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Department of Development Studies

Introduction to Development Studies

Course Code:
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 1
Taught in:
Full Year

This course is designed to introduce students to key issues and themes in international development. Through taking this course, students will explore and engage with academic debates and discussions around a set of key factors which shape, influence and constrain the existence and experience of poverty. The course is split into three main parts. Firstly the course looks at the evolution of the understanding of development from the colonial to the post-colonial period up to contemporary theories about what development is and should be. Secondly, the course explores a number of key themes in international development, considering how questions of gender and generation shape the impact of poverty; how processes of globalisation, migration and violent conflict impact on development, and how development and the environment are linked. It also considers what exactly we mean by poverty, and how different ways of understanding poverty feed into different approaches to tackling it. The third part of the course considers development institutions: what are the key institutions in the architecture of international development? How do they differ, and what are the challenges and opportunities they present? Through this course, students will gain a solid background in the various factors which shape current approaches to and debates on international development.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

On successful completion of this course, a student will be expected to be able to demonstrate:

  • An understanding of the changing definitions of development over the course of the twentieth century to the current day;
  • A critical understanding of how individual identities, global processes, and experiences shape poverty and create obstacles and challenges to, and opportunities for, development;
  • A critical understanding of the different ways in which poverty has been understood and the implications of those differences;
  • An understanding of the the different roles of development actors, and the debates about their role and impact;
  • An ability to used empirically formed analysis to identify gaps and tensions in the literature and academic debates;
  • An ability to engage in critical discussion and debate in a group, and to formulate ideas based upon key readings.


Teaching will take the form of a two-hour lecture and a one-hour tutorial each week. Students are required to make presentations at the tutorials.

Scope and syllabus

Part 1: History of development thought

  • What is ‘development’: definitions and shifts in understanding
  • colonial development
  • post-colonial development
  • Modernisation, post development and alternative development thoughts

Part 2: Development themes

  • Gender and development
  • Generation, age and development
  • Environment and development
  • Globalisation and development
  • Violence, conflict and development
  • Migration and development
  • Refugees and IDPs and development
  • Hunger
  • Health and development
  • Poverty

Part 3: Development institutions

  • The state and development
  • donors and development
  • Non-state actors (NGOs) and development
  • civil society and social movements

Method of assessment

One three hour unseen written exam worth 60% of the final mark and two assessed essays of no more than 3000 words each, each worth 20% of the overall mark. Resubmission of coursework regulations apply to this course.

Suggested reading

  • T. Allen and A. Thomas 2000 Poverty and Development into the 21st Century Oxford University Press.
  • S. Corbridge ed. 2000 Development: Critical Concepts in the Social Sciences, Routledge.
  • V. Desai and R. Potter eds. 2008 (first edition 2002) The Companion to Development Studies, Arnold.

[All are available from the SOAS Library]