GEOG 3682 Geography of International Development

Instructor Contact:

Dr. Jessica DiCarlo

About the Course:

Why are global wealth and poverty so unevenly distributed? How has half a century of development assistance changed this – both between and within countries? What possible solutions to underdevelopment exist, and how do various ideologies, institutions and power relations constrain or enable their deployment? These questions have animated scholars, policy-makers, revolutionaries and entrepreneurs for decades, and they remain highly relevant at the dawn of the 21st century. This course uses a mix of theory, history and specific case studies to examine current debates about international development assistance and economic development in the “Global South”.

“Development” is a ubiquitous term and one with a number of different, contested meanings. Among other things, it is used to refer both to a post-World War II international project that emerged in the context of decolonization, and to the dynamic and always highly uneven processes and trajectories of capitalist change. Dominant theories about how best to achieve development have changed significantly over time, as have development practices and opinions about the very desirability of development as a project or goal. At the core of the course is a conceptual distinction between Development interventions (with a capital “D”) and the ongoing development of global capitalism (development with a small “d”), both of which continue to change – in relation to one another, as well as independently.

A critical approach to development does not simply mean pointing out what is wrong with development. Rather, a critical approach treats development as an assemblage of ideas that emerge from specific social, historical, and geographical contexts. In other words, rather than simply accepting development as a given field of study, we interrogate its origins, assumptions, and forms of knowledge, all the while asking what Geography’s particular contribution to this interrogation is. A critical approach is aimed less at “fixing” development or “making it right” than understanding the complexities of development as a field of study and as a practice with often unintended outcomes that reflect complexities on the ground.

The course is organized in three parts and is intended to build your understanding of how the term “development” has emerged, and how it has been repeatedly reinvented and transformed to match the changes in the world around us. After an introduction to Development Geography, Part 1 explores the development of capitalism in terms of states, societies and markets. Part 2 considers the history of development as an international project as it emerged in the context of post-colonial Cold War geopolitics, and the way in which its theories and practices have shifted over time. Part 3 addresses key contemporary themes through a series of case studies focused on topics of and approaches to development such as microfinance, trade, and south-south cooperation.

Course Prerequisites: It is strongly advised that you have taken one or more of GEOG 1962, 1972, 1982, or 1992. If you have not taken one of these classes, you are responsible for making sure you have a basic understanding of key concepts covered in these courses. Please talk to the instructor if you have any questions.


  1. To train students to become participants in global debates about poverty and inequality.
  2. To make you a better researcher, analyst, and writer.
  3. To broaden understanding of the Global South as both an idea and a place rooted in specific histories and globally connected processes.
  4. To help you develop a conceptual and factual “toolkit” that is international in scope, but also useful outside the “developing” world.
  5. To bring poverty “home,” disrupting the comfortable perception that poverty exists elsewhere, and can be contained at a distance.
  6. To familiarize students with key institutions and actors – from the World Bank to global social movements, from national and local governments to nonprofits and NGOs, from multinational corporations to philanthropic foundations. Students will understand methodologies of development as well as their strengths and limitations.
  7. To improve your skills as a geographer by bringing together theory, history, and contemporary debates about development assistance in a synthetic manner.
  8. To help you become a better reader, not only of difficult texts, but perhaps even more importantly, of apparently simple ones that demand critical analysis in order to grasp their full reach.
  9. To critically reflect upon our own engagements with “development,” “poverty action,” and aspiration for social change.

Required Texts:

All course materials provided by the instructor and available on Canvas

Grading (out of n points):


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Monday – Friday
8:00am to 5:00pm


We are located at the corner of University Avenue and 15th Street in a white brick building.


1505 University Avenue
University of Colorado Boulder
178 UCB
Boulder, Colorado