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Thematic Seminar: Ethics of Development - Decolonization, Justice, and Ecological Challenges


Admission requirements

This course is only available for students in the BA International Studies programme.
The number of participants is limited to 24.

Please note that passing a Thematic Seminar (10 EC) in the second year, second semester, is an entry requirement for starting your thesis in academic year 2024-2025. You need to have passed a minimum of 100 EC of year 1 and 2 of the International Studies programme as well in order to start your thesis.


“Development” is a term that can be used in both a descriptive and a normative sense. In the descriptive sense, development is usually understood in terms of modernization, industrialization, or economic growth. In the normative sense, the primary aim is overcoming economic, social, and environmental deprivation, and that aim is theorized in terms of underlying values such as justice, equality, wellbeing, and human flourishing.

This course applies the perspective of human development, as articulated in what has come to be known as the capabilities approach, to explore the moral issues raised by development. What role, if any, should the “developed” countries of the North, international institutions, and nongovernmental organizations have in the development of so-called “less developed” countries of the South? How do aspects such as decolonization, justice, and ecological challenges affect our understanding of development? Answers to these sorts of questions will be explored through an examination of some of the most prominent theorists, the analysis of economic (e.g., poverty), cultural (e.g., Indigenous conceptions of development), and ecological challenges (e.g., climate change), and recent literature in the area of development ethics.

Course objectives

The Thematic Seminars for International Studies are designed to teach students how to deal with state-of-the-art literature and research questions. They are chosen to enhance the students’ learning experience by building on the multidisciplinary perspectives they have developed so far, and to introduce them to the art of academic research. They are characterised by an international or comparative approach.

Academic skills that are trained include:

Oral and written presentation skills:

1. To explain clear and substantiated research results.
2. To provide an answer to questions concerning (a subject) in the field covered by the course:

  • in the form of a clear and well-structured oral presentation;

  • in agreement with the appropriate disciplinary criteria;

  • using up-to-date presentation techniques;

  • using relevant illustration or multimedia techniques;

  • aimed at a specific audience.
    3. To actively participate in a discussion

Collaboration skills:

1. To provide and receive constructive criticism, and incorporate justified criticism by revising one’s own position.
2. To adhere to agreed schedules and priorities.

Basic research skills, including heuristic skills:

1. To collect and select academic literature using traditional and digital methods and techniques.
2. To analyse and assess this literature with regard to quality and reliability.
3. To formulate on this basis a sound research question.
4. To design under supervision a research plan of limited scope, and implement it using the methods and techniques that are appropriate within the discipline involved.
5. To formulate a substantiated conclusion.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Seminars are held every week, with the exception of the Midterm Exam week. This includes supervised research.

Assessment method

Assessment and Weighing

Partial grade Weighing
Essay Draft 10%
Intermediate Assignments 40%
Final Research Essay - 5,000 words (between 4,500 and 5,500) 50%

End Grade

To successfully complete the course, please take note that the End Grade of the course is established by determining the weighted average of all assessment components.


Students who score an overall insufficient grade for the course, are allowed resubmit a reworked version of the Final Essay. The deadline for resubmission is 10 working days after receiving the grade for the Final Research Essay and subsequent feedback.
In case of resubmission of the Final Research Essay the final grade for the Essay will be lowered as a consequence of the longer process of completion.

Students who fail to hand in their final essay on or before the original deadline, but still within 5 working days of that deadline, will receive a grade and feedback on their essay. This will be considered a first submission of the final essay, however, the grade will be lowered as a consequence of the longer process of completion.
Students who fail to hand in their final essay on or before the original deadline, and also fail to hand in their essay within 5 working days of that deadline, get 10 working days, counting from the original deadline, to hand in the first version of their final essay. However, this first version counts as a resubmitted essay with consequential lowering of the grade, and there will be no option of handing in a reworked version based on feedback from the lecturer.

Retaking a passing grade

Retaking a passing grade is not possible for this course.

Please consult the Course and Examination Regulations 2023 – 2024.

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

The course is based on primary sources and students are expected to familiarise themselves with the works of several authors. Text will be available through the library or uploaded on Brightspace. Subject to changes, we will study extracts from the following works:

  • Apffel Marglin, Frédérique. 1990. ‘Smallpox in Two Systems of Knowledge’. In Dominating Knowledge: Development, Culture, and Resistance. Edited by Frédérique Apffel Marglin and Stephen A. Marglin, 102-144. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

  • Crocker, David A. 2008. Ethics of Global Development: Agency, Capability, and Deliberative Democracy. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press.

  • Gasper, Des. 2005. The Ethics of Development: From Economism to Human Development. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

  • Khader, Serene J. 2011. Adaptive Preferences and Women’s Empowerment. New York: Oxford University Press.

  • Mansuri, Ghazala, and Vijayendra Rao. 2013. Localizing Development: Does Participation Work? Washington DC: The World Bank.

  • Merino, Roger. 2016. ‘An Alternative to “Alternative Development”?: Buen Vivir and Human Development in Andean Countries’. Oxford Development Studies 44 (3): 271–86.

  • Nussbaum, Martha. 2011. Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach. Cambridge, MASS: Harvard University Press.

  • Raygorodetsky, Gleb. 2017. The Archipelago of Hope: Wisdom and Resilience from the Edge of Climate Change. New York, London: Pegasus Books.

  • Robeyns, Ingrid. 2017. Wellbeing, Freedom and Social Justice: The Capability Approach Re-Examined. Cambridge: Open Book Publishers.

  • Sen, Amartya. 2001. Development as Freedom. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.

  • Sen, Amartya. 2009. The Idea of Justice. London, New York: Harvard University Press.

  • Watene, Krushil. 2016. ‘Valuing Nature: Māori Philosophy and the Capability Approach’. Oxford Development Studies 44 (3): 287–296.

  • Ziai, Aram. 2015. ‘Post-Development: Premature Burials and Haunting Ghosts’. Development and Change 46 (4): 833–54.

Additionally, the students will work through:

  • W.C. Booth et al., The Craft of Research, fourth edition, Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 2016, or;

  • W.C. Booth et al., The Craft of Research, third edition, Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 2008.


Registration occurs via survey only. Registration opens 15 December 2023:

  1. On 15 December 2023 you will receive a message with a link to the survey.
  2. Indicate there which are your 5 preferred Thematic Seminars, in order of preference.
  3. Based on preferences indicated by 8 January 2024 the course Coordinator will assign you to one specific Thematic Seminar by 22 January 2024.
  4. Students will then be enrolled for the specific groups by the Administration Office.

Students cannot register in uSis for the Thematic Seminar courses, or be allowed into a Thematic Seminar course in any other way.



The deadline for submission of the Final Essay is Friday 7 June 2024.