Sustainable Development: Politics and Policies (753N1)

15 credits, Level 7 (Masters)

Autumn teaching

1. To provide an understanding of different social scientific perspectives on sustainable development (SD), including those forwarded by orthodox economists and large development agencies following the publication of 'Limits to Growth' and the Brundtland Report. Competing conceptualizations of SD proposed by non-economists, grassroots organizations and environmental movements will also be introduced. And the extent to which these different conceptualizations encompass environmental and socio-economic dimensions of SD will be discussed.

2. To introduce students to policies and strategies of sustainable development, promoted by development agencies in different regions of the global south. Students will develop insights into the historical emergence of policy instruments and strategies such as the clean development mechanism, international biodiversity conservation agreements, decentralization (eg participatory and community management of natural resources), and other local/regional SD initiatives. Students will be able to appreciate the links of these policies and strategies to orthodox economic and other perspectives on SD, providing them with a foundation on which to build comprehensive analyses of international sustainable development policies and strategies.

3. To provide an understanding, through theoretical concepts and case studies, of the practice of SD in international development projects and programs. Viewing SD projects as encounters between diverse actors and knowledges, students will learn how alliances may be forged and/or conflicts may arise between different actors as sustainable development policy instruments and strategies are put into actual practice. Insights will be provided into ways in which the practices in SD projects may end up deviating from policies and plans. Students will learn about specificities of SD practices in different economic sectors such as food, energy and (radioactive and electronic) waste management. This will lead to an identification of some of the major local and global challenges faced in achieving sustainable development, with an emphasis on developing economies.

This module:

  • provides an understanding of the science-technology-governance systems perspective on sustainable development in a way that complements what is learnt from other modules during the Autumn term. Competing conceptions of sustainable development, and means of achieving measures of the relative sustainability of policy options, are introduced. This is followed by a series of contemporary case studies to examine the systems that contribute towards addressing major challenges in sustainable development and the interactions between them
  • introduces students to the major orthodox economic perspectives on sustainability, with a particular emphasis on the economic analysis of environmental issues. It gives students a grounding in these perspectives, gives them the rudiments of critiques of them from within the economics tradition and enables them to situate economic perspectives within the range of other disciplinary approaches to the subject.


67%: Lecture
33%: Seminar


25%: Coursework (Observation, Problem set)
75%: Written assessment (Essay)

Contact hours and workload

This module is approximately 150 hours of work. This breaks down into about 33 hours of contact time and about 117 hours of independent study. The University may make minor variations to the contact hours for operational reasons, including timetabling requirements.

We regularly review our modules to incorporate student feedback, staff expertise, as well as the latest research and teaching methodology. We’re planning to run these modules in the academic year 2023/24. However, there may be changes to these modules in response to feedback, staff availability, student demand or updates to our curriculum. We’ll make sure to let you know of any material changes to modules at the earliest opportunity.