The Political Economy of (Under-)Development

Overview and aims

This module explores some of the controversies and debates of 21st Century political economy particularly as they relate to the so-called Third World. Theories of development offer contrasting explanations for the divergent patterns of wealth and poverty in the world today. The rise of neo-liberalism as a new paradigm in development policy during the late 70s and 80s challenged the relationship between ‘politics’ and ‘economics’, contested the role of the state, and posited the idea of markets as the main motor of development. Today we are left with a ‘mainstream’ view of development, as represented by major global development institutions such as the World Bank, and critiques of this orthodoxy who call for an end to the idea of ‘development’ as a desirable goal. This module unpacks the contours of this debate and encourages you as students to consider whether genuinely alternative development theories and approaches really exist or whether such an alternative is desirable or feasible.

The module aims to encourage you to think critically and analyse mainstream development thinking as articulated and implemented in the policies of the World Bank and other multilateral institutions. It will do this by exploring the goals and ideas about development generated by those who claim to offer an ‘alternative’ development vision. Throughout the module, priority is given to the idea of development as an important issue in international relations with political ramifications at local, national and international levels. We explore the key concepts and buzzwords used in development discussions today, and the way some of these have been appropriated by the ‘mainstream’. The module introduces a range of key issues in development through the critical lens of competing theoretical perspectives and gets you involved in evaluating the usefulness and relevance of key concepts and tools in the field of contemporary political economy and development studies. The intention is to promote an interdisciplinary and analytical approach to the study of global transformations and strategies for development.

Module content

By focusing on the key concept of development, this module introduces a range of themes, theoretical perspectives and policy approaches in political economy and international relations. The particular relationship between globalisation and development, and the impact of national and international agencies and policy-makers on the process of development in various parts of the Third World, is explored through the examination of selected development themes. The module takes an interdisciplinary stance and you are encouraged to read widely and apply a broadly social scientific approach to the issues under consideration. Case study material is used to illustrate and clarify the main concepts and theories that inform the study of development and the strategies that have been employed in the pursuit of development.

Module topics

  • The counter-revolution in development and the emergence of the new neoliberal consensus
  • Governance and the state
  • Participation, empowerment, social capital
  • Poverty reduction, goals and targeting
  • From women to gender and development
  • Transnational corporations and corporate social responsibility

Learning outcomes

After studying this module you should be able to:

  • critically analyse major social and political development issues and systematically analyse the multiplicity of relevant public policies and their underlying philosophies of political economy
  • critique theoretical perspectives and their socio-political contexts relevant to development issues
  • use a diverse range of source material to critically investigate the relationship between politics and economics in the field of development
  • critically analyse the major social, political and economic trends which have fashioned the changing pattern of development strategies in the developing world

This module will help you gain the skills and qualities to:

  • critically evaluate differing concepts and competing theories of development and political economy
  • identify, collect, analyse and present complex, contemporary evidence to develop and test critical hypotheses
  • design and carry out advanced research projects on specific development issues that lead to policy prescriptions

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