SDC-21804 Introduction to the Sociology of Development, Knowledge and Change M


Credits 4.00

Teaching methodContact hours
Individual Paper1
Group work1
Course coordinator(s)dr. RJ Coates
Lecturer(s)dr. RJ Coates
Examiner(s)dr. RJ Coates

Language of instruction:


Continuation courses:

A variety of MSc-level courses taught by SDC.


Recent decades have seen major changes in the ways social development is conceptualised and practiced. Key contemporary issues like global environmental change, widespread agro-industrialisation, rural to urban migration, and economic globalisation reflect development realities starkly removed from earlier periods, as well as unprecedented degrees of inter-dependency between rural and urban, and global and local. The emergence of a professional development industry of policy advisers and on-the-ground expert consultants both mirrors and drives this process: knowledge of development is gained and distributed across multiple scales.
This course introduces students to the sociology and anthropology of development, with a particular focus on how knowledge interacts with rural innovation processes and social change. By examining theories and concepts alongside concrete issues, it seeks to enable students to effectively analyse and evaluate development problems and opportunities. Specific emphasis is placed on uncovering the partial and contingent nature of development knowledge: how can critical reflection on field-based research help us to understand the contemporary context? As we act to deal with the myriad development challenges we face, where is the knowledge of local 'managers' of environments and developments to be located?
The course presents an introduction to the basic principles of development studies enquiry from a sociological and anthropological perspective, and outlines critical challenges relating to power, discourse, and environmental change. Strong attention is given to the study of local actors by development researchers and practitioners, and thus how 'local agency' might be reconciled with a concern for political, economic, and socio-cultural contexts. Theoretical exploration is interspersed with discussion of a variety of challenging themes including resource use, livelihoods, environmental degradation, and participation. Emphasis is placed here on how development policies are interpreted and influenced by local actors, the relationship between the intervened upon and those intervening, and the need for interrelated scales of explanation and analysis in order to understand development problems and thus the possibilities for social change.

Learning outcomes:

After successful completion of this course students are expected to be able to:
- explain and compare sociological/anthropological theories of development;
- apply knowledge of theoretical concepts in relation to social and environmental change;
- critically evaluate development policies from a sociological/anthropological perspective;
- discuss how knowledge is produced and understand its role in rural innovation processes.


- interactive lectures;
- student-led seminars;
- essay writing;
- discussion of knowledge and development issues, reflecting on films.


- written exam with open questions (60%);
- two short essays of 1000 words each (30%);
- student-led seminars (in groups) and class participation (10%).
To pass the course, each component requires a minimum mark of 5.5.


Links to the literature will be made available via the course guide and Learning Environment@WUR.

Compulsory for: MDRDevelopment and Rural InnovationMSc1AF