MPhil in Development Studies

The two-year MPhil in Development Studies will provide you with a rigorous and critical introduction to development as a process of managed and unmanaged change in societies in the global South. The course is an excellent preparation for a career in development policy or practice or for further study in the field.

The course will introduce you to development studies as an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary subject. It covers the intellectual history of development, the paradigm shifts and internal conflicts within the discipline and the contemporary relevance of research to development policy and practice.

You will develop a knowledge and understanding of key social science disciplines that have a bearing on development studies as a multi- and inter-disciplinary subject; social and development theory that underpins development discourse and policy intervention; past and present social, political and economic conditions of developing countries; and qualitative and quantitative research methodologies in the social sciences.

You will be able to choose from a list of options on a range of topics relevant to development, allowing you to tailor your learning to match your own particular interests. Over the summer between your first and second years you will have the opportunity to carry out fieldwork towards your dissertation.

Teaching is delivered through lectures, classes and workshops. Class sizes are small – between 5 and 30 students – encouraging active participation and enabling students to learn from each other.

The Course Director for 2016/17 is Nikita Sud.


The course comprises five elements: foundation courses, research methods, the core course, the thesis and two option courses.

In the first year, you will study two out of three foundation courses:

  • Economics
  • History and Politics
  • Social Anthropology

If you have no previous training in economics you must take this as one of your foundation courses; otherwise you must take the other two.

You will also follow a course in research methods for the social sciences, comprising sessions on research design and qualitative and quantitative methods. Additional sessions will be held on aspects of fieldwork ethics and preparation, library resources and software and computerised databases.

The core course, also taken in the first year, is an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary course with two component modules:

  • Theories of Development
  • Major Themes in Development

You will spend the summer following your first year preparing to write your 30,000-word thesis. You will choose the topic, with the guidance of your supervisor, and, in most cases, spend some of the summer doing fieldwork and gathering data. 

In the second year, you will take your chosen option courses and write your thesis, which is submitted at the start of the final term.

Foundation Courses


The course focusses on the way economists think about development. Topics may include key concepts in economics (e.g. opportunity costs, the role of incentives) and applications to developing countries. The goal is to provide students with an understanding of economics as a discipline that speaks to other social sciences and that can help explain some of the recurring patterns that we see in developing countries.

History & Politics

Topics may include the themes of state formation and development; encounters between different civilisations; colonialism, collaboration, and resistance; nationalism, decolonisation; class formation, gender relations, and the formation of political identities; politics and policy. Students will be expected to show knowledge of developments in countries from more than one of the following regions: Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Social Anthropology

Topics may include the perspectives of anthropology upon social change, modernity, progress and commonwealth; personhood and well-being; social and personal agency; authority and responsibility in the field of productive activity; marriage, kinship, family and gender in theory and practice; technological innovations; development planning and identity struggles.

Core Course

The Core Course introduces students to the multi and inter-disciplinary nature of development studies, and to the concepts and tools that enable critical engagement with a wide range of theories and themes. This is not a ‘how to’ course; it is primarily concerned with the intellectual challenges of understanding processes of social, economic and political change.

There are two components to the course, running over the first two terms:

  • Ideas about development: social, political and development theory
  • Key themes in development


As a relatively new field, Development Studies has engaged with ideas from sociology, geography, anthropology, economics, and politics, among others. This fertile yet contested ground is represented in our topics for Term 1. Lectures are arranged to reflect the chronology of when particular theories, which evolve over time, have been especially pertinent.

In Term 2, we turn to the key narratives and debates in development. The coverage is by no means exhaustive, but it reflects our strengths, exposes students to innovative research in the field, and draws in policy implications and applicability where possible.

We shall portray development as an ideological construct, as much as a set of practices. These ideas and practices speak to the issues being covered in the Foundation courses, including colonialism, identity and community, political formations, market and non-market exchange, decision-making, security and insecurity, conflict, personhood, culture, nature, health and well-being, settlement, natural resources, cultivation and sustainability, modernisation, planning and resistance, etc. Development represents many narratives, which may not always come together in a synthesis. At the end of the course, we shall endeavour to have a cross-cutting conversation to assess some of these parallel, complementary and conflicting discourses.

Option Courses

Please note that available options change from year to year. Below is a list of options that were available to second-year students in 2015-16; there is no guarantee that the same options will be offered in 2016-17.

Introduction to Latin American Economies

Diego Sanchez-Ancochea

This option covers the main trends in the evolution of Latin American economies in the twentieth century. Themes include export economies, import substituting, industrialisation, the impact of external shocks, integration movements, the role of international agencies, and trends in poverty and income distribution.

