Development: History, Theory and Policy

This information is for the 2023/24 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof David Lewis CON.6.11 and Prof James Putzel CON.8.03


This course is compulsory on the MSc in Development Studies and MSc in Political Economy of Late Development. This course is available on the MSc in Anthropology and Development, MSc in Economic Policy for International Development, MSc in Empires, Colonialism and Globalisation, MSc in Environment and Development, MSc in Urban Policy (LSE and Sciences Po) and MSc in Urbanisation and Development. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Students will be allocated places to courses with priority to ID and joint-degree students.  If there are more ID and joint-degree students than the course can accommodate, these spots will be allocated randomly. 

Non-ID/Joint Degree students will be allocated to spare places by random selection with the preference given first to those degrees where the regulations and places permit.



Course content

The course integrates the concepts and perspectives of a range of disciplines to consider: major trends of development and change in modern history and interpretations of them in the social sciences and contemporary economic and social theory and their bearing on the policy and practice of development. During Autumn Term the course critically discusses concepts of 'development' and the historical evolution of paradigms of development thinking and policy. With reference to comparative historical experience, we explore the role of states and markets in development and/underdevelopment, colonial legacies and path dependencies, and developmental states in comparative perspective. We examine the impact of pro-market reforms, globalisation and financialisation, as well the role of non-governmental organisations, social movements and challenges to the reigning development paradigm. 


During Winter Term the course draws on recent research and theoretical debates to discuss current cutting edge policy issues and challenges in the developing world including: old and new forms of development aid, transformative social policy, agrarian change, industrialisation and digital technologies, environmental crisis, state fragility and conflict,   and challenges to development thinking and practice presented by feminist theory and an engagement with the humanities.


This course is delivered through a combination of lectures and seminars in the AT & WT. Seminars will be 90 minutes duration and lectures will be 120 minutes duration. There will be a revision session in final week of WT.

Students on this course will have a reading week in Week 6.

Formative coursework

One 2,000 word essay with written feedback submitted in Autumn Term and at least two seminar presentations on literature (one in Autumn and one in Winter Term).

Indicative reading

The following are recommended basic readings for the course:

HJ Chang, Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective(Anthem, 2002).

HJ Chang, Economics: The User's Guide (Penguin, 2014)

J Ferguson, The Anti-Politics Machine: 'Development', Depoliticisation and Bureaucratic Power in Lesotho (Cambridge, 1990).

K Gardner and D Lewis, Anthropology and Development: Challenges for the Twenty-First Century (Pluto, 2015)

M Jerven, Poor Numbers: How we are misled about African development statistics and what to do about it (Cornell, 2013).

A Kohli, State-Directed Development: Political Power and Industrialization in the Global Periphery (Cambridge, 2004).

T. Mkandawire, Social Policy in a Development Context (Palgrave 2004).

D Rodrik, One Economics, Many Recipes: Globalization, Institutions, and Economic Growth (Princeton University Press, 2008)

A Sen, Development as Freedom (Anchor, 1999).

United Nations, “Transforming Our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” (SDGs)  A/RES/70/1   (25 September 2015).


Exam (80%, duration: 3 hours) in the spring exam period.
Essay (20%, 2000 words) in the WT.

Student performance results

(2019/20 - 2021/22 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 20.3
Merit 62.9
Pass 16.5
Fail 0.2

Teachers' comment

DV400 is the core course for a number of MSc programmes and thus brings together students from a wider variety of backgrounds than most other Masters courses. As a very demanding full-year interdisciplinary course, which many students find particularly challenging, we believe student performance is impressive. We update and revise the reading list each year to ensure students have a strong foundation for future employment or research in development. Clearly students always demand more feedback on their work and we are working hard to ensure that happens.

Key facts

Department: International Development

Total students 2022/23: 139

Average class size 2022/23: 16

Controlled access 2022/23: Yes

Lecture capture used 2022/23: Yes (MT & LT)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Application of numeracy skills
  • Specialist skills