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GEOG401 Theories of Development

Examines the different approaches to development theory and the development industry, since 1945. Modernist, neo-Marxist, neo-liberal, and ‘post-development’ perspectives are used to assess strengths and weaknesses of contemporary development processes.

GEOG 401 is one of three required papers in the 180 point, 12 month Coursework Master of International Development and Planning. In this course, we examine the many strands of development theory and how they have changed across time and space. While initially development theory focused on how ex-colonies, or the developing world, could modernize and replicate the experience of the Western world, in the contemporary era there are now a whole range of different theoretical perspectives that we can use to understand the experiences and aspirations of people living in low and middle income countries. Contemporary global challenges include issues of inequality, environmental sustainability and empowerment. In this course, we focus on case studies that examine the role of development theory from the perspective of gender, expert knowledge, participation and environmental management among other debates. The paper is also available to first year students taking other MA and Postgraduate Diploma programmes.

Paper title Theories of Development
Paper code GEOG401
Subject Geography
EFTS 0.1667
Points 20 points
Teaching period Semester 1 (On campus)
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $1,409.28
International Tuition Fees Tuition Fees for international students are elsewhere on this website.

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The content of this paper assumes that students will have completed a degree in Social or Environmental Science or another relevant degree.

Please contact Associate Professor Douglas Hill for more information on the recommended background for this paper.


Teaching staff

Course Co-ordinator: Associate Professor Douglas Hill

Paper Structure
  • Course introduction
  • Genealogies of development theory
  • The discursive construction of development in low and middle income countries
  • Development economics and the neo-liberal shift
  • Development theory and post-development
  • Poverty reduction and inclusive neo-liberalism
  • Doing and theorising Gender
  • Buzzwords and the discursive construction of expertise
  • Social Capital, Empowerment and Participation
  • Development Theory and Planning Cities
  • Development Theory, Water and Urban areas
  • Housing in the global South

The paper is 100% internally assessed.

Teaching Arrangements

The paper is taught through weekly seminars and discussion based on published literature, internet sources and video sources.


Textbooks are not required for this paper. Directed reading and a detailed list of key sources will be given prior to the first meeting.

Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Global perspective, Communication, Critical thinking, Ethics, Environmental literacy, Information literacy, Research, Self-motivation, Teamwork.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of GEOG 401, students will:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the background context for debates that have informed contemporary development theory and how these have translated into contemporary development policies and practices
  • Be able to analyse how development theory impacts upon how development professionals and policymakers respond to a range of different issues such as gender, economic policy, participation, urban planning, housing, and environmental management
  • Have advanced communication, research and writing skills

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Semester 1

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system


Stream Days Times Weeks
A1 Wednesday 14:00-15:50 9-14, 16-22