SOAS University of London

Department of Development Studies

Civil Society, Social Movements and the Development Process

Course Code:
Course Not Running 2016/2017
Unit value:
Taught in:
Term 2

Until recently, the study of development process until recently has centered largely on the triangle of states-markets-international institutions. For the last decade, mainstream development discourse has adopted the notion of 'civil society' as simultaneously the site of 'citizens' collective action' as well as a set of actors to be incorporated in the planning, implementation and evaluation of development projects. This notion of 'civil society' has tended to focus exclusively on NGOs. 

This module provides a more political understanding of 'civil society' by examining social movements in relation to civil society and to the development project itself. It begins by current theories of ‘civil society' and 'new social movements'. It then assesses the impact of nationalist and socialist movements on shaping the development agenda of nineteenth-century European and late-colonial states, and how social movements from the 1950s-1980s interacted with national governments in blocking, changing or advancing the development agendas of states (e.g., Gandhian movements in India, the housing rights movements in urban Latin America, and the movements against minority rule in Southern Africa). 

The module focuses on contexts (e.g. democratisation, globalisation, etc.), sectors (e.g. environment, agriculture), spaces (e.g. rural, urban) and agents (e.g. women). Subsequently, the module addresses the issue of 'global civil society': issues of 'globalisation' and transnational networks of solidarity created in response to it, for example, the movements against 'sweatshop labour', the Zapatista movement in Mexico, and movements against transnational companies and institutions of global governance (WTO, World Bank, IMF etc.).

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

The learning objectives of the module are:

  • to familiarize students with the debates on civil society in social and political theory, and so to provide them with a broader understanding of it than in mainstream development discourses; 
  • to provide a framework to understand the relation between civil society and contemporary social movement politics; 
  • to provide a framework for understanding the relation between social movements and development agendas, an important subset of the politics and sociology of development.


Teaching takes place through a weekly 2 hour lecture and 1 hour tutorial.

Method of assessment

60% examination, 40% coursework. Each student will be expected to submit one essay of no more than 4000 words, worth 40%. Resubmission of coursework regulations apply.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules