Overview and entry requirements
Students are encouraged to examine critically the relationship between labour, capitalism, development and poverty. We investigate labour in the contemporary social and economic development of the Global South as well as established and emerging social movements of labour in local, national and international spaces. You will learn to identify and evaluate the relationship between collective agency, policy and vice-versa.
We work in a seminar/tutorial formats that encourage critical thinking and participation via an emphasis on the relationship between theory and practice. Programme lecturers are not just research active.
We are also activists and have experience of participation in labour and social movements across the world - Latin America, Africa and Asia and Europe and have on-going contacts with such movements as well as with NGOs and international organisations.
See Department of Development Studies
Why study MSc Labour, Activism and Development at SOAS
- we are ranked number 5 in the QS World University Rankings in the subject of Development Studies
- SOAS is ranked in the top 5 universities in the UK for producing a CEO or Managing Director, according to new research
- our staff are well-placed to work with you on applying a deep understanding of collective movements to the challenge of working in development, development-related organisations and beyond into education and corporate social responsibility at various levels and scales
- students can draw on SOAS’s unique experience to specialise further in particular regions and topics. Regional expertise at SOAS allows students of MSc in Labour, Activism and Development to specialise in some of the most dynamic parts of the developing world
- students also benefit from the wide range of modules on offer, both within the department and across the School, allowing them to create individualised interdisciplinary programmes
- the programme’s emphasis on transferable analytical skills will be of great benefit to graduates who return to, or take up, professional careers in international organisations, government agencies and non-governmental organisations and movements
- the department has a Labour, Movements and Development research cluster which carries out research activities linked to labour, social movements and development
“This is a terrific programme in labour, neo-liberalism and activism especially regarding the context of Global South. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to understand and get involved in the world of labour.” (Professor Pun Ngai, University of Hong Kong)
“This degree programme offers a radical examination of the efforts of collective social movements in developing countries to improve their lives, access resources and the commons in general, and reduce precariousness. At its core is a rigorous review of theoretical analyses of such movements that is enriched by case studies of collective resistance. I recommend this degree to students who wish not only to understand the world, but to change it for the better.” (Professor Guy Standing, Professorial Research Associate, SOAS University of London)
- a placement with an active labour or social movement organisation
- labour process and organisations: development trajectories and divisions in the South
- a comparative history of labour and social movements in countries such as China, Korea, India, South Africa, Brazil and the Middle East
- corporate social responsibility initiatives, codes of conduct and anti-sweatshop campaigning
- the impact of neoliberalism and globalisation on workers in the South
- informalisation of labour, casualization and precarious work and the rise of the Gig economy
- feminisation of labour
- the worst forms of exploitation: forced labour, child labour and Modern Slavery
- rural labour, migrant labour and labour in Export Processing Zones
- household and reproductive labour
- the International Labour Organisation, international labour standards and decent work
- practices and theories of local, national and international labour campaigns
- an assessed group project that allows students to apply acquired knowledge to ‘virtual’ practice
Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings
Start of programme: September intake only
Mode of Attendance: Full-time or Part-time
Who is this programme for?:
The MSc Labour, Activism and Development programme is for students who wish to understand how labour and collective agency impacts on core processes of development. Our students acquire skill sets that combine theory and practice of labour, social movements and how they interplay with key developmental themes and interventions.
The programme is relevant to students with a strong background in the social sciences in their first degree as well as practitioners and activists from a wide spectrum of organisations and approaches.
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MSc Labour, Social Movement and Development
- We will consider all applications with 2:ii (or international equivalent) or higher. In addition to degree classification we take into account other elements of the application including supporting statement and references.
- One calendar year (full-time) Two (part-time, daytime only) We recommend that part-time students have between two and a half and three days free in the week to pursue their course of study.
Students must take 180 credits per year comprised of 120 taught credits (including core, compulsory and optional modules) and a 60 credit dissertation.
Core modules: A core module is required for the degree programme, so must always be taken and passed before you move on to the next year of your programme.
Compulsory modules: A compulsory module is required for the degree programme, so must always be taken, and if necessary can be passed by re-taking it alongside the next year of your programme.
Optional modules: These are designed to help students design their own intellectual journey while maintaining a strong grasp of the fundamentals.
Students also take ONE of the following:
Students also take ONE of the following:
In addition to the above, students select:
- Departmental Open Option module(s) to the value of 30 credits from the list below
List of modules (subject to availability)
The information on the programme page reflects the intended programme structure against the given academic session. If you are a current student you can find structure information on the previous year link at the top of the page or through your Department. Please read the important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules.
Teaching & Learning
Our teaching and learning approach is designed to support and encourage students in their own process of self-learning, and to develop their own ideas, responses and critique of international development practice and policy. We do this through a mixture of lectures, and more student-centred learning approaches (including tutorials and seminars). Teaching combines innovative use of audio-visual materials, practical exercises, group discussions, and weekly guided reading and discussions, as well as conventional lecturing.
In addition to the taught part of the masters programme, all students will write a 10,000 word dissertation. Students develop their research topic under the guidance and supervision of an academic member of the Department. Students are encouraged to explore a particular body of theory or an academic debate relevant to their programme through a focus on a particular region.
All Masters programmes consist of 180 credits, made up of taught modules of 30 or 15 credits, taught over 10 or 20 weeks, and a dissertation of 60 credits. The programme structure shows which modules are compulsory and which optional.
As a rough guide, 1 credit equals approximately 10 hours of work. Most of this will be independent study, including reading and research, preparing coursework, revising for examinations and so on. It will also include class time, which may include lectures, seminars and other classes. Some subjects, such as learning a language, have more class time than others. At SOAS, most postgraduate modules have a one hour lecture and a one hour seminar every week, but this does vary.
More information is on the page for each module.
SOAS Library is one of the world's most important academic libraries for the study of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, attracting scholars from all over the world. The Library houses over 1.2 million volumes, together with significant archival holdings, special collections and a growing network of electronic resources.
Pre Entry Reading
- Bernstein, H. 2007, ‘Capital and labour from centre to margins’.
Keynote address for conference on Living on the Margins.
Vulnerability, Exclusion and the State in the Informal Economy, Cape
Town, 26-28 March 2007. Available at
- Breman, J. 2013. At Work in the Informal Economy of India: A
Perspective from the Bottom Up. Delhi: Oxford University Press.
- Chen, M. 2012. The Informal Economy: Definitions, Theories and
Policies WIEGO Working Paper No. 1, available at
- Davis M. 2006. Planet of Slums. London: Verso. Available at
- Federici, S. 2004. Caliban and the Witch, NY: Autonomedia. Available
- Ferguson S., McNally D. 2015. ‘Precarious Migrants: Gender, Race and
the Social Reproduction of a Global Working Class’, Socialist Register
- Freund B. 1988. The African worker. Cambridge University Press.
- Linebaugh P. and Rediker M. 2008. The Many Headed Hydra: Slaves,
Sailors and Commoners and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary
Atlantic. Boston: Beacon Press. Available at
- Lockman Z., 2008. “Reflections on Labor and Working-Class History in
the Middle East and North Africa”, in Jan Lucassen ed. Global Labour
History. Bern: Peter Lang.
- Pun Ngai. 2005. Made in China. Duke University Press
- Silver B. 2003. Forces of Labour: Workers' Movements and Globalization
Since 1870. Cambridge University Press. Available at
- Standing, G. 2014. The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class, London:
- Wright M. 2006. Disposable Women and other myths of global Capitalism.
New York: Routledge. Available at
An MSc in Labour, Activism and Development is a valuable experience that provides students with a body of work and a diverse range of skills that they can use to market themselves with when they graduate.
Specifically Labour, Activism and Development degree from SOAS provides graduates with a portfolio of widely transferable skills sought by employers. These include analytical skills, the ability to think laterally and employ critical reasoning, and the ability to present materials and ideas effectively. Graduates are able to continue in the field of research including PhD research at SOAS or other academic institutions.
SOAS Development Studies graduates have gone on to work for a wide range of different kinds of organisations including:
- International Labour Organisation
- American University of Beirut
- London Borough of Hackney
- Urban Justice Centre New York
- Public World
- Human Dynamics
- British Red Cross
- the Just Enough Group
- Jyoti Fair Works
- International Transport Federation
- Paces Charity Palestine
- International Centre for Migration Policy Development
- Asia Monitor Research Centre
- Labour Behind the Label
SOAS graduates gain roles including:
- Policy Officer
- Research Officer
- Union Organiser
- Community Organiser
- CEO, Digital and Communications Officer
- Junior Technical Officer
- Child Protection Social Worker
- Operations Manager
Visit SOAS Careers Service
A Student's Perspective
Robtel Neajai Pailey
SOAS seems to attract students who are both intellectually engaged with the world around them, and committed to making an impact in that world. I wanted to be a part of that magic. For example my cohort group of MPhil/PhD students represent some of the most humble and committed practitioners, activists, and intellectuals I’ve come across in one setting.