SOAS University of London

Department of Development Studies

Political economy of finance, debt and development

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2017/2018
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Term 1

Finance is one of the most powerful factors impacting capitalist development, and the power of financial capital has grown considerably since the 1980s and the transition to neoliberal strategies of development. Individuals, families, businesses, governments, and so on have become more dependent on access to finance, money, and debt that are far from guaranteed and which require the constant reassertion of one’s creditworthiness. At the same time, the rise in finance has meant an increase in economic instability and crisis. Many questions arise. Do governments and state financial managers in developing middle-income countries act at the behest of financial capital or on its behalf? Why have popular classes (including peasants, farmers, working poor, small business owners, and so on) shouldered the enormous social costs of recurrent financial crises that originate in financial profit that benefit a small minority of people who own and control money resources? These are but two of the many questions surrounding the historical problem of how neoliberal strategies of development have become finance-led – or more specifically of the rise of emerging finance capitalism – which this module explores.

The module focuses mostly on the experiences of middle-income countries or emerging capitalisms. To understand the changes to how national development strategies have been funded since the 1980s, the module explores the historical, social, and political determinants of change by paying attention to issues of power and conflict. The weekly conceptual topics are rooted in specific middle-income country case studies to help draw out both the differences and commonalities among middle-income societies. The first part of the module introduces and establishes the background to the rise of emerging finance capitalism. The second part examines how finance works today, the major actors and agencies involved, and some of the chief controversies. The final section explores questions of alternatives and opportunities, if any, that have arisen out of the current world financial crisis.

This module is based on three-hour weekly seminars, and there are no tutorials since these sessions are integrated into each week’s seminar. Each seminar is organized around a question, for example, why is money important, why is the US important, why are capital controls important, and so on. The seminars are then collectively driven (student discussion and participation) around understanding and answering that question based on the module readings, in-class discussion, videos, and so on. As such, students wishing to take this module must be prepared to come and to actively participate in each and every seminar because we will not be following a traditional lecture format. It is also important to know that in your essay assignment you will take the ideas from one of the week’s topics and apply it to a real world problem of finance, debt, and development in emerging capitalism today. The written form will NOT be that of a standard essay, but rather of a piece of personal writing for a magazine, official statement, letter to the editor, journal entry, or something similar. In the script, you must take the vantage point of an actor involved in the real world problem of finance. The assignment, nonetheless, requires that you be both rigorous in your research and application of ideas but also creative in their presentation.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of this module a student should be able to demonstrate:

  • An ability to identify the role finance plays in development 
  • An ability to identify the key actors in development finance 
  • An ability to analyse and evaluate how development finance actors work, and how they contribute to development and development crisis 
  • An understanding of the causes and consequences of financial crises 
  • An understanding of the causes of the 2008-09 financial crisis, and its implications for development in poorer countries 
  • An understanding of the key theories in relation to development finance, and an ability to evaluate those theories and the broader literature
  • An ability to use empirically-formed analysis to identity gaps and tensions between theory and practice


Teaching will take the form of a three-hour seminar per week.

Scope and syllabus

Weekly seminars may include some of the following themes:

  1. Introduction
  2. Origins of Financing Capitalist Development in the Periphery
  3. Crises and Rise of Finance-led Neoliberalism
  4. Internationalization of the State Financial Apparatus
  5. Ownership and Control of Finance: State versus Private
  6. Foreign Lending and International Debt
  7. International Financial Institutions and Regional Banks
  8. Major Powerhouses and Development Finance
  9. Alternatives to Market-Oriented Finance? Micro-Finance to Bank Nationalization
  10. Impacts of the 2008-09 World Financial Crisis

Method of assessment

One two hour written examination which will constitute 50% of the final mark, with the remaining 50% consisting of marks from assessed essays. Each student will be expected to submit an essay outline of 500 words worth 15%, and an essay of no more than 2500 words worth 35%. Resubmission of coursework regulations apply to this module.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules