Development Studies:  an introductory reading list

A window cleaner dangles from a rope in Havana, Cuba

Your mission:  to compile an introductory reading list for Development Studies.

Time allowed?  30 minutes


Quick, get a definition.

Development is… (what is development?  There are multiple options to choose from in Oxford… ‘an event constituting a new stage in a changing situation’ … biological growth, new products, converting land to a new purpose, treating photographic film with chemicals to make a visible image?)

None of them sound quite right.  You turn to Wikipedia: “Development Studies is an interdisciplinary branch of social science… grown in popularity since the early 1990s… most widely taught in countries with a colonial history, such as the UK… students often choose careers in international organisations eg UN, World Bank, and non-governmental organisations…”

Still not much clearer but the clock is ticking.

Web search

A web search for ‘introduction to development studies’ turns up:

  • Hennie Swanepoel & Frik de Beer, Introduction to Development Studies (OUP Southern Africa, 2nd edition, 2001)

(as well as ‘android programming’, ‘child development’ and ‘building brains’)

  • Jeffrey Haynes, Development Studies (Polity Short Introductions), (Polity Press, 2008)

This looks more like it: ‘… the substance of development studies – especially in relation to the developing world – focuses mainly on poverty reduction and improving ′human development′. It is a dynamic field whose importance cannot be understated as the gap between rich and poor grows seemingly ever wider.’

Political Studies Review writes:

“Haynes deserves much appreciation for writing such an eminently readable book for students of development studies.” 

The Shelf Test

You are standing on the ground floor of SOAS University of London library, with a subject guide in our hand.  The cross-disciplinary nature of development studies is brought home by the long list of sections under which the books could be filed:  agriculture, aid, anthropology of development, children, cities and towns, communities’ development, cost-benefit analysis, developing countries (and that only goes up to ‘D’).    Other sections – gender, migration, political geography, refugees and rural development are also on the list.  But time is running out.  What about this one:

  • I G Simmons, Changing the Face of the Earth: Culture, Environment, History (Blackwell, 1996, 2nd edition)

‘a history of the impact of humankind on the natural environment from earliest times to the present’

Looks a bit too general.


  • Laurence C. Smith, The New North: The World in 2050 (Profile Books, 2012)

 ‘… turns the world literally upside down… the beneficiaries of this new order, based on a bonanza of oil, natural gas, minerals and plentiful water, will be the Arctic regions of Russia, Alaska, Canada and Scandinavia.  Their nations will become increasingly prosperous, powerful and politically stable, while countries closer to the Equator will face water shortages, aging populations, crowded megacities and coastal flooding’

It sounds all too plausible.  This book brings you back to the moment:

  • Lise Ostergaard (ed) Gender and Development: A Practical Guide (Routledge 1992, reprinted 1997),

which contains essays on gender, statistics, agriculture, employment, housing, transport, health, and household resource management.  The editor writes:

“Development and health are intrinsically interrelated:  without a certain level of economic and social development, we cannot provide the population with basic health care.  And without a basic state of health, the population does not have the physical and mental energy necessary to develop the society.’

The third issue, she continues, is gender.

You are hurrying along between the stacks now, dipping into different sections.

  • Goodwin, Harris, Nelson, Roach, Torras, Macroeconomics in Context (M. E. Sharpe, 2014, second edition).

‘… covers mainstream theory while putting it into a social and environmental context,’ writes one reviewer.

  • Lynellyn D. Long and Ellen Oxfeld, Coming Home? Refugees, Migrants, and Those Who Stayed Behind (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004)
  • Robin Cohen, Global Diasporas: An Introduction (University of Washington Press, 1997)
  • Khalid Koser, International Migration: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2007)

A sheet of A4 paper, with handwritten notes on it, falls out of the book, onto the floor.  You pick it up and catch sight of a sentence, underlined in green ink:

N.B.  The difficulty of finding a commonly agreed upon definition, as some scholars even reject the idea of development itself!

30 minutes are up.  Time to put your introductory reading list to the final test.

 An Academic’s response: Dr Leandro Vergara-Camus

Some introductory books:

  • Sharad Chari & Stuart Corbridge (eds.), The Development Reader, (Routledge, 2008)
  • Gilbert Rist, The History of Development: From Western Origins to Global Faith (Zed Books, 2014).
  • Tim Allen & Alan Thomas (eds.), Poverty and Development into the 21st Century, (Oxford University Press, 2000)
  • Marc Edelman & Angelique Haugerud (eds.), The Anthropology of Development and Globalization: From Classical Political Economy to Contemporary Neoliberalism (Wiley-Blackwell, 2005)
  • Paul Haslam, Jessica Schafer & Pierre Beaudet (eds.), Introduction to International Development: Approaches, Actors, Issues, and Practice (Oxford University Press, 2017)
  • Philip McMichael, Development and Social Change: A Global Perspective (Sage, 6th edition, 2016)
  • Henry Veltmeyer & Paul Bowles (eds.), The Essential Guide to Critical Development Studies, (Routledge, 2017)

Further information

BA Development Studies

BA Development Studies and…

Dr Leandro Vergara-Camus




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