Description of the Discipline

Global Development Studies

Global Development Studies (formerly known as ‘Development Studies’ prior to September 2020) at the University of Helsinki offers an interdisciplinary space, fostering an open and democratic learning culture, where different viewpoints are respected and encouraged. Our academic community seeks an openness to other stories, disciplines and points of view, trying to understand the paradigmatic and methodologically different ‘other’. Therefore, we offer no “hegemonic” or exclusive school of thought on development, but rather promote a heterogeneous combination of thematic, theoretical and methodological approaches.  Global Development Studies is like a home, with a shared sense of community and commitment, in which there are different rooms, where researchers and students are free to choose from different theoretical and methodological positions and (ex)change between them. Our scholars combine different theoretical, methodological, and analytical lenses to interpret cultural, political, economic, environmental, and social change, with a view to understanding and explaining complex processes of societal transformations, occurring within and across a combination of scales, from local to global, analysed from the perspectives of historical as well as contemporary contexts.

Because of the profound influence of the idea of “development” in both historical and contemporary engagements between the Global North and Global South, the critical study of the construction of meanings of this core concept and the resulting multiple interventions and policies constitute a central feature of the field. The contemporary boundaries of development, both conceptually and geographically, are fluid, dynamic, and contested. Global Development Studies critically analyses development and the practices of “developmentalism” as a complex of interests, discourses and actions, wherein people, movements, local struggles, everyday lives and concrete situations are studied alongside “official”  development policy and practice and development cooperation.

Traditionally, development studies as a field of teaching and research has had a focus on studying the ‘problems’ of developing nations. Along the way, the focus expanded to consider the relationships between “developed” and “developing” societies, and the roles played by various institutions and structures existing within and between them, and the effects these relations have on processes of social, economic, political, and environmental change.  Today, critical perspectives in development studies have emerged that attempt to engage with non-Western ontologies, and with literature and other sources of knowledge referring to diverse epistemologies, with the aim to transcend the previous limitations of dominant Eurocentric constructions of development, and to recognize not only the definitions devised and promoted by the Global North, but also those being produced and practiced by the Global South. Recent scholarship increasingly emphasizes the importance of studying global processes and relations, including the diverse trajectories and movements of the Global South, the mechanisms of economic growth, as well as the processes that produce and reproduce global poverty and inequality, the unequal relations of power, domination and exploitation, and processes of environmental degradation and “sustainable” alternatives. The impact of global economic, political and social forces, and the processes of “global development”, seemingly now connect us all, but they also lead to different outcomes for a range of peoples and groups.  “Globalisation” and “Global Governance” have thus entered into the Global Development Studies lexicon, in part to conceptualize but also to provide a sense of order for consequential complex processes and relationships.  Whether these attempts have been successful is a matter of recurrent debate.

It is a characteristic of Global Development Studies that it offers a space for normative, moral, and value concerns, and an opportunity for critical self-reflection on ethical issues and the politics of representation. “Development” itself is an inherently normative concept and deals with fundamental philosophical and practical questions of what constitutes the “Good Life”. It is, thus, common for researchers and students in Global Development Studies to be motivated by deeply held concerns for social justice, human and more-than-human solidarity, and mutual respect between diverse peoples and cultures, and to reflect these concerns in their research and academic debates. A critical analytical approach to the study of power relations is, therefore, an important part of the field, as are aspirations for human liberation, solidarity, acts of resistance, and diverse praxes of social transformation.  This orientation entails focusing on people’s “everyday” experiences and their own definitions and understandings of development, as well as the overarching political economy and political ecology of development. Different actors, at multiple scales, and with different degrees of authority and power, all seek to (re)formulate, (re)interpret, (re)negotiate, and contest the existing ideologies and structures that shape development processes in the world today. These social struggles, and the alternatives in thought and action that they produce, are very much a part of our approach to Global Development Studies, and our understanding of how people think and act in the world. Ultimately, “Development” is about a set of beliefs and assumptions about the nature of social progress, our perceptions of the world which model reality, as much as it is about observable socio-economic endeavour.  Distinguishing the “Myth(s) of Development” from the complex realities is one of the greatest analytical challenges we face.

