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International development: making sense of a changing world

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In this interdisciplinary module you’ll cover key areas of international development. These include: different models of development; shifting power in the international system; the relationship between poverty, inequality and livelihoods; the impact of conflict and insecurity; and the role of technology and the environment. The history of development as a process of change, the power relationships in that process and the different scales at which development takes place from transnational to local, are themes running throughout the module. These themes integrate the material – using a mix of case studies, interactive activities, text and DVD – to provide a central narrative encouraging critical appraisal and curiosity.

What you will study

International development highlights some of the most pressing challenges facing us in the twenty-first century. This module introduces you to the context of development, its contested nature, its links to global processes of economic and social change, and everyday choices and uncertainties. It is open to anyone with a professional or personal interest in international development, international relations, social and political sciences.

A unique feature of the module is its focus on critical reflection and on understanding development from a personal level, as well as its global and policy implications. You'll use a variety of teaching media: video and audio, podcasts, websites, computer-based interactive resources, online forums, and two books that make up the core of the module. The content is divided into the following six blocks:

Block 1
Focusing on the rise and decline of two cities, Shanghai and Detroit, you're introduced to the key debates and theories in international development and international studies. It identifies new centres of power, state and non-state actors, and focuses on understanding new forms of organisation and public action in the context of development. You'll begin to develop historical awareness by working through a timeline for Shanghai and Detroit mapped against global and national events, and examining the development of these cities in the context of shifting international power relationships. You'll also have an opportunity to begin to reflect on your own understandings of what development means.

Block 2
This block is concerned with the changing world system and how we conceptualise development, as well as teaching contemporary material on the economic rise of countries such as Brazil, India and China. It combines debates in international political economy, international relations and development as well as geographical concepts of scale. You'll be introduced to the changing economic and political balance (hegemony) of the international system – including the power of non-state actors such as transnational corporations and cities – enabling you to examine the drivers of development in emerging economies in the context of power shifts over time. You'll also begin to analyse data and understand its potential to conceal as much as to inform development policy and debates.

Block 3
One of the most contentious areas of development studies is the debate about how to address the mass poverty that still afflicts many parts of the world. You'll be critically analysing contemporary debates on poverty and inequality in the current changing world context. It looks at concepts and measures, why they are contested, and why they matter for policy and practice. Using case studies, the block reviews different frameworks for analysing livelihoods and ways of making a living for people on low incomes, and critically appraises different initiatives to improve livelihoods. The block ends with a debate on the focus and content of aid, how it is changing, and whether aid is 'doing the right thing' to alleviate poverty.

Block 4
Do we need security to have development? Do insecurity, conflict and vulnerability hamper development goals? How can the most vulnerable people protect themselves or at least prepare for the future? To answer these questions, Block 4 builds upon discussions and conceptual tools developed previously and looks at how security concerns have entered development policies and actions. It explores the ‘security-development nexus’ with a focus on different forms of insecurity: from national to individual, and from global to local. The block offers you the opportunity to understand how security and development have become interconnected and to critically assess current policies as well as reflecting on what should be done. You’ll further explore the role of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), campaign groups, communities and movements for change within developing as well as developed societies.

Block 5
This block is mainly taught online because its focus is the link between technology, resources and the environment in relation to development. It asks how equitable development can be sustained in a world of finite resources, where demand for energy especially is pressing and where issues such as climate change threaten past, present and future gains. The block analyses in a hands-on way – via an online role play – how diversity and difference across the world might be turned into a source of knowledge and appropriate action.

Block 6
The module concludes through revision and integrating study material, and encourages you to think critically about ‘ways forward'. It provides you with the opportunity to reflect upon and consolidate your understanding of:

  • the links between power, development theories and practice
  • the relationships between key actors at different scales of development
  • the history of development and its relevance to the present; and
  • your own capacity for agency and empowerment as citizens and/or development practitioners.

You will learn

On completion of the module, you are expected to gain an understanding of the contested meanings and challenges of contemporary international development, taking into account the history of the international system, the role of power and agency, and processes of development at different scales. You will examine in detail major development issues through case studies focusing on a country, programme or policy.

At the same time as studying international development, this module will also develop your reading, writing, analytical and communication skills. It will help you evaluate information and arguments, interpret and use data in a variety of graphical and numerical forms, and use particular software applications and computers for information-searching, communication and collaboration. The module is also designed to heighten your ability to become an independent learner. Such skills and attributes are highly valued by employers and can be applied to a wide variety of contexts.

Entry requirements

This is an OU level 2 module and you need to have some knowledge of the subject area or social sciences in general, obtained either through OU level 1 study, or by doing equivalent work at another university.

Either of the OU level 1 modules Introducing the social sciences (DD102) or Environment: journeys through a changing world (U116) would be ideal preparation.

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

What's included

You'll be provided with module books, other printed materials, a DVD and have access to a module website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • module materials
  • interactive online activities
  • audio and video content
  • assignment details and submission section
  • online tutorial access.

You will need

A DVD player.

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 (11 'Big Sur' 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

You'll have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and who you can ask for advice and guidance.

Tutorial events will be delivered online and recordings of these will typically be made available. While you’re not obliged to attend any of these tutorial events, you are strongly encouraged to take part.

You'll also have the opportunity to attend a day school which is due to take place on 20 January 2024 at The London School of Economics and Political Science. There will be a guest speaker on a current global development issue and you'll work with tutors around module content and skills development.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


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

You must use the online eTMA system to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs).

If you have a disability

If you have a long-term health condition, specific learning difficulty (such as dyslexia), mental health difficulty or a disability of any kind, you are entitled to reasonable adjustment to support your study. We use the terms ‘disabled’ or ‘disability’ to cover all these conditions.

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying TD223 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

International development: making sense of a changing world starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2023 when we expect it to start for the last time. A replacement module is planned for October 2024.

Course work includes:

6 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
No residential school

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