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Department of Development Studies

Theory and evidence in contemporary development

Course Code:
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 2
Taught in:
Full Year

The main objective of this module is to show, through selected case studies, the relationship between theoretical work and empirical research in development studies. Specific development debates will be selected and students will be taught competing theoretical approaches to these issues, and how data is used by different perspectives, both to illustrate the contentions of a particular theory, and undermine the contentions of other approaches. Rather than being taught in the abstract, specific development debates will be used to illustrate the theoretical approaches, and the relationship between theory and empirical research. These debates will include the different ways of conceptualising and measuring development; the role of institutions and social structures in economic development; debt crisis and structural adjustment; the political economy of international financial flows; gender and development; natural resource governance; and the political economy of violence and war.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

After studying this unit, students should:

  • Have a sound understanding of selected development debates
  • Show a clear understanding of the theoretical approaches to these issues
  • Reflect critically on how data is collected and used in addressing these issues
  • Show a critical awareness of the strengths and weaknesses of different methods of collecting and using data
  • Critically reflect on the significance of these strengths and weaknesses for understanding of key development debates
  • Critically reflect on the relationship between theoretical reflection and empirical research in addressing these issues
  • Relate these debates to the relationship between theories, concepts and methods in development studies


Teaching will take the form of a two-hour lecture and a one-hour tutorial each week.

Scope and syllabus


Measuring Development

Part One: State and Institutions

Part Two: Neoliberalism

Part Three: Violence and Conflict

Part Four: Gender and Development

Part Five: Finance

Part Six: Natural Resource Governance

Method of assessment

One three hour written examination which will constitute 60% of the final mark, with the remaining 40% consisting of marks from assessed essays. Each student will be expected to submit two essays of no more than 3000 words, each consisting of 20% of the overall mark. Resubmission of coursework regulations apply to this module.

Suggested reading

  • H-J Chang, 2003. Rethinking Development Economics, Anthem. T. Allen and A.Thomas eds. (2000) Poverty and Development into the Twenty First Century, chs. 1 and esp. 2
  • U. Kambhapati, 2004. Development and the Developing World, Polity.
  • A.P. Thirlwall, 2006. Growth and Development: With Special Reference to Developing Countries, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 8th edition.
  • A. Thomas, J. Chataway, and M. Wuyts 1998. Finding Out Fast: Investigative Skills for Policy and Development, London: Sage Publciations and Open University.