Our Global Development Studies community at the University of Helsinki seeks to face these many challenges.  We aim to provide researchers and students with a supportive community and academic space which encourage thought-provoking insights into the highly complex and dynamic processes of social transformation occurring throughout the world today. We are committed to offering our researchers and students a mutually supportive and inspiring environment that provides a wide theoretical and thematic curriculum, fostering independent, critical, and forward-looking thinking on development, and enhancing a set of analytical and practical skills to equip them to comprehensively grapple with development in both its conceptual and practical dimensions.

 (This text is a compilation of reflections on “What is Development Studies” prepared by the staff and students of Development Studies at the University of Helsinki, last modified in September 2018; discipline name updated September 2020)


Seminar: Naive Monarchism and Rural Resistance in Contemporary Russia, 16 October 2018

Welcome to listen to a lecture by Dr. Natalia Mamonova on 16 October 2018, at 12.15-13.45, Metsätalo (Unioninkatu 40), sali 12


This study applies the concept of “naive monarchism” (i.e., the traditional peasant expressions of reverence for the tsar as their benefactor) to study contemporary rural politics in authoritarian Russia. While Russia is not a monarchy, and its rural dwellers are not traditional illiterate peasants, the veneration of its leader manifests itself in many rural grievances. I analyse three types of rural politics that have traits of naive monarchism: written petitions to the president, rural pickets and delegations to the Kremlin, and geographical renaming in honour of Vladimir Putin. Grievances, voiced in this way, are rarely subjects of repression from above, as they reinforce presidential authority and the existing order. This raises the question of whether rural dwellers faithfully believe in a benevolent president or intentionally exploit their subordinate position and Putin’s image as the present-day tsar. Whether sincere or strategic, these rural politics aim to enforce the existing state commitments. Although they are unable to challenge the status quo, they provide rural dwellers with a means to remedy occasional local injustices.

Natalia Mamonova is a Research fellow at the Russia and Eurasia Programme of The Swedish Institute of International Affairs & Affiliated researcher at the Institute for Russian and Eurasian Studies of Uppsala University, Sweden. She will be a visiting researcher in Development Studies at the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Helsinki during October 2018.

Seminar: Development challenges in Bhutan – 9.10.2018

The Development Studies programs of the University of Jyväskylä and the University of Helsinki cordially invite you to:

“Joy, Agony and Silence in Bhutan”

A seminar based on the book Development Challenges in Bhutan: Perspectives on Inequality and Gross National Happiness (Springer, 2017).

9 October 2018, Tuesday, 12:00 – 14:00

Room 1014, Unioninkatu 37, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki

Speaker and author:
Johannes Dragsbaek Schmidt, associate professor at the Department of Political Science, Aalborg University and senior expert at the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, University of Copenhagen.

Päivi Ahonen, education specialist and PhD candidate at the University of Oulu completing a dissertation on ‘Strategies of Bhutan in Implementing the Gross National Happiness Policies’.

Aili Pyhälä, lecturer at the University of Helsinki and chair of the Finnish Society for Development Research.

About the book:
The book provides essential insights into Bhutan’s developmental challenges. It analyzes and scrutinizes the sovereign state’s developmental approach, including the idea of Gross National Happiness (GNH), which has replaced Gross National Product (GNP) as a measurement of prosperity. The authors also explore and deconstruct ideational and cultural aspects of knowledge production and present a critical overall assessment of the political economy of education policy, health, ICT and migration in Bhutan. The book is divided into five parts all taking a critical approach towards inequality: Part one offers an assessment of Bhutan’s developmental trajectories; part two deals with GNH, equality and inclusion versus exclusion; part three is devoted to culture, legal issues and the politics of change; and part four to governance and integration; section five addresses health, food and disparities.

