About Us

Women refugees arriving in the UNHCR processing centre at a refugee camp in Kenya

Women refugees arriving in the UNHCR processing centre in the refugee camps of Dadaab, Kenya (2011)

photo of a man and young girl outside a rice storage bin in Kenya

American Rice Development, Yala Swamp, Nyanza, Kenya (2012)

The Graduate Program in Development Studies offers students an intellectually rigorous and relevant interdisciplinary curriculum that is uniquely layered when examining theories and practices of development from a critical social science perspective. It promotes cutting edge interdisciplinary learning, teaching and research on the multi-dimensional processes of socio-economic, political and cultural development in the Global South, and on the systems of knowledge and power that produce and justify these complex processes. The program combines theoretical-academic learning with practical research proficiencies and place-based knowledge about the Global South. While focusing on the key conceptual, analytical and practical agendas in contemporary development research, the program provides exciting vistas for praxis by giving students the opportunity to learn about the nexus between theory and practice through hands-on fieldwork and research experience in the Global South.

What makes us different?

The program’s distinctiveness lies on its:

interdisciplinarity and grounding on area studies

DVST features a truly interdisciplinary curriculum of core and elective courses and a group of widely recognized faculty with vast experience teaching interdisciplinary courses in the field of international development and Area Studies. Housed in the Department of Social Science, a pioneer academic unit of interdisciplinary studies that is renowned for its progressive and innovative interdisciplinary learning and research environment, DVST is one of the department’s fourteen graduate and undergraduate interdisciplinary programs, including African Studies, Latin American & Caribbean Studies, South Asian Studies, and International Development Studies. The program was established in 2007 building on the success of our International Development and Area Studies undergraduate programs.

critical social science approach to development

We strive to promote critical reflections on the main visions, paradigms and practices of development and to address the complex power relations embedded in processes of change and development. We understand development to be a highly contested field, a space shaped by the ongoing interaction of competing visions, perspectives and interests espoused by actors with varying degrees of power and resources, ranging from global institutions to local communities. We aim to problematize images and representations of peoples of the Global South that tend to homogenize their diverse cultures and conditions and to portray them as powerless victims in need of Western help. Our approach is to acknowledge diversity as positive feature and to stress the capacity for agency of ordinary people to be co-creators of their own destinies and to determine their particular development agendas, even when their options may be seriously conditioned and/or constrained by deeply rooted structural and power inequalities that are beyond their control.

Our teaching and research are anchored in the values of engagement, social justice, equity and sustainability. We embrace a vision of development that involves transformative processes of change that enhance people’s capacities, participation and empowerment in order to overcome various forms of structural inequalities and oppression, develop freedoms and promote diversity and sustainability according their own needs, priorities and aspirations. We also aim to make students aware of the many ethical issues arising from development practice and research and encourage them to reflect critically about their own location in the chain of asymmetrical power relations linking people and places across the Global South and North.

research-intensive focus and emphasis on praxis

A major goal of the program is to encourage students to use their own field research and hands-on experience in the Global South to re-address the theories and ideas discussed in the classroom. Our program requires all students to conduct fieldwork and research on a particular aspect of the larger field of development study during the summer months of the first year. This research, combined with the theoretical and methodological foundations built through course work and the student’s fieldwork experience, forms the basis for sustained reflection in the form of a Major Research Paper or a Thesis. Students are trained to develop a detailed research proposal for approval prior to departure to the field. Upon return from the field, they enroll in Critical Reflections on Field Work, a required core course that provides concrete opportunities for guidance and collective feedback as they prepare to analyze their data and to write their Major Research papers or Theses.