NIFK19005U Critical Development Studies

Volume 2023/2024

MSc Programme in Environment and Development
MSc Programme in Global Environment and Development



Development is more than development. While the improvement of people’s livelihoods, economic growth, technological advancement, and institutional predictability and justice are central to ideas of development, these challenges are often seen as technical, and the goals as inherently benign. Development has been one of the cornerstones of the post-World War II world order and its global institutions such as the World Bank, the UN and the IMF. However, the very idea of development, of mankind’s capacity to change its conditions, reaches back to European Enlightenment and Modernity, and is far from monochromatic. Development is integral to both liberalism and Marxism, and in many ways, development is understood as a path one must take to reach the promised land of modernity. However, development is notoriously difficult to define and measure. Development experts regularly insist that development has changed the world for the better. They point to improved global health, higher literacy rates, and statistical correlations between development and peace. However, critics argue that development has failed to address many of the greatest problems facing the planet today, and some argue that development is even complicit in these problems. 


In this course we will critically analyze development as a political imaginary and practice by engaging a series of themes. Each theme will be taught specialists and consists of a series of teaching sessions (typically 4 over two weeks) to ensure a satisfactory depth. Moreover, the course will contain a methodological component, which revolves around the craft of writing essays.


Learning Outcome


Learning Outcome

Upon completing this course, the students should be able to:



  • Describe the key critical approaches to global development, including postdevelopment, alternative development, and dependency theory.
  • Describe key historical roots of contemporary development practice and theory.  
  • Describe the links between the Enlightenment, colonialism and development theory and practice.



  • Explain and Present the main arguments of the scientific texts discussed in class.
  • Compare and present critical approaches to global development.
  • Analyze and compare the case studies discussed in class
  • Analyze and present the theoretical underpinnings of key critical approaches to development.



  • Discuss and critically reflect on the limits of critical development studies.
  • Discuss the links between imperialism, racism and development and analyze their consequences.
  • Independently formulate a research-question related to one of themes of the course.
  • Collect and analyze information related to one of the theme of the course.
  • Write an essay on one of the themes of the course.
  • Collaborate on presentations in the class
  • Provide constructive peer feedback. 



Scholarly books, articles, popular materials and documentary films


No special academic qualifications are required. Some experience in reading scientific journal articles is an advantage. Some experience in reading critical social theory is an advantage.

Academic qualifications equivalent to a BSc degree is recommended.
Teaching and learning methods

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.
The course is a social science course and open to students at Science, Social Science and Humanities.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 42
  • Preparation
  • 136
  • Practical exercises
  • 28
  • Total
  • 206
Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Oral examination, 30 minutes
Type of assessment details
30-minutes oral examination: The exam is based on course literature (20 minutes preparation to answer a question based on the course literature).
Exam registration requirements



All aids allowed
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship

The same as the ordinary exam.


Criteria for exam assesment

Knowledge of the course content and ability to combine different elements of the course in the oral examination