Hosts and organizers:
– Eija Ranta, University of Helsinki (
– Outi Hakkarainen, Kepa (
– Bonn Juego, University of Jyväskylä (


Development Studies and PYAM Seminar: Uma Kothari 26.09.2018

Wednesday 26 September from 10-12 pm at Metsätalo, room 27

Encountering Europe Otherwise: On the road with postcolonial travellers

Uma Kothari

Professor of Migration and Postcolonial Studies, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester

Vice-Chancellors Fellow, School of Geography, University of Melbourne

With adventure, exploration and travel primarily conceived of as a Euro-American privilege, travellers in the past were identified as those who embarked on voyages motivated by imperial, educational and recreational imperatives. Empire tourism, a specific form of travel that emerged to enable western tourists to experience the landscapes and people written about by earlier travellers, subsequently fueled the production of colonial imaginaries about other people and places. These travel stories, along with academic accounts, have entrenched highly Eurocentric theories about tourism and travel. Drawing on an extended road trip from England to India undertaken by two non-European, Indian travellers in the 1950s this paper challenges this privileging of western tourists and dominant narratives of travel. It highlights the entangled relationships and connections that generated the encounters, experiences and understandings that emerged during their journey. The swirl of larger events and processes that conditioned their travel routes testify to a different era of globalisation in which distinctive connections were being sought and wrought while others were diminishing. As such, their trip, which took place in a specific geo-political and decolonising context, illuminates shifting colonial imaginaries and the forging of new postcolonial networks and their story foregrounds the neglect of non-western forms of mobility.

Uma Kothari is Professor of Migration and Postcolonial Studies in the Global Development Institute, University of Manchester. She is the co-founder of the Manchester Migration Lab and is currently Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow at the University of Melbourne. She is the principal investigator on an ESRC funded project on Environmental Violence and Everyday Lives and her current work includes research on Visual Solidarity and Everyday Humanitarianism and A Cultural History of the Mission to Seafarers. She has published numerous articles and her books include Participation: the new tyranny?,  Development Theory and Practice: critical perspectives, and A Radical History of Development Studies. She is co-editor of the Frontiers of Development book series published by Oxford University Press and is the Vice President of the European Association of Development. She is on the advisory board of In Place of War, a support system for community artistic, creative and cultural organisations in places of conflict and a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences. She was conferred the Royal Geographical Society’s Busk Medal for her contributions to research on global development.

Contact: Paola Minoia (

Book launch: Power, Indigenous Leaderships and Governance in Latin America – Tue 18.09


Tuesday 18 September at 15:00-16:30

Think Lounge, Think Corner 2nd floor, Yliopistonkatu 4

Discussion event on the recently published books “Vivir Bien as an Alternative to Neoliberal Globalization” (Routledge, 2018) and “Indigenous Perceptions and Changing Forms of Leadership in Amazonia” (Colorado University Press, 2017). The books are presented by Eija Ranta (Development Studies) and Pirjo Kristiina Virtanen (Indigenous Studies), with Lucas Artur Manchineri from Brazilian Amazonia (Manchineri community). We invite you to discuss, how Indigenous governance is realized and what types of leaderships have emerged in Latin America.

Refreshments and wine will be offered.


Keskustelu vallasta, alkuperäiskansojen johtajuuksista ja hallintatavoista Latinalaisessa Amerikassa

Ti 18.9. klo 15–16:30
Think Lounge, Tiedekulma 2 krs., Yliopistonkatu 4

Kirjojen “Vivir Bien as an Alternative to Neoliberal Globalization” (Routledge, 2018) ja “Indigenous Perceptions and Changing Forms of Leadership in Amazonia” (Colorado University Press, 2017) keskustelutilaisuus. Kirjoista kertovat Eija Ranta (kehitysmaatutkimus) sekä Pirjo Kristiina Virtanen (alkuperäiskansatutkimus). Mukana keskustelussa myös Lucas Artur Manchineri Brasilian Amazonialta. Tule keskustelemaan miten alkuperäiskansojen hallintatavat toteutuvat tai näkyvät Latinalaisessa Amerikassa ja millaisia uusia johtajuuksia siellä on noussut.


The Politics of Sustainability: Re-thinking resources, values and justice. Development Days Conference – 15.02 and 16.02.2018

Development Days conference of the Finnish Society for Development Research

Place: Tieteiden talo, Helsinki

Time: 15-16th February

Registration is open for the annual Development Days conference of the Finnish Society for Development Research! The conference, themed The Politics of Sustainability: Re-thinking resources, values and justice, is held in Helsinki on 15-16th February. Our keynote speakers are Jesse Ribot, Sian Sullivan and Jun Borras – you can find their profiles as well as the conference programme on our website, check it out!

Please fill out the online registration form and follow the payment instructions to register for the conference. Registration is open until 12th February.

In case you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact conference assistant Ella Rouhe at