Our Aims and Objectives

We are the UK association for all those who research, study and teach global development issues

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What is Development Studies

What is development studies and decolonising development.

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Our Members

We have around 1,000 members, made up of individuals and around 40 institutions

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Find out about our constitution, how we are run and meet our Council

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Meet our Council members and other staff who support the running of DSA

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The DSA Conference is an annual event which brings together the development studies community

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Our conference this year is themed "Social justice and development in a polarising world"

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Past Conferences

Find out about our previous conferences

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Study Groups

Our Study Groups offer a chance to connect with others who share your areas of interest

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Students and ECRs

Students and early career researchers are an important part of our community

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Our book series with OUP and our relationship with other publishers

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North-South Research

A series of workshops exploring North-South interdisciplinary research with key messages and reports

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Membership Directory

Find out who our members are, where they are based and the issues they work on

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Member spotlight: Development Studies at SOAS, University of London

Development Studies at SOAS emerged in the 1990s, initially in the form of a Centre, combining expertise and strengths from Economics, Anthropology and Sociology, and Geography. Even though there was already a strong tradition of development research in all these departments, this was an opportunity to create a new space of reflection, teaching and research which eventually led to the creation of the Department in 1995, with a rapid growth in student enrolments, programmes, and staff, resulting in a diverse collective encompassing a wide range of sub-fields and interests.

Now, in 2024, 28 full-time academics, more than 300 postgraduate students, and a strong undergraduate cohort populate the classrooms. 

Geographical expertise

As with most global development departments in the UK, the department of development studies SOAS are interdisciplinary in research and teaching, engaged with a highly diverse body of students, and reflect a range of approaches to development through a diversity of colleagues who are engaged in research, policy debates and action alongside teaching. But one of the things that makes the department of development studies at SOAS so distinctive is reflected in the traditional focus of SOAS on the study of Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Fundamental to not just the department’s approach, but also that of the entire institution, is the idea that place and context matter. Development interventions, theories, impacts, the process of both planned and organic change don’t just reflect externally imposed ideas, plans, approaches, but the way these interact with local histories, cultures, economies, societies, and more. The department, as with SOAS, is built on an understanding of the importance of place and difference.  Academic staff work on thematic areas in development, but also all have areas of geographic expertise and all conduct fieldwork-based primary research.

Embedding diverse approaches

“We suspect if you asked all of our colleagues how they define development studies, you would have as many different interpretations as there are colleagues.” says current SOAS Head of Development Studies Department Carlos Oya.  “Our approach is to embed these diverse and multiple perspectives in our research, to provide the knowledge and evidence to allow others to make up their own minds and (for our students) to shape for themselves, with our support, careers in the areas and ways that they feel can best meet their aspirations for development.”

“We see the value and importance of multiple, sometimes differing, perspectives. Perhaps the one thing that binds us more than anything else is our commitment to exploring the concept and practice within specific contexts across time and place; and to listening to the voices of those who challenge mainstream frameworks and why.”

At SOAS, Development Studies is seen as a live and evolving discipline, and students and staff are challenged to refine theoretical and practical understandings of why change happens, how power is exercised and in what ways inequalities can be explained and confronted.

Across the span of views and perspectives on development studies among staff in the department, one thing that also holds the department together and shapes the identity of the department’s teaching, research, and its policy work is a conviction that development and structural change take place in and are themselves sites of unequal power relations – in global, national, local, racial, gender, and other terms.

Over the past few years, SOAS have changed the name of their flagship programme from ‘development studies’ to ‘global development’. Within the department there was significant debates over the change, and in particular over whether the phrase ‘global’ or ‘international’ was used.

“As a group, we would probably have preferred the term ‘global international development’, seeing value in both. But practicality (there’s only so much space for programme titles!) and a sense that the term ‘international’ perhaps had more connotations in common usage of older approaches reflecting north-south disparities and inequities in power, came down on the side of global,” explains Oya. “The term ‘global’ helps us transcend the perceived Eurocentrism often attached to the discipline of Development Studies, to re-centre the field in the realities of the majority world, while appreciating the staggeringly diverse material realities and practices of power, inequality, and subordination across our planet.”

Preparing students for global complex challenges

Postgraduate MSc programmes offer the chance to specialise in various areas of study – from Global Development to Environment and Politics, Migration and Mobility, Violence, Conflict and Development, and Humanitarianism and Aid and their BA in Global Development provides a truly interdisciplinary home to students who straddle social science disciplines and humanities in their studies.

