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Economy: Latin America


Admission requirements

This course is only available for students in the BA International Studies programme.
Limited places are also open for exchange students.
Please note: this course takes place in The Hague. Traveling between University buildings from Leiden to The Hague may take about 45 minutes.


Latin America remains the area with the highest levels of income inequality in the world. While millions are living just above the poverty line, they remain vulnerable, living under precarious conditions. Vertical inequalities, related to income and wealth disparities, intersect with horizontal inequalities, related to identity markers. As a result, inequalities tend to be regarded as part of the social order in the region. This course engages with political economy approaches that expose the structural and normative consonance between political and economic aspects, social and economic policies, and the reproduction of inequalities in Latin America.

This course aims to equip students to understand economic processes in the region and situate them in their historical context. The course focusses on a set of features which Latin American countries share as a basis for understanding the direction in which their economies have evolved, attentive to the nuances and differences that result from the region's diversity and help to illustrate in which ways the area relates with the world economy. It approaches economic phenomena as historically, politically, and socially produced. The classes thus invite a rethinking of issues, questions, and methods used to understand an economic situation. The choice of readings and lecture material challenge consolidated assumptions and interpretations. By integrating contrasting perspectives, students should be able to engage in academic debates about economic development in the region, identify fundamental premises, contextualise their arguments, and back up their claims during class discussions.

The theories presented in this course remain the object of debate, aspect central to this course. Economy: Latin America gives students a foundation in economic development as it occurs in the Latin American region. The course builds on foundational ideas from classical development economics and political economy that will be further explored and critically approached in discussion groups and written assignments. It embraces heterodox approaches, among which dependency theories feature prominently, whose strength lie in the critique and transformation of economicist narratives.

The course is split into two blocks. Block one traces the macroeconomic features of the region, starting with the different phases of development, e.g., export-led growth, state-led industrialisation, that have delineated the path of the area since the early twentieth century within an interpretive framework primarily based on ‘dependency theory. It questions some of the structural challenges the region faces: does export-led development help or hinder redistribution? Why do trade and financial liberalisation generate adverse distributive effects?

Block two moves on to examine why do inequalities persist in Latin America. What is the role of the state and public policies in exacerbating inequalities? Why is tax evasion so high in the region? Why does poverty persist among specific social groups and geographies? This block introduces students to the political economy of inequality, dependence and extractivism. The sessions will also examine the role of norms and beliefs in reinforcing social and environmental injustices, e.g., through labour markets, social structures, exctractive practices or else.

Course objectives

By the end of the course, students will have acquired an overview of the historical and contemporary economic developments and political economy dynamics in their chosen area and deepen their existing knowledge and understanding of different economic systems, economic institutions, economic processes and actors in the different countries of the region, using the concepts acquired during the courses Principles of Economics and Foundations of Political Economy.

Students will also be acquainted with academic debates on selected topics in the specific region. They will be introduced to key concepts e.g. terms of trade, trade balance, that can provide an interpretive view of economic development in the region, reflecting on the changing theoretical perspectives.

By tracing different approaches to economic development in the region, the course aims at providing students with sufficient theoretical tools to understand and situate ways of thinking about development in historically specific configurations, assessing the resulting economic performance but also its social consequences and its political drivers.

After the course, students will have developed:

  • Knowledge and understanding of the most important classic and contemporary theories in the field of economics and political economy necessary for the understanding of the global economy;

  • Knowledge and understanding of key concepts and concept structures in the field of economics and political economy necessary for the understanding of the global economy;

  • Basic knowledge and understanding of methods in the field of economics and political economy relevant to the understanding of the global economy;

  • A further knowledge and understanding of relevant methods in the field of economics and political economy;

  • Knowledge and understanding of the position of Latin America in the world from a global perspective;

  • Knowledge and understanding of the economic developments in Latin America from a global perspective;

  • In-depth knowledge of the political economy of finance, trade, industrialisation, welfare and natural resources in its global context.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction


Lectures are held every week, with the exception of the midterm exam week. Weekly lectures will cover issues both inside and outside the readings.


Tutorials are held once every three weeks, with the exception of the midterm exam week. Attending all tutorial sessions is compulsory. If you are unable to attend a session, please inform your tutor in advance. Being absent at more than one of the tutorial sessions will result in a lowering of your tutorial grade (40% of the end grade) with 1 point for each session missed after the first session. Please note that being absent at any tutorial session may have a negative impact on the grade of the assignment due for that particular tutorial session. This is at the discretion of the tutor.

Assessment method


  • Midterm Exam:
    Written examination with short open questions.

  • Final Exam:
    Written examination with short open questions and (up to) 50% essay question.


Partial grade Weighing
Tutorials 40%
Midterm Exam 30%
Final Exam 30%

End Grade

To successfully complete the course, please take note of the following:

  • The end grade of the course is established by determining the weighted average of Tutorial grade, Midterm Exam grade, and Final Exam grade.

  • The weighted average of the Midterm Exam grade and the Final Exam grade needs to be 5.5 or higher.

  • This means that failing Exam grades cannot be compensated with a high Tutorial grade.


If the end grade is insufficient (lower than a 6.0), or the weighted average of Midterm- and Final Exams is lower than 5.5, there is a possibility of retaking the full 60% of the exam material, replacing both the earlier Midterm- and Final Exam grades. No resit for the tutorial is possible.
Please note that if the Resit Exam grade is lower than 5.5, you will not pass the course, regardless of the tutorial grade.

Retaking a passing grade

Please consult the Course and Examination Regulations 2022 – 2023.

Exam review and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organised.

Reading list

  • Bértola, Luis., and José Antonio. Ocampo. Economic Development of Latin America Since Independence. Initiative for Policy Dialogue. Oxford: OUP Oxford, 2012.

  • Sánchez-Ancochea, Diego. The Costs of Inequality in Latin America: Lessons and Warnings for the Rest of the World, 2021.

  • Kay, Cristóbal. Latin American Theories of Development and Underdevelopment. London [etc.]: Routledge, 1989.




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