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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. It begins by outlining the history of development over the course of the twentieth century, before considering some of the dominant theories and debates in the analysis of international development in Section One. Section Two looks at the translation of development theories and ideas into practice, and explores the gaps between what was planned and what occurred (for example, rising levels of inequality, heightened vulnerability, and greater insecurity, despite a century of planned interventions designed to reduce poverty). Through an analysis of development in the rural, industrial and social sectors, the course argues that gaps between rhetoric and reality have not accidental, but reflect international power balances and the interests of global powers (state and non-state). Section Three examines development actors – those agents involved in planning, implementing and / or financing international development activity: the state; the Bretton Woods institutions; NGOs; and community-based development. It argues that whilst much of the focus of development activity has been upon power struggles between the state and international organisations for control over development processes, a key (but neglected) area of action has been at the community level. Finally, Section Four explores key themes and issues in development: including migration, gender and conflict.

Main Topics of Study
  • Analysis of changing meanings and theories of development and ‘third world’ since 1945;
  • An examination of key ‘local’ and ‘national’ processes shaping `Third World' societies: rural livelihoods, urbanisation, gender inequalities, population growth, hunger and disease, poverty, industrialisation;
  • An overview of international events, processes and ideas shaping the development of ‘Third World’ societies since 1945, including international institutions, trade, capital flows, debt;
  • An examination of some of the major agents and institutions of development, including states, multilateral institutions, markets, NGOs and social movements;
  • An examination of how these debates have changed over time, and in particular how they relate to the current era of ‘globalisation’.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

At the end of the course, students should be able to demonstrate: 

  • An understanding of changing definitions of development over the course of the twentieth century to the current day 
  • An ability to relate these shifting definitions to the changing contexts in which development interventions have occurred, and to changing national and international contexts 
  • An understanding of key theories and theorists in relation to international development 
  • An ability to engage with debates on key substantive issues such as poverty, inequality, gender, and violence 
  • An understanding of how the changing international economy impacts on development, poverty and social exclusion 
  • An understanding of how key development actors operate, the constraints they face, and the potential and limitations inherent to their institutional type 
  • An ability to use empirically-formed analysis to identity gaps and tensions between theory and practice 
  • 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

Section 1. Theories of development
  • Thinking about development: an overview
  • Colonial development, 1900s – 1960s
  • Dependency & under-development
  • From neoliberal development to good governance
  • Development alternatives and alternatives to development
Section 2. Development in practice
  • Globalisation of trade and finance
  • Rural development
  • Food and hunger
  • Industrialisation
  • Social Protection: An Emerging Policy Agenda
Section 3. Key actors
  • The state
  • Multilateral institutions: Bretton Woods and the UN
  • NGOs and civil society
  • Social movements
  • Migration
Section 4. Key issues
  • Conflict and displacement
  • Gender
  • Ethical Trading, Development Economics, and Useful Idiots
  • In perspective: theories, practice, actors & issues

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]