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Introducing global development: poverty, inequality, sustainability

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What is global development in the 21st century? Where does development now take place? How does development take place? How can we reflect on our own understanding of the world to change it? Drawing on case studies and thinkers from across the globe, this module answers questions like these. It explores how power and politics shape the globally interlinked nature of development challenges. Using a range of study materials, including bespoke documentary films made in Scotland and Guyana, you will explore the interconnections and interrelationships between poverty, inequality, and sustainability in the rapidly changing context of development. You'll learn key practical skills for undertaking academic research in this field and in development practice, including constructing arguments, examining data sets and writing effective advocacy and campaign material.

What you will study

This module helps you understand the nature of and processes driving development whilst providing social sciences concepts, skills and approaches to engage and intervene in (unresolved) development challenges. The three main interconnected themes of poverty, inequality and sustainability and their intersections relating to contemporary development issues are explored through six blocks.

Block 1 focuses on the core question: What is global development? By examining the multidimensional nature of this question, the block engages with the significance of historical and geographical perspectives and the role of politics in development. It explores questions such as how we got here and who does development. Featuring two bespoke documentary films shot in Scotland and Guyana for the module, you will engage with what it means to think about development in context. This block will also recap note-taking, summarising and referencing skills whilst introducing you to actor mapping.

Blocks 2 to 4 explore the contemporary nature and impact of poverty, inequality and sustainability, including weeks themed around livelihoods, gender, race, and climate change. These blocks develop your understanding and critical thinking about poverty, inequality and sustainability as development concepts. You'll explore how applying particular ideas has had deep implications for development practice (e.g. through structural adjustment policies or NGO practices). Across these blocks, you'll be introduced to different theories of politics and power that can help explain how development happens. You'll develop skills in examining different forms of evidence about poverty, analysing and writing advocacy and campaign documents, and writing and delivering presentations. You'll also have the opportunity to engage with more bespoke documentary material about the influence of race on development, different views on sustainable development and the search for climate change solutions in Scotland and Guyana.

Blocks 5 and 6 frame the nature of the over-arching ‘development challenge’ by presenting the three themes together – and presenting these to you as debates to be had rather than particular positions. Block 5 looks at a set of contemporary global development issues – health, water, urbanisation and technology – and relates them to our understanding of poverty, inequality and sustainability. The module concludes by providing an opportunity to reflect, consolidate and review your learning, combining themes, concepts and case studies from across the module. As you review, we ask what decolonising development really means.

At the end of the module, you'll clearly understand what social science perspectives contribute to understanding and intervening in global development challenges, as well as a skill set of real value in both academic and vocational contexts.

You will learn

You will acquire and apply knowledge and understanding of key development concepts, theories and debates, applying these to your understanding of contemporary development issues. You'll apprehend the nature of development issues not only through theory but also through examples from peoples’ everyday lives in the global North as well as the global South. This will help you explain and evaluate the relationship of power and politics with poverty, inequality and sustainability with the ability to assess their impact on real-world development issues.

As well as building your interdisciplinary social science knowledge, you'll develop practical and transferable skills. These include critical thinking, report and essay writing, making presentations, ICT skills, collaborative working skills, and synthesising and applying knowledge. You'll also learn how to:

  • manage your time effectively, organising and completing a programme of work to a specified standard
  • learn from feedback from others
  • critically reflect on your own learning.

Entry requirements

There are no entry requirements. As this is an OU level 2 module, you are expected to have the skill sets equivalent to having completed an OU level 1 module.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

Preparatory work

We recommend that you start with our key introductory module, Global challenges: social science in action (D113). This interdisciplinary OU level 1 module, with its integrated teaching of key study skills, provides a firm foundation for OU level 2 study.

What's included

You’ll be provided with two printed module books and have access to the module website, where the majority of the module content is delivered, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • module materials, including online activities
  • audio and video content
  • assessment guide
  • online tutorials and forums.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Ventura or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop, as described above.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

Throughout your module studies, you’ll get help and support from your assigned module tutor. They’ll help you by:

  • marking your assignments (TMAs) and providing detailed feedback for you to improve
  • guiding you to additional learning resources
  • providing individual guidance, whether that’s for general study skills or specific module content
  • facilitating online discussions between your fellow students, in the dedicated module and tutor group forums.

Module tutors also run online tutorials throughout the module. Where possible, recordings of online tutorials will be made available to students. While these tutorials won’t be compulsory for completing the module, you’re strongly encouraged to participate.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying D229 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Introducing global development: poverty, inequality, sustainability starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2024. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2035.

Course work includes:

5 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment