Riggs has defined development as “a process of increasing autonomy i. e. discretion of social systems, made possible by rising level of diffraction”. According to him, discretion means the ability to choose among different alternatives while diffraction is the degree of differentiation and integration in a social system. Development is the increasing ability to make and carry out collective decisions affecting environment according to this view.
‘Differentiation’ and ‘integration’ are two key elements in the process of development. When in a social system there exists a social structure to carry out every function in the society then the society is said to be differentiated. Integration means the co-ordination or linking up different social structures and functions. Prismatic situation prevails in a society when it is highly differentiated but poorly integrated. Higher is the level of differentiation and integration, higher is the level of diffraction which leads to higher level of development in the society. The lack of co-ordination between differentiation and integration leads to prismatic conditions in the society.
Riggs first gave “one dimensional” approach to diffraction which is represented in the following figure. In such an approach, prismatic society is a “semi-differentiated” society standing midway between an undifferentiated fused society and a highly differentiated diffracted society.
In his recent work “Prismatic Society Revisited”, Riggs introduced different categories of prismatic society. This approach is known as “two dimensional” approach to diffraction and is shown below:
Thus prismatic and diffracted are no longer models next to each other in the levels of differentiation. In the “two dimensional” approach, prismatic conditions may occur in societies at any level of differentiation i. e. these conditions need not be confined to less developed countries only. The prismatic conditions may prevail even in the developed countries. This is due to “malintegration” in those societies also e. g. in USA urban crises, race riots, popular apathy etc. are there. “Integration” thus is quite important part of the development according to Riggs.
The level of differentiation in a society depends upon the technological and non- technological factors. The level of differentiation will be more when the technology is highly developed. Integration depends on two factors:
Penetration basically denotes the ability of the government to make public policies and to implement them. Participation is the receptivity, willingness and ability of the people to obey the law of the land. Hence penetration and participation result in a good co- ordination of the differentiated structures which ultimately results in the development. Riggs has considered “diffraction” as the necessary and sufficient condition for development i. e. for increasing discretion.
By increased “discretion”, Riggs means increased capability of people to shape their physical, human and cultural environments. In this way a developed system is able to change its “environment” in a better way than an underdeveloped one. This increased capability may or may not be used to increase the output. That is, it is also possible that a developed system may have a low output though it is rarely found. Also, the changes in environment like a technological innovation or foreign aid may bring increase in output or growth in the system even though the level of the discretion of the system did not rise. So, growth without development is possible.