize the potential of the programme. First, just as economists have chosen wealth and capital accumulation as the operational variables which capture the state of development and underdevelopment, a set of suitable psychological variables should be selected (we propose concepts derived from the cognitive perspective in psychology). Second, on this basis, it should be possible to extend many of the insights from established psychological theories to explain social conditions in non-Europeanate societies. Finally, with the aid of these theoretical insights, the prospects for society-specific "therapeutic" (or what economists call policy) interventions may be examined.