While the phrase ‘sustainable development’ is very familiar at the moment, since the end of the Second World War the term ‘development’ has been far more often applied in the context of ‘modernisation’ and ‘Third World development’. In mainstream Western debate at least, the appropriateness of such development for the Third World has usually been uncontested. The standard argument in favour of development in this sense goes that growing the pie allows those who have less to have more without taking from the affluent. One present example of rapid development, the economy of India, has business writers in raptures as they peruse the latest economic growth data.
In his book, The history of development, Gilbert Rist patiently takes apart this conceptualisation of development and identifies any number of flaws in it, the growth obsession being just one of them.