Information regarding our 2023/24 admissions cycle

Our 2023/24 postgraduate taught admissions cycle will open on Monday, 10 October. For most programmes, the application form will not open until this date.

MSc Environmental Governance

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
The Politics and Governance of Development

Course unit fact file
Unit code MGDI60391
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course unit deals with the growing focus on politics and political analysis within international development, which has arisen both from theoretical advances within development theory as well as a growing critique of the ‘good governance’ agenda that international development agencies have promoted since the late 1980s. The unit traces the apparent rise of politics from the margins to the mainstream of the development agenda, and critically examines the ways and extent to which politics now forms a key element of development theory and practice. Students will be introduced to the main theoretical developments, critical issues and policy-related approaches within the field. Case-study evidence from across the Global South will be used to elaborate and test theory, and to illustrate the linkages between politics, governance and development in practice. This will include examining the role of colonialism, clientelism, democratisation, state capacity, political elites, civil society mobilisation and interventions by international donors – for example around public sector reform – in shaping processes of state formation and institutional development within and across regions in the global south.


 The unit aims to provide:

  • A critical overview of new theoretical approaches to understanding the links between politics, governance and development
  • Insights into how politics, governance and development interact in the global South
  • A critical overview of the key strategies, policies and practices currently employed to promote ‘good governance’ and improved decision-making processes in the global South
  • An opportunity for students to develop their range of competencies in transferable areas, including research, analysis, team-work and both written and verbal forms of communication

Learning outcomes

The aim is to provide a module that interrogates the key political discourses about and within development policy and practice for the benefit of practitioners, policy-makers, and future negotiators in the state and global governance terrain. The political theory provided aims to equip students with an essential toolbox of concepts in political analysis. Alongside this, the module aims to illustrate the spontaneity of politics in reality, and its resistance to management and intervention

Knowledge and understanding

  • A thorough knowledge and critical understanding of different theoretical perspectives and approaches to investigating the politics and governance of development
  • A thorough knowledge and critical understanding of the key strategies, policies and practices currently employed to promote ‘good governance’
  • A specific understanding of some of the key links between politics, governance and development

Intellectual skills

  •  The analytical skills required to critically evaluate and employ different theories of politics, governance and policy analysis

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Improved competence in transferable areas, including developing reasoned arguments, gathering, organising and using evidence and information from a wide variety of sources, undertaking both team-based and independent work to deadlines, and both written and verbal forms of communication

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 30%
Written assignment (inc essay) 70%

Feedback methods

Written feedback on assignments, comments on brief essay plans and availability during weekly office hours.

Recommended reading

Acemoglu, D. and Robinson, J. (2012). Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty. New York:  Random House.

Carothers, T. and D. de Gramont (2013) Development Aid Confronts Politics: The Almost Revolution. Washington DC: The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Evans, P. (2010). The Challenge of 21st Century Development: Building Capability-Enhancing States. New York: United Nations Development Programme.

Hickey, S, K. Sen and Bukenya, B. (eds) (2014) The Politics of Inclusive Development: Interrogating the Evidence. Oxford: OUP

Houtzager, P. and Moore, M. (eds.) (2003). International Development and the Politics of Inclusion. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

IDS (2010). An Upside Down View of Governance. Sussex: IDS.

Khan, M. (2010). ‘Political Settlements and the Governance of Growth-Enhancing Institutions’. SOAS, London: Mimeo.

Leftwich, A. (2005). ‘Politics in Command: Development Studies and the Rediscovery of Social Science’. New Political Economy 10, 573-607.

Levy, B. 2014. Working with the Grain: Integrating Governance and Growth in Development Strategies. Oxford¿; New York: Oxford University Press.

Migdal, Joel S. 1988. Strong Societies and Weak States: State-Society Relations and State Capabilities in the Third World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

North, D.C., Walliss, J.J. and Weingest, B.R. (2009). Violence and Social Orders: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

North, D.C., Walliss, J.J., Webb, S.B. and Weingest, B.R. (2013). In the Shadow of Violence: Politics, Economics, and the Problems of Development. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Parsons, Craig. 2007. How to Map Arguments in Political Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sandbrook, R., Edelman, M., Heller, P. and Teichman, J. (2007). Social Democracy in the Global Periphery. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tilly, C. (2007) Democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 30
Independent study hours
Independent study 120

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Thomas Lavers Unit coordinator

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