Development Studies is an interdisciplinary field of research and teaching that takes ‘development’ as its central concern. It addresses the processes of social, cultural, ecological, economic and political change, and also the people, organisations, practices, and knowledges that engage in these development-related processes.

Development Studies is a diverse field of study that takes ‘development’ as its central concern. ‘Development’ is a contested concept, which encompasses two broad sets of concerns.

The first concerns processes of social, cultural, ecological, economic and political change. Development in this sense can be a normative concept that implies progressive change, as well as a focus of critique, with attention to the uneven, contradictory and potentially negative consequences of development-related change.

The second set of concerns relates to the architecture focused on meeting certain goals, often based around improving the well-being of people and sustainable use of natural resources. This ‘archiecture’ entails a diverse set of actors, including states, multilateral organisations, non-government organisations, multinational corporations, small-scale enterprises, community-based organisations, local volunteers and more. The study of intentional development can be oriented towards working with these groups and individuals to improve development practice, and/or efforts to reveal the unintended and potentially negative consequences of development.

Although these two sets of concerns can be studied separately, they are intimately connected and arguably should be studied together. Intentional development is part of broader processes of change; efforts to understand these processes in their historical and contemporary context are vital to improving development practice and revealing its consequences. All notions of development are relational global processes that occur in and between all countries and are influenced by, and have consequences at, local and individual scales.

The DSAA recognises that Development Studies is a heavily contested field, and we seek ways to progress the discipline by providing a space for ongoing and inclusive dialogue and debate about the complex nature of development – what it is, what diverse actors think it should be, and how to get there.

Characteristics of Development Studies

  • Development Studies is oriented towards improving the tools, practices and policies of development in a normative and intentional sense, as well as towards critique of these tools, practices, policies and of the broader processes of change. Development Studies also entails critical reflection on the goals of development and the way it is implemented in aid of better policy, approaches and outcomes.
  • Development Studies is interdisciplinary, co-constituted through disciplines such as Law, Anthropology, Sociology, Gender, Economics, Political Science and International Relations, Human Geography, Critical Historical Studies, Environmental Humanities, Indigenous Studies, and Decolonial and Postcolonial studies as well as some of the technical and natural sciences. Engagement across these disciplines adds to the methodological and theoretical rigor of Development Studies.
  • Development Studies is contested not least because development is contested. The project of development has been used, among other things, to justify colonial rule, through the expropriation of lands and other resources, and has been integral to the expansion of economic structures that have benefitted the Global North at the expense of the Global South. At the same time, the Global South has resisted aspects of development, for instance through a South-South Cooperation agenda. Overall development interventions have increased human well-being on a global scale (although unevenly), while ongoing inequality, deprivation and suffering still demand action. The heavy toll of development on the environment, including land, forests, water, plants, animals and the climate, has become a critical concern in Development Studies.
  • Development raises questions of power. Power is recognised in Development Studies as not just material power but also embedded in knowledge and practices. DSAA provides space for dialogue to continually rethink and extend our understandings of the political and social nature of development.
  • Genuine partnerships are critical for Development Studies, which necessarily starts from acknowledgement of the unequal power relations between the Global North and Global South and relations of solidarity within the Global South. Partnerships are not limited to North-South relations, and have always included South-South cooperation and multi-scalar exchanges within both high and low income countries. Development Studies aspires to the production of knowledge in collaboration with people and organisations.
  • Development takes place at different geographic scales, from bottom-up, small-scale projects in local communities, to larger-scale projects of national significance, through to multi-national initiatives. These may involve small, localised groups of community members, state or national governments, national or international non-government organisations, through to bi-lateral and multi-lateral organisations. Development practitioners and development studies academics work at all of these locales and scales.