From the MPhi in Latin American Studies.

Prior knowledge of economics is required; candidates with limited reading knowledge of Spanish should consult the course director of the MPhil in Latin American Studies before applying to take this option.

The History and Politics of West Africa

Abdul Raufu Mustapha

This option examines the political history, political sociology, political institutions and political economy of West Africa since 1939, including nationalism and transfers of power; forms of government, civilian and military; parties and elections; conditions for democracy; class, ethnicity, religion and gender; business, labour and peasantries; agricultural policies and economic reforms; West African regional politics and institutions and the influence of external agencies. Candidates will be required to show knowledge of Nigeria and of at least one Francophone country.

Gender and Development

Masooda Bano and Maria Jaschok

This option examines key concepts in gender and development relating to: population; land-use and the environment; employment, assets, markets and credit; social issues; civil society; violence and conflict; political organization and theories of power.

The Political Economy of the Middle East and North Africa

Adeel Malik

This course introduces the political economy of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) using a multidisciplinary approach. It will engage students with the main theoretical and empirical debates on the subject and will cover a range of topics, including a brief economic history of the region; economic growth and fluctuations; the political economy of oil; economic adjustment and reform; state-business relationship in the Middle East; key issues around food, agriculture and water; poverty and human development; labour markets in MENA.

The Indian State: From Developmentalism to Liberalisation

Nikita Sud

This option examines the Indian state over the 60-year post-colonial period, tracing the shift from interventionist developmentalism to economic liberalisation. It addresses theoretical debates about the nature and role of the state, and topics such as the grand visions of secularism, developmentalism, modernisation and liberalisation; actors and institutions such as the bureaucracy, political parties, judiciary and middlemen; and practices, policies and politics of the state in relation to big capital, farmers, labour, ‘the poor’ and India’s South and East Asian neighbours.

Political Economy of Institutions and Development

Adeel Malik

This course is designed to introduce the emerging field of political economy of institutions and development, and to deepen understanding of how domestic institutions shape economic development in a globalized world. It engages students with the intellectual frontiers of institutions and development, highlighting the theoretical, empirical and public policy aspects of this literature.

Peacebuilding and Statebuilding

John Gledhill

This course examines contemporary processes of peacemaking, peacebuilding, and post-conflict statebuilding.

Global Political Economy of Sustainable Development

Michael Bloomfeld

The aim of the course is to critically examine the intersection of economic, political and environmental issues in the global economy. Students will be able to develop theoretical and policy perspectives on the issue, and be exposed to key debates and significant trends. The course will cover different concepts and theories underpinning current debates in the political economy of the sustainable development concerning: environment and trade; environment and development; effectiveness and  compatibility of multi-level approaches to global environmental governance; non-state initiatives and the nature of private authority in global environmental politics.

Social Movements

Rosana Pinheiro-Machado

The course is divided into four parts. In the first and introductory part of the course, there will be a theoretical introduction to the basis of social theory of radical change, focusing on Marxism (e.g. Marx, Gramsci) and Anarchism (e.g. Bakunin,  Graeber),and how these schools have been influencing (or not) social movements around the world since the beginning of the 20th century.

The core focus of the course, which will be covered in parts two, three and four, will be contemporary social movements, covering the period from 1980s to the present. The second part of the course will examine social movements and identity (ethnicity, gender, anti-globalisation movement, grassroots movements, worker unionism, World Social Forum, etc.) The third part will cover key mass protests that emerged during the 21st century. The final section will consider urban social movements and the struggle for land and property.

Poverty and Human Development

Sabina Alkire

This option examines human development, seen as the expansion of capabilities or intrinsically valued freedoms, and scrutinizes the instrumental interrelationships between dimensions of poverty. It covers key topics and debates such as ethical foundations of human development; the interconnections between dimensions of poverty; multidimensional measures of poverty and inequality; and agency, empowerment and democratic practice. It explores particular cases in depth and addresses selected policy issues.

The Politics of the Poor

Indrajit Roy

This option aims to introduce students to the different analytical approaches to studying how poor people interpret, experience and ‘do’ politics. Over the last two decades, therefore, a number of conceptual advances have been made in respect of  understanding how the world’s poor seek to improve their livelihoods, assert their public presence, and stake their claims to equality and citizenship, even as they face enormous constraints on their agency by states, markets and societal elites. The  course draws on the disciplines of politics, sociology and anthropology. It covers material from across the developing world.

