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icono de curso

Understanding Development: theory and practice


Credits: 4 ECTS

First semester, Second semester

Elective Courses




This course unpacks the concept of development by tracing its emergence and evolution over the past few decades. The course is organized around three units. An important concern of the first module is to familiarize students with earlier debates that influenced policy-makers in distinct ways. How did “development” first rise on the horizon as an agenda-setting concept? Who were some of the intellectual figures involved in these exchanges? Some of the readings we cover in this part focus on colonialism and colonial legacies, modernization theory, dependence theory and world systems approach, to name a few.

Next, we look at a major shift after the 1980s and 1990s in an era of economic liberalization and globalization. This period has seen an ever growing focus on market-based policy prescriptions together with debates on “best practices” for “governing” development. To understand the dynamics behind this sharp turn, we survey some of the most influential policy prescriptions, such as structural reforms, the popularization of micro-finance, programs that promote financial inclusion and other relevant interventions that focus on “nudging” individual economic behavior. Our key concern here is to understand why such market-based policy prescriptions gained increasing prominence and survived to this day despite notable critiques such as Amartya Sen (and his capability approach) and Joseph Stiglitz (and debates within the World Bank).

The final part of the course looks at alternative policy prescriptions that emerged out of these critiques and highlights the renewed focus on the role of the state and political institutions. In particular, we assess arguments that emphasize institutional quality and institution-building. We end the course by unpacking current challenges and emerging themes in development studies, such as racial inequalities and gendered development policies. These last two modules will be co-taught with Dr. Miriam Bradley.


Course requirements

  • Participation and attendance (15%). Participation is essential to the successful completion of this course and achieving its learning objectives. I strongly encourage all students to complete the readings prior to each meeting.
  • Pop-quiz (5%). There will be an unannounced pop-quiz (1) with five questions on the material we covered in class.
  • Take home midterm exam (25%). There will be a take home midterm exam. The students will respond to 3 short essay questions based on readings and classroom discussions.
  • In class presentation (20%). Each session will begin with a student presentation for about 15 minutes, where the presenter is expected to briefly discuss the assigned readings. This should not be just a simple summary, but also include a critical assessment of the ideas discussed by these authors. Each presentation should also include questions for further discussion and inquiry.
  • Take home final exam (35%). The take home final exam includes 2 long essay questions based on readings and classroom discussions.

Competences, learning outcomes and teaching activities (PDF)