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; 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 2017/18 is Cheryl Doss.

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
  • 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 some of the options that were available to second-year students in 2016-17; there is no guarantee that the same options will be offered in future years.

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.

History & Politics of South Asia

Nandini Gooptu

This option examines the political history, political sociology, political institutions and political economy of South Asia (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh) since 1947; the state, political institutions, party politics and ‘movement’ politics; conditions for democracy; the politics of gender, class, caste, religion and ethnicity; the evolution of political ideologies; social organisation, culture and identities as they bear on politics; the politics of ‘development’.

Power & Punishment: Creating Social Order in Africa

Jocelyn Alexander

This option explores the construction of social order in Africa through the discourses and practices of punishment, broadly defined. It looks at how both states and informal groups defined and policed criminality and deviance, marked differences of race and ethnicity, regulated labour and gender relations, and contested ideas of rights and citizenship. Drawing on the disciplines of history, politics and anthropology, the option explores the establishment of colonial legal codes and their consequences for social order; the criminalisation of politics and the politicisation of punishment; and the visions of order expressed through popular and private efforts to discipline anti-social and criminal activities. The option draws primarily on cases from central and southern Africa.

Technology & Industrialisation in Developing Countries

Xiaolan Fu

This course examines 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. Key topics and debates likely to be covered include industrialisation, economic growth and the industrial policy debate; national innovation systems and role of the state; transfer of technology and role of trade, TNCs and migration; lessons from the East Asian Tigers; indigenous versus foreign innovation efforts and catch-up the BRICS experience; appropriate technology and industrialisation in Africa; bridging the digital divide information technology and development; and technology for inclusive and sustainable development.

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.

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 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.

Shared with the MPhil in Modern Middle Eastern Studies.

Peacebuilding and Statebuilding

John Gledhill

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

From the MSc in Global Governance & Diplomacy.

Development Economics

Doug Gollin

From the MSc in Economics for Development.

Special requirements: This option requires the agreement of the Course Director of the M.Sc. in Economics for Development, which will normally be given only to students with a first class single-discipline first degree in Economics, and may require a qualifying exam to be taken, to allow time for which applications must be made by email to the Course Co-ordinator by week 6 of Hilary Term.

Non-Violent Resistance Movements

John Gledhill

This course covers the theory of nonviolent resistance, explanations of social mobilization, repertoires of nonviolent protest, technologies of protest, and transitions from nonviolent resistance into violence. The course draws on a range of relevant case-studies, including resistance during the Arab Spring, the ‘Coloured Revolutions’ (2000-2004), and the fight against Apartheid in South Africa. The aim is to understand the normative foundations of nonviolent resistance and develop an empirical framework for explaining the causes and dynamics of such protests.

From the MSc in Global Governance & Diplomacy. Places for MPhil students are limited.

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 2016-17; there is no guarantee that the same options will be offered in future years.

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.

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:

  • 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,