“There is a much greater recognition of the importance of cultural knowledge and cultural intelligence for addressing the complexities and polycrises the world faces today and will continue to face over the decades ahead,” says Navtej Purewal, Research and Knowledge Exchange Director in the Development Studies Department. “Tackling global challenges requires people to engage in that cultural and contextual complexity: to understand there are different ways of thinking and seeing the world; to understand and engage with other ways of living; to understand that action against and solutions to global challenges cannot come from just one part of that world. Our programmes deliver both empirical and theoretical knowledge in global development to a deep level, designed to encourage critical thinking, providing a solid foundation for many different careers focused on making good change. But this cultural intelligence, the skills and confidence in addressing complexity, and ability to engage across cultures, communities and societies in ways that build solidarity, respect and mutual learning, are perhaps some of the most important skills given the world we live in and our students will be facing over their lives.”

The opportunity to take modules focused on politics, culture and the arts, society, economies across sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and the Middle East and North African regions gives SOAS students an amazing contextualised knowledge alongside their expert knowledge on themes and issues in development theory, policy and practice.

Research priorities

SOAS have world recognised expertise on regional development in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America, and an outstanding reputation for the study of non-Western development processes and systems of thought. Research clusters in global development reflect areas of long-standing expertise in the Department, namely agrarian change; global labour, activism and social justice; conflict, peace and development; environment and political ecology of development; migration, borders and development.

However, research priorities are not limited to these themes and the department has developed strands of research on sustainable economic structural transformations, humanitarian action, feminist political economy and social reproduction, politics of representation and protests, religion and development, non-state (and non-traditional) development actors, among others, which intersect with some of the thematic areas of our core clusters.


As an academic department, colleagues work closely with a whole range of diverse partners, from governments and international organisations; civil society groups, NGOs and trade unions; and activist and campaigning organisations. For example, colleagues have worked with organisations such as FCDO, UN agencies like ILO and UNDP, governments in Africa and Asia, and NGOs like ISEAL, Action Aid, World Vision and Human Rights Watch.

“It’s really important to us that alongside our more academic focus on development, we use that research for impact at different levels, and with different communities and organisations. Our students, too, gain experience working in the sector,” said Michael Jennings, Director of Doctoral Studies in the department.

Both undergraduate and postgraduate programmes include placement modules which give students a vital experience of working in a practice-oriented environment. And away from their formal studies, many SOAS students are engaged in volunteering and paid work in the global development sector and related areas, in campaigning and activism, and in building solidarity networks. “We’re really proud of just how engaged our students are.”

This principle is taken further by the recent foundation (by two Development Studies colleagues and one in Economics) of Development Leadership Dialogue (DLD) – an institute committed to bringing together people and ideas (from governments, businesses, social movements, academia and from different disciplinary backgrounds) to support strategic dialogues on key development challenges globally. DLD’s global fellows are internationally renowned ‘scholar practitioners’.

Hosting DSA2024

“We haven’t hosted a large-scale conference for some time, and, given how much we have grown and changed since we last hosted large numbers of colleagues for several days of intense and productive conversations on the issues that bind us all together, we thought hosting the DSA conference would be a brilliant opportunity to show the development studies community what we do. In particular, the opportunity to develop the theme for the conference allows us to pull together the various strands of research being undertaken not just in the departments of Development Studies and Economics, but elsewhere across the institution, where really interesting work is being done in relation to the themes of global development and social justice in an ever more polarised world.”

The Development Studies community at SOAS has a longstanding track record on the key themes of the conference, social justice, redistribution and restoration, rights and representation, production and reproduction and there is a keen sense of anticipation in the development studies community at the idea of convening at the SOAS and indeed in London, after a long absence.

Connect with SOAS

SOAS Development Studies continually strives to be a department which reflects evolution and change in the field of development. The department is currently number two in the QS rankings which in part reflects this commitment. Their explicit global outlook and regional and area studies focus, a location in London, and a diverse and vibrant student body contribute to making the department a place which is agile in addressing global challenges through our teaching, research and impact.

Professor Purewal says “We are conscious of the importance of addressing the historical and structural inequalities which decolonisation requires, and we view this as an ongoing process of reflection and review of how we teach, research and imagine development studies as a field of action, knowledge and change.”

To find out more about Development Studies at SOAS visit their webpage.