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.

The course is an excellent preparation for a career in development policy or practice or for further study in the field.

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.


Introduction to the MPhil in Development Studies

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, each course entailing up to four hours of teaching per week. Class sizes are small – between 5 and 30 students – encouraging active participation and enabling students to learn from each other.

The Course Director for 2023/24 is Dr Simukai Chigudu.

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.

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 learn about 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:

  • Ideas about 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 continue work on your thesis, which is submitted at the start of the final term. More information can be found in the course handbook.

  • Foundation Courses

    • Economics

      The course focuses on the way economists think about development. Topics may include key concepts in economics (eg comparative advantage, the role of incentives) and applications to key contemporary issues (eg climate change, innovation and technological development, inequality). 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 development dynamics 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, alongside 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. This term is intended to introduce you to some of the key ideas about development. Throughout this term, we emphasise that ‘development’ is not a single, coherent idea; it is a shorthand for an array of historically constructed and much disputed ideas. We need to understand the origins of these ideas, when and why have they have held appeal, their political uses, and their effects. We will explore them from different disciplinary perspectives. 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 key narratives and debates in development. The coverage is by no means exhaustive, exposes students to innovative research in the field, and draws in policy implications where possible. Important issues that are typically covered include the state and good governance, global health politics, law and social order in development, gender and development, agriculture, urbanisation and its discontents, social policy in the Global South, and development. Development encompasses 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 2023-24; 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, Crime and Politics 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

      This course examines the key theoretical approaches to studying screen-cultures. These include, considering film-as-texts that create, challenge and reproduce social discourses through a set of sensory regimes (visual image, sound, speech, graphics, etc.) and that possess a remarkable authority to make truth claims. As such, students will develop an understanding of literary and artistic ways of viewing film narratives, in order to analyse films’ ideological underpinnings, aesthetic style and affective power. In addition to this, the course will also introduce ways of understanding the social, economic, political and technical dimensions in the production, dissemination and effect of screen cultures in Africa. Through anthropological and historical approaches, the course will consider questions about who films are for, how they are watched, and what role they play in broader processes of social and political change. Lastly, the course will introduce students to the technical, intellectual and ethical aspects and methods of conducting film-based research in regards to both the use of film archives and ethnographic film methods.

    • Pathologies of Power: Politics, Epidemics and Global Health in Africa

      Dr Simukai Chigudu

      This course examines the politics of state-society relations, the workings of international development and humanitarian operations, and dynamics globalisation and modernity in Africa using epidemics as an organising framework for a series of historical and contemporary case studies.

  • Thesis

    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.

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.


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.

Contact us

Enquiries about the MPhil in Development Studies should be addressed to the Graduate Student Administrator, admissions@qeh.ox.ac.uk.