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Department of Development Studies

Neoliberalism, Democracy and Development - NEW

Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 3, Year 3 of 4 or Year 4 of 4

This course explores dimensions of neoliberalism, imperialism, democracy and development as global phenomena and from a cross-disciplinary approach. It is not adequate to approach neoliberalism as merely a turn in economic theory, nor is it accurate to conceptualise imperialism as a thing of the past. Because of its dominance and spread, neoliberalism is no longer is an esoteric and arcane policy framework. It affects everyday life in locales far away from the world’s financial and political capitals, and has meant that the West has had to defend neoliberal policies with military force, directly intervening in countries of either strategic importance or that are rich in resources, or fighting proxy wars to secure access to these resources. But what consequences has this had for democracy and the spread of democracy? And how have neoliberalism and imperialism been resisted, particularly since 9/11 and the War on Terror? Some of the main themes highlighted in the course include: that neoliberalism has been both a specific project and a general condition of the world over the past three decades; that imperialism – in a sense the ‘armed wing’ of neoliberalism – has been integral to the neoliberal project; and that a vacuous form of democracy has become the typical form of management of social relations under neoliberalism. These issues are examined both historically and conceptually, in order to inform a critical analysis of the global political economy. Although the course focuses on the period post-2001, there will be ample opportunity for examination of the preceding decades. Please note that students will be expected to read extensively in order to contribute to this course.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

On successful completion of the course, a student should be able to demonstrate the ability to:

  • Understand the major theoretical debates related to neoliberalism, including the process of neoliberal ascendancy and its effects in the domains of culture, society, economy and polity, and its efforts to separate these domains.
  • Understand the major debates related to imperialism, including new forms of imperialism and its consequences, and inter-imperial rivalry.
  • Understand the major debates related to democracy, including the erosion of democratic political forms under neoliberalism.
  • Systematically understand the power and limits of neoliberalism, imperialism and contemporary forms of democracy, and the interaction between these phenomena.
  • Identify and assess the success or otherwise of neoliberal and imperial policies and approaches, including an understanding of the various forms of resistance against neoliberalism and imperialism around the world.
  • Appreciate the strengths and limitations of democracy under neoliberalism, and a critical understanding of the alternative forms of political regulation of social conflict in contemporary (neoliberal) societies.


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

Method of assessment

100% coursework, consisting of: two essays of no more than 2000 words (25% each); four reaction papers of no more than 1000 words (10% each); student participation in lectures and tutorials (10% of the final grade).