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.

Applicants to this degree who are interested in progressing onto doctoral study are eligible to apply for an ESRC 2+2 Studentship which could provide them with four years of full funding. These studentships, previously only available for UK and EU students, are now also available to non-EU students. See the Fees and Funding page for more information.


You will develop a knowledge and understanding of key social science disciplines that have a bearing on development studies; the social and development theory that underpins development discourse and policy intervention; the 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 2022/23 is Professor Maxim Bolt.

In 2016/17 we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the MPhil with a one-day event in Oxford for alumni, current students and staff. Find out more about the celebration.


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
  • Key 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

Themes may include approaches in the disciplines of history and politics to processes of state formation; colonial and post-colonial forms of power, knowledge and identity; the constitution and reproduction of classes, movements, and political and social elites; nations and the politics of belonging; international orders; conflict and violence; and democracy. The course draws on cases from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, from the 1880s to the present.

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 some of the options that are available to second-year students in 2022-23; there is no guarantee that the same options will be offered in future years.

Climate Questions from the Global South

Collectively taught by MPhil Faculty

This course will trace critical questions emerging within development studies and cognate disciplines on a rethinking of development in the face of climate catastrophe. We focus on the Global South for several reasons. As a degree, the MPhil in Development Studies draws its ideas and rationale from research and practice in the South. While development theory and practice have been Euro-centric, questions related to the environment and climate cannot be left to Northern agency. Apart from this pedagogical and political project, we know that the South is seeing some of the worst effects of climate breakdown in an inter-connected world. There are questions of equity and justice here. Global carbon emissions are skewed towards ‘developed’ countries. Further the South has grave inequalities, with climate catastrophe affecting people very differently. This course will engage with disciplinary debates, questions of power, politics and justice, as also longer-term learning on climate and nature in the South. We believe the South can be a space for understanding critical climate questions, as also a space for tackling them.

Gender and Development

Professor Masooda Bano and Dr 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.

Poverty and Human Development

Professor 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 Nexus of Violence in the Global South

Dr David Jackman

The focus of this course is then to examine the nexus of crime, violence and criminality through an interdisciplinary approach and across the Global South. We will explore questions such as: how is violence used to create and maintain order? How does this influence politics and governance? How do such arrangements differ across regions? And how does this shape the character of development?

Technology and Industrialisation in Developing Countries

Professor Xiaolan Fu

This course will examine technology and industrial development and policy in developing countries and their role in the development process, drawing upon the experience of a wide range of countries, particularly from East Asia and BRICS, to illustrate the analysis. It looks at the interrelations between transnational corporations, domestic firms and the state, the debate on industry policy, the functions of the national innovation system, the interactions between foreign and indigenous innovation efforts, the debate on appropriate technology, and the role of technology in inclusive and sustainable development. The course will be accessible to students without a prior background in economics.

The Political Economy of the Middle East and North Africa

Professor Adeel Malik

This course aims to introduce key themes in political economy of the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA). The option emphasizes an analytical approach that is both theoretically rigorous and empirically rich. Engaging with the dominant social science paradigms in institutional analysis, the course seeks to develop a new research lens for studying Middle Eastern political economy. Apart from building a general regional profile the course will also highlight key nuances and differences across the region, supported by readings on individual country experiences. With its multi-disciplinary orientation, the course will be accessible to students from a diverse range of academic backgrounds. Prior knowledge of economics or political science is not a pre-requisite for this course.

The Politics of Film in Africa

Dr Dan Hodgkinson

Further information will be available shortly.

The History and Politics of South Asia

Professor Nandini Gooptu

This paper covers major political developments in post-colonial South Asia and deals with the most significant themes and issues in South Asian politics, through the study of illustrative cases taken from the various countries of the region. The paper also deals with important scholarly debates on South Asia. The aim of the paper is to enable students to gain knowledge of South Asian politics, while at the same time facilitating a critical engagement with the analytical literature on South Asia. The course examines the nature of the post-colonial state and the evolution of political institutions and party politics, with a focus on the functioning of democracy and the tendencies towards authoritarianism or martial rule. The course explores the interface of democratic politics with the political economy of the ‘developmental’ state as well as ‘movement’ politics or social movements as an important element of the democratic process. The course gives attention to social organisation, culture and identities as they bear on politics. In particular, the politics of gender, class, caste, religion and ethnicity are studied. The course engages with the evolution of political ideologies, especially variants of nationalism, which have played a significant role in the political history of post-colonial states.


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.

Link to exam regulations.

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.

Find out where this year's students are heading with our clickable fieldwork map.

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:

  • Dr Dan Hodgkinson (2019)
  • Professor Nikita Sud (2013)
  • Professor Laura Rival (2010)
  • Professor Nandini Gooptu (2008)
  • Professor 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,