The Rise and Fall of Development

Course Description: 

Course Outline

This course provides a critical debate of the history, politics and the academic discourse of recent development politics and practice. Development is a major framework for globalization on several levels: questions of economic growth, poverty and inequality are framed in terms of development and international relations being labelled and perceived in terms of development aid and cooperation. Development is no longer merely in the domain of the state, the neoliberal shift has led to the rise of national and international agencies which engage in ‘development’, both in the “Third World”, as well as in the west and postsocialist countries. Recently, however, faith in development and progress has been severely shaken by the environmental crisis, the failure of development programs, and the continuously growing gap between rich and poor. At the same time, the geographic distinction between the ‘developed’ and the ‘developing’ has become increasingly obsolete. The urban centres in the world ‘formerly known as the third’ form hybrid spaces where ‘core’ and ‘periphery’ are intricately intertwined, where ‘developed’ and ‘underdeveloped’ coexist.

Course Content

As outlined, this course will discuss the major theories and approaches in the anthro­polo­gical study of development, and will take a specific look at rural-urban relations in the devel­op­ing world. The intention is to critically review the history of development theory, with a special attention to the political context and content of each model, alongside anthro­pological models of culture change.  The course will continue by looking at the relation between anthro­po­logy and the development machine, and trace the paradigm shifts in develop­ment models. The debate will focus on the question if is to draw a line between development cooperation and inter­vention. A special focus will lie on south-south alliances, which claims to provide development from within. The texts will also provide a methodological toolbox to analyse neo-colonial practice. Extra attention will be paid to the digitization of development and the proliferation of surveillance capitalism under the guise of ‘financial inclusion’. The third part ties the threads together and looks at the anthropological study of urba­nization: We will investigate the impact of cities on rural livelihoods, look at informal econo­mies in the shadow of banking towers, and eventually scrutinize the role of cities as the engines in a global develop­ment machine.


Learning Outcomes: 

At the end of the course you wall be able to demonstrate a profound knowledge of recent development politics from a sociological and social anthropological perspective.

Participants will be familiar with the history of development research within these disciplines and will be able to critically reflect upon the role of development theory and applied anthropology. Successful participants will also be able to assess the role of development in processes of urbanization, hybridization of urban spaces and new middle-class formation as part of development policies.


Each class consist of two parts: a lecture style class followed by a seminar. The lecture will introduce the general topic of the specific week and give an overview of the specific debates related to it. In the seminar, we get the chance to discuss and address more specific questions. The seminar will also give space for short,15-20minutes student presentations (one per student). These presentations are accompanied by a paper, which has to be circulated one week in advance. The final papers should be between 3-3500 words, need to include the author’s name, title of the seminar and of presentation. All submitted files (.doc) also have to have the author’s name and short title in the filename. Presentations are complemented by short (5 minute) critical comment by a fellow student: Each participant will prepare at least one such critical contribution during this course. Needless to say, it is obligatory to read the key texts for each class and prepare notes for the discussion; active participation is part of academic culture.

Presentation and handout 35 %, paper  35%, critical statement 10%, active participation 20%