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Ethics of Development




Admission Requirements



Humanity has never been as prosperous as in the first decade of the 21st century. At the same time there have never been so many deprived people on the planet: more than one billion people live on less than $1 a day. This raises a number of ethical questions. What is development? Who benefits from and who bears the costs of development? What are appropriate development choices and pathways? What responsibilities do the rich have to the poor? And who is deciding on such questions?

Societal improvement is still often equated with economic growth and modernization. But the idea that progress should be understood, valued and managed solely in monetary terms is increasingly challenged in developmental theory, planning and practice.

This course examines the human costs that development strategies and interventions typically involve. It addresses the normative questions and ethical issues that underlie the notion of development, and explores alternative concepts (such as the notion of development as freedom).

Course Objectives

  1. Basic understanding of ethical theories on development;
  2. Insight in different meanings and interpretations of key concepts in developmental ethics (such as development, efficiency, equity, need, value, freedom and security);
  3. Strengthen interdisciplinary and problem-oriented analysis of societal development and change.
  4. Improved understanding of contemporary societal debates on global development

Mode of Instruction

The course consists of lectures, working groups and excursions. Students are required to make weekly assignments.


Assessment: Participation
Percentage: 20%
Deadline: Ongoing

Assessment: Presentation
Percentage: 20%
Deadline: Week 7

Assessment: Book Review
Percentage: 20%
Deadline: Week 5 (1 December, 09:00)

Assessment: Exam
Percentage: 40%
Deadline: Week 8 (20 December, 17:00)


Required reading:

Gaspar, D. 2004. Ethics of Development. From economism to human development. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Book review:

Sachs, J. 2005. The end of poverty: economic possibilities for our time. New York: Penguin Books.

Easterly, W. 2006. The white man’s burden: why the West’s efforts to aid the rest have done so much ill and so little good. New York: Penguin Books.

Additional literature for the course will be placed on Blackboard

Contact Information

Jan van der Ploeg
Department of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology
Leiden University
Email: ploegjvander@fsw.leidenuniv.nl
Tel: 071-5273669

Weekly Overview

Week 1 Introduction: human development
Week 2 Planned interventions
Week 3 Equity & security
Week 4 Casus: Philippines
Week 5 Justice & sustainability
Week 6 Globalization & policy
Week 7 Presentations project proposals
Week 8 Exam

Preparation for first session

Please read in preparation for the first class (also on Blackboard):

Minter, T. et al. 2012. Whose consent? Hunter-gatherers and extractive industries in the Northeastern Philippines. Society & Natural Resources. DOI:10.1080/08941920.2012.676160