Option Courses from other departments

The following options are offered by departments other than ODID. These are the options that were available to second-year students in 2015-16; there is no guarantee that the same options will be offered in 2016-17.

The Sociology of Latin America

Leigh Payne, Latin American Centre

This course introduces students to sociological concepts and theories as applied to Latin America and the contribution of scholarship on Latin America to the field of sociology. We will explore theories of development, poverty and inequality, nation- and state-building, social movements and mobilization, gender, race and ethnicity, religion, justice and injustice, and violence. Students will be expected to read the course material and participate in class discussions. By introducing advanced research on sociology in Latin America, the seminar prepares students for doctoral research in this area.

From the MPhil in Latin American Studies.

The Politics of Democracy in Latin America

Eduardo Posada-Carbo, St Antony’s College

This option examines definitions of democracy; the conditions for stable democratic regimes; the breakdown of democratic regimes; transitions from authoritarian regimes; parties and electoral systems; political participation; political ideologies; the role of constitutions in theory and practice; executive-legislative relations; public administration; policy-making in democratic systems; civil-military relations; the international context of democracy.

From the MPhil in Latin American Studies. Candidates should consult the course director of the MPhil in Latin American Studies before applying to take this option.

Post-Conflict State Building

Richard Caplan, Linacre College

This course examines the theoretical foundations and practices of post-conflict state building, with an emphasis on the experiences of the post-Cold War period. Among the topics addressed will be the changing strategic context of the 1990s; the debates surrounding international intervention in support of post-conflict state building; strategies for assisting and rebuilding failed states; humanitarian, development and security approaches to state reconstruction; the roles of major states and international and regional organizations; and the normative issues arising with respect to post-conflict state building. Candidates will be expected to demonstrate strong knowledge of one or more relevant cases.

From the MPhil in International Relations. Numbers limited.

The Sociology of China

Rachel Murphy, Institute for Chinese Studies

China's transition to a market society has produced dramatic changes in the lives of its citizens. In this unit we will consider pressing social concerns that confront China in the course of its ongoing reforms and continuing integration into the global  community and market place. Using selected problems to explore wider issues of change and inequality across gradients of gender, class, residency, and citizenship designation we consider questions such as: Can peasants and migrants claim a share of the economic growth? What are the wellbeing and stability implications of the fragmentation of China’s urban working class? How do inequalities engendered by rapid social change shape people’s health risks? What are the intended and unintended outcomes of the one-child policy? Can education remedy gender inequalities? What is the digital divide? What form(s) does it take in China?

From the MPhil in Chinese Studies.


You will spend the summer following your first year preparing to write your 30,000-word thesis. You will choose the topic, with the guidance of your supervisor, and, in most cases, spend some of the summer doing fieldwork and gathering data. 

In the second year, you will take your chosen option courses and write your thesis, which is submitted at the start of the final term.

You can see photographs from previous MPhil fieldwork and get a sense of the range of destinations visited and topics researched on the Fieldwork tab.

My education in Oxford not only contributed to my intellectual development and increased my confidence to work in challenging, intense and competitive environments, it has also continued to open doors for me professionally.

Shaharzad Akbar, MPhil in Development Studies 2009-11, now Director, Open Society Afghanistan, and co-founder, Afghanistan 1400

A number of MPhil students choose to continue to doctoral study after completing the course, taking their MPhil thesis and expanding it further into a DPhil thesis. Others have gone on to jobs in the United Nations, government, NGOs, the media, business, finance and development consultancies.

Find out more about what some recent graduates of the course are doing now.

MPhil students usually spend the summer between their first and second years carrying out fieldwork. Many cite this as one of the most rewarding aspects of their study, giving them a chance to investigate and test out ideas developed in the classroom in a real world setting.

Past students have researched an enormously diverse range of topics, from weather-related risks in Ethiopia to child migrants in China, Maoist schools in Nepal to midwifery in Afghanistan. You can see a selection of photographs from previous students' fieldwork below.


Photo: Serena Stein, MPhil in Development Studies 2010-12

Teaching Awards

The following staff, who teach on the MPhil in Development Studies, have all won Oxford University Teaching Awards:

  • Nikita Sud (2013)
  • Laura Rival (2010)
  • Nandini Gooptu (2008)
  • Jocelyn Alexander (2007)

The awards recognise excellence in teaching and learning.

Please refer to the course webpage on the University's Graduate Admissions pages for full information on selection criteria, application deadlines and English language requirements. Also see our How to Apply page.

Enquiries about the MPhil in Development Studies should be addressed to the Graduate Student Administrator,