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Contested Development


Contested Development Domain prioritises five interlinked research areas:

  • Critical approaches to development
  • Political ecology
  • Urban geographies