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, why it matters, how you can study and career prospects

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

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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 "New leadership for global challenges"

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Past Conferences

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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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16-19 June 2020

New Leadership for Global Challenges

Where and how leadership is emerging at global, regional and local levels to address critical issues?

DSA Conference 2020

The DSA’s annual conference in 2020 took place online from 16th-19th June

The theme for this year’s conference was “New Leadership for Global Challenges”. Panels and discussions also encompassed a broad range of development studies interests. Our aim was to investigate where and how leadership is emerging at global, regional and local levels to address critical issues such as climate emergency, identity-based inequalities, poverty, violence, ill-health, resource plunder, and digital surveillance.


Conference convenors

Fiona Nunan & David Hudson, University of Birmingham

Plenary speakers

Srilatha Batliwala, CREA & Gender at Work, sponsored by Oxford Development Studies

Alpa Shah, London School of Economics, sponsored by Development and Change

Shireen Hassim, Carleton University & Wits University, sponsored by Journal of Development Studies


Al Koma village, North Darfur by Albert González Farran, UNAMID

Theme — New Leadership for Global Challenges

‘New leadership for global challenges’ asks us to investigate where and how leadership is emerging at global, regional and local levels to address critical issues such as climate emergency, identity-based inequalities, poverty, violence, ill health, resource plunder, and digital surveillance.

As toxic models of populist and authoritarian leadership arise across the world, we will consider the bases of their appeal and the strategies they use to build support. Our central concern, however, is how such models are being contested and resisted, and what new forms of leadership are coming into being. Leadership has never been just about ‘big men’ or big countries. Leadership happens everywhere: in the back streets; in community halls; on factory floors; within peasant movements; in churches, synagogues, mosques and temples; in social networks; in schools and colleges; in homes; and in local government offices.

‘New leadership for global challenges’ asks us to reflect on the kinds of leadership that are being exercised. How is ‘behaviour change’ being led at the level of political will to address structural violence, and institute new models of public expenditure, social and private enterprise, and taxation and regulation which will engender more sustainable and inclusive economies? How is leadership changing personal and collective values and behaviour towards reducing emissions, promoting green technologies, establishing healthy, sustainable and fair patterns of production and consumption, and developing strategies of non-violence? Who is taking the lead? What inspires people to follow? And what does leadership mean?

Expressions of agency and leadership remind us that action is possible, but that it is always shaped by existing social, economic, political and cultural structures and processes. Movements for change involve material mobilisation, but also battles of ideas and values about what forms of leadership are legitimate, and how these may be exercised, by whom. Struggles for values and ideas take place in formal debates, but also in the nitty gritty of working for change, where issues of power, agency, legitimacy, authority and norms are hammered out in the praxis of pursuing new visions.

These are some of the dimensions of leadership that ‘New leadership for global challenges’ invites us to address at DSA2020. Indicative questions might be:

  • Where are the new spaces in which leadership is emerging? Is this leadership more likely to be progressive? How can these processes and emerging leaders be supported and protected,,especially where the space for civil society is shrinking? What are the similarities and differences between forms of leadership emerging in different parts of the world?
  • What shape are the new forms of leadership taking? How are the global challenges themselves requiring forms of leadership and organising to change, towards lower carbon impact; or trans-disciplinary networks; or digitally-based resistance? What styles and types of leadership and what qualities, characteristics, capabilities, or competencies are important to make a difference? Are such forms of leadership inherently progressive? Are they sufficiently robust to address the global challenges?
  • How does collective leadership work? How do coalitions, networks, groups, organisations, and social movements come together to operate across interest groups and across geographies to solve the interconnected, transnational, complex nature of global challenges? How do patterns of leadership differ according to the issues addressed? Do global challenges necessitate global leadership?
  • How do leaders inspire followers to overcome or challenge existing norms and institutions? When are leaders and leadership processes seen as legitimate or not and where does authority and trust come from? And how does power work within complex configurations of leaders-followers-and-structure?
  • What is the role for thought leadership – in universities, think tanks, civil society, and other spaces of struggle? How can we understand the impact of public intellectuals and other thought leaders, from Greta Thunberg to The Elders? What (new) kinds of knowledge are necessary for or as part of new leadership? What role have Western epistemologies played in generating existing global challenges? How are new forms of leadership playing a part in decolonising knowledge?