Not available in 2023/24
DV480      Half Unit
Transforming Society: Revolutions, Evolutions and Colonialism

This information is for the 2023/24 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Jean-Paul Faguet CON 8.06


This course is available on the MSc in Anthropology and Development, MSc in Development Management, MSc in Development Management (LSE and Sciences Po), MSc in Development Studies, MSc in Health and International Development, MSc in International Development and Humanitarian Emergencies, MSc in Political Economy of Late Development and MSc in Political Science and Political Economy. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

ID and joint-degree students will have priority in the allocation of places.  If there are more ID and joint-degree students than the course can accommodate, places will be allocated randomly.

Non-ID/Joint Degree students will be allocated available places by random selection, with preference given first to those degrees where regulations permit this option.


No specific course pre-requisites.  A good social science background will be very helpful, especially politics and economics.

Course content

Revolutions break things, but do they also build?  If so, what precisely?  What causes revolutions?  What do revolutions cause?  This course examines the successes and failures of revolution as a model of change in generating large and sustainable improvements in economic, political and social development.  We begin by defining "revolution" as a discrete, analytically distinct model of change.  We then examine revolutions per se – abrupt, significant, and often violent changes in governance and the distribution of power and wealth in society.  Classic examples include the French, Russian, Chinese and Vietnamese Revolutions.  We evaluate the immediate and long-term costs of these episodes in light of changes that resulted in each country's development trajectory.  We contrast these cases with ‘right-wing revolutions’, such as South Korea, Taiwan and Japan, as well as more gradual processes of change ('evolutions', often called "reform"), such as Finland and New Zealand.  We contrast capitalist vs. socialist models of economic growth and development.  We focus on the conditions that sustained left vs. right revolutions, and also revolutionary vs. non-revolutionary processes of change.  We analyse the ability of each model to generate lasting improvements in societies' economic, political and social development.


This course is delivered through a combination of lectures and seminars in the MT. Seminars will be at or upwards of 45 minutes duration and lectures will be at or above 60 minutes duration. There will also be 4 hours of workshop in the MT.


Student on this course will have a reading week in week 6.


Lectures will present key theoretical insights and lay out the contours of major debates from the literature.  Seminars will be student-led, and will probe each week's topic in more detail, both to clarify concepts and to test them against evidence, some of which students will draw up and present independently.  The workshop is a different sort of exercise, intended to give thorough review to students' research proposals in a constructively critical, colleagial atmosphere.  Each student will present their research proposal and then receive feedback from fellow students and faculty.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 presentation and 1 other piece of coursework in the AT.

In preparation for their research essay, students will submit a formative research proposal, which they will present in a research workshop in MT.  This will receive detailed written, and also oral, feedback intended to improve the proposal.  They will then revise the proposal and re-submit as summative work.

Students will also complete seminar presentations, individually or in pairs (depending on student numbers), which will also receive formative feedback.

Indicative reading

A detailed, weekly reading list will be provided at the start of term:

  • Arendt, Hannah. 2006. On Revolution. London: Penguin Classics.
  • Boix, Carles. 2015. Political Order and Inequality: Their Foundations and their Consequences for Human Welfare. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Brady, H. and D. Collier. 2010. Rethinking Social Inquiry: Diverse Tools, Shared Standards (second, expanded edition). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Dix, Robert H. 1983. "The Varieties of Revolution." Comparative Politics, 15 (3): 281-294.
  • Huntington, Samuel P. 1968. ​Political Order in Changing Societies. New Haven: Yale University Press.
  • Moore, Barrington. 1966. Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
  • North, D., J. Wallis, and B. Weingast. 2009. Violence and social orders: A conceptual framework for interpreting recorded human history. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Procter, Margaret. The Academic Proposal.  University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto.
  • Skocpol, Theda. 1979. States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia and China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Tilly, Charles. 1995. European Revolutions: 1492-1992. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • de Tocqueville, Alexis. 1865. The Old Regime and the Revolution. New York: Harper & Brothers.
  • Tucker, Robert C. (Ed.). 1975. The Lenin Anthology. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
  • University Library. Writing a Research Proposal. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


Assessment path 1
Presentation (10%) and research proposal (20%) in the AT.
Research project (70%) in the ST.

Assessment path 2
Exam (80%, duration: 2 hours) in the spring exam period.
Presentation (20%) in the AT.

Two assessment tracks are available for this course:

Students must opt for one or the other by Friday of reading week (week 6).

Student performance results

(2019/20 - 2021/22 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 35.8
Merit 63
Pass 1.2
Fail 0

Key facts

Department: International Development

Total students 2022/23: 15

Average class size 2022/23: 14

Controlled access 2022/23: Yes

Lecture capture used 2022/23: Yes (MT)

Value: Half 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