NIFK14015U Topics in Development Studies

Volume 2018/2019

MSc Programme in Agricultural Economics
MSC Programme in Agricultural Development
MSc Programme in Sustainable Development in Agriculture (Agris Mundus)


There is no shortage of definitions of development and, hence, the field of development studies. The obvious interconnectedness of significant societal processes leads us to a fairly broad definition of development as the reproduction and transformation processes, which somehow influence inequality, impoverishment and human insecurity. The focus in the course is on the Global South.


The topic of development poses a big challenge in terms of breadth and depth. The course will therefore engage with the issue of development through a series of diverse topics taught by specialists. Each topic will consist of a series of teaching sessions (typically 4 over two weeks) to ensure a satisfactory depth.


The course will focus on different topics within the field of development studies. The specific topics will change from year to year. Examples and only examples of topics that could be explored during the course are:


1. Agriculture in Development:

Three central questions within the area of agriculture are addressed: (i) The role of agriculture in the broader development process. (ii) The role of technological and institutional change in successful agricultural development. (iii) Understanding how households and individuals participate in the process of agricultural development. Discussing ways of commercializing small-holder agriculture is central within this theme and reflects recent debates in relevant policy circles (World Development Report, 2008).


2. The Political Ecology of Resource Conflicts

In the Global South many people are directly dependent on access to resources for farming and other uses, and they are therefore directly affected – in positive and negative ways – when larger political and economic forces change the conditions on which resources are accessed. Moreover, developing societies are generally characterized by normative and legal pluralism. The stakes are therefore often high. Struggles over property are as much about the scope and constitution of authority as about access to resources. Claims, entitlements, and rights to resources are often contested and rife with conflict, just as authority and ability to define and enforce rules and rights regimes is struggled over by different institutions. In this theme, we look into issues related to land titling and struggles and resistance over property.



3. Negotiations and contests over land

There is often a wide disparity between the aims and rules of state laws, and the actual governance of natural resources. This is no less true in the Global South. Access and control over land are shaped by both legal and illegal practices, and by processes of negotiation and contest. We investigate the everyday management of natural resources and land to understand how actual governance challenges and changes the developmental objectives of African governments. Empirically, we will look at large scale sites of illegal mining, and everyday negotiations and contests over land in both rural and urban areas. A key aim is to increase understanding that a substantial part of developing countries’ development, as well as peoples’ everyday encounters and interactions around natural resources and land, occurs outside of, or on the margins of, the state.


4.. Childhood Development and Human Capital Formation:

Maternal and childhood under- or malnutrition are important topics in development, as they

fundamentally and often irreversibly influence the future health and cognitive skills of children.As such, dealing with nutritional deficiencies in utero and early childhood, has the potential to not only improve the lives of these children directly, but also increase the returns to subsequent investments in their human capital development as young people. Developing, protecting and deploying human capital of young people, in turn, is an important step in development and one of the main priorities of the World Bank (World Development Report, 2007). The relationships between nutrient intakes, nutritional status, cognitive skill formation and subsequent outcomes in life will be explored.


5. Educational Policies – What do we know and what do we need to know:

Another important factor in cognitive skill formation is the presence of a well-functioning

educational system - where children are attending and most importantly learning. This is an important part of the World Bank’ focus on investing in the next generation (World Development Report, 2007); however there is still no consensus on which policies are most effective in obtaining this objective. In this topic we will look into the controversies of educational policies focusing on school autonomy and accountability as well as specific policy interventions such as teacher incentive schemes and tracking of students.


6.Conflict, Security and Development

This module investigates the relationship between conflict, security and development. The merger of security and development is generally considered to be one of the defining features of the post-Cold War security debate. For supporters, this merger has promoted human security inside conflict-affected states. For critics, it has legitimised a variety of neo-colonial Western interventions. We will engage academic on and policy debates on this issue. Empirically, we will investigate concrete cases of conflicts historically and ethnographically. The key objectives are a) to understand the major concepts used to frame the linkages between conflict, development and security problems in the Global South, and b) to understand the actual processes, which leads to conflict between different groups based on concrete cases studies.


7. Natural Disasters:

Vulnerability and resilience to shocks is of paramount importance to development (see World Development Reports, 2010 and 2014). We will explore the literature on how natural disasters affect the lives of poor people in developing countries. We will use data to determine whether households have experienced shocks such as droughts, earthquakes or typhoons and use this information to explore a variety of feasible research questions.


8. Nationalism, ethnicity, religion, and other political loyalties.

In contemporary development different loyalties compete and intersect and shape political life. Political categories and corresponding rights and exclusions are central in political struggles. We engage the historical significance of different loyalties and their institutionalization. We engage the debate of primordialism and social construction, and compare old and contemporary arguments. A series of concrete case studies will be presented and discussed in order to identify how political loyalties form and shape competition over a range of resources.

Learning Outcome

Upon completing this course, the students should be able to



  • Summarise the main contributions of the articles discussed in class
  • List key approaches in the selected topics of development studies
  • Identify interconnections between different topics of development studies




  • Develop an analytical framework
  • Study scientific journal articles with theoretical, empirical and/or applied content in

international economics

  • Identify the central arguments and contributions of the articles
  • Explain the main results in terms of assumptions and methodology
  • Relate the articles to other relevant research within the area
  • Identify potential questions for further analysis as well as possible strategies for addressing those questions




  • To critically reflect on assumptions and epistemologies of scientific analyses of human-environmental relations
  • To relate the articles to other relevant research within the area of development research.
  • To identify potential questions for further analysis as well as possible strategies for addressing those questions.

Selected journal articles and documentary films.

No special academic qualifications are required. Some experience in reading scientific journal articles is an advantage.
The course makes limited use of traditional lectures. Teacher presentations will be supplemented by the active participation of students. The key teaching and learning activities are student presentations, group discussions (colloquia) and exercises. The course requires students’ timely preparation and active participation. The selected readings for each week must be read thoroughly prior to class. Students who are unable to meet this requirement should not enroll in the course. In addition to reading material, documentary films will be used to some extent as a basis for discussions.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Colloquia
  • 16
  • Exercises
  • 16
  • Lectures
  • 16
  • Preparation
  • 158
  • Total
  • 206
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Oral examination, 20 minutes
Oral exam at the end of the block (open book and 20 minutes preparation).
All aids allowed
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
More than one internal examiner

Re-exam is like ordinary exam: 20 minutes examination on the basis of 20 minutes preparation with a question handed out at the exam.

Criteria for exam assesment

See Learning outcomes