Critical Debates in Development Theory (807AF)

30 credits, Level 7 (Masters)

Autumn teaching

Through this module, you will get to grips with key theories and paradigms from the Global North and the Global South which have shaped development thinking and practice. We start the module by examining broad and influential paradigms such as modernisation theory and dependency theory, devoting attention to the claims these theories make about the world, as well as how they have been used to inform development policy and practice (whether implicitly or explicitly). We then move to explore specific theoretical perspectives that have shaped approaches to particular areas of development policy and practice – for example, the ‘smart economics’ approach to gender and development.

Throughout the module, we put our theoretical understanding to work, in order to make sense of a changing landscape of development actors – paying particular attention increasing private sector participation in development and the role of Global South nations as development partners and donors. One of the foundational assumptions of the module is that theories matter to our efforts to make sense of development, not only because they provide us with analytical tools as researchers, but because policy-making, development practice, and social movements always rely upon implicit or explicit theoretical assumptions about where change comes from, whose decisions count, and what kinds of developmental change are possible or desirable.

We encourage you to cultivate a sense of 'critical hope' that rests on a deep theoretical understanding of the social, historical and material roots of contemporary inequalities and injustices, but seeks to use that understanding to work towards transformative developmental change.


50%: Lecture
50%: Seminar


40%: Coursework (Essay)
60%: Written assessment (Essay)

Contact hours and workload

This module is approximately 300 hours of work. This breaks down into about 33 hours of contact time and about 267 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.