SOAS University of London

Department of Development Studies

Key Thinkers and Theories in Development

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2
Taught in:
Term 2

This module looks at the writings and influence of key thinkers and theories in development. The module will take an in-depth look at critical voices in development debates, and explore how they have shaped understandings and debates on development, on the role of institutions and power in shaping development processes, and on development policy and practice. The module provides an in-depth exploration of the theories and ideas, how they have been subsequently interpreted, used and critiqued, and the contribution each has made to development studies and development practice.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be expected to be able to demonstrate: 

  • A critical understanding of the theories and ideas of key thinkers and schools of thought;
  • An ability to evaluate the various arguments and debates, and identify their weaknesses and strengths;
  • An ability to compare and contrast ideas and theories, and use those theories in the construction of arguments related to development;
  • A critical understanding of how theories and debates relate to development, and have been used in the literature to explore themes and issues related to development;
  • An ability to think critically and analytically, and to present thoughts in a clear verbal and written manner.


Teaching will take the form of a weekly two-hour seminar.

Scope and syllabus

The module will explore a particular thinker, set of theories or approach each week. These will include:

  • Friedman, Hayek, Krueger and the Foundations of the Washington Consensus
  • Stiglitz, New Institutionalism, the Post-Washington Consensus and Mainstream Economic Development Theory Today.
  • Heterodox Ideas in Economic Development: From List to Amsden, Chang and Mazzucato
  • Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao and their Traditions
  • The Dependentistas
  • Participatory and Autonomous Development
  • Amartya Sen and the Capabilities Approach
  • Feminist theory and Development
  • Using Foucault in Studying Development
  • Retrospective: Thinkers in Conversation

Method of assessment

50% Exam, 50% Coursework. Each student will be expected to submit an essay of no more than 2000 words, worth 50% of the total grade. 

Suggested reading

  • S Alkire (2002), Valuing Freedoms: Sen’s Capability Approach and Poverty Reduction (Oxford: OUP).
  • E Boserup (1970), Woman’s Role in Economic Development (London: Earthscan).
  • E Boserup (1981), Population and Technological Change: a study of long-term trends (Chicago: Chicago University Press)
  • Robert Chambers, Putting the First Last
  • S Corbridge (2002), ‘Development as Freedom: the spaces of Amartya Sen’, Progress in Development Studies 2, pp.183-217.
  • A Escobar (1995), Encountering Development: the making and unmaking of the Third World (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press)
  • James Ferguson (1990), The Anti-Politics Machine: ‘Development’, Depoliticisation and Bureaucratic Power in Lesotho (Cambridge: CUP)
  • D Gaspar (2004), The Ethics of Development (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press)
  • D Grigg (1979), ‘Ester Boserup’s theory of agrarian change: a critical review’, Progress in Human Geography 3 (1), pp.64-83.
  • M Foucault, ‘Truth and Power’, and ‘Power and Strategies’ in C Gordon (ed), Power/Knowledge (New York: Pantheon)
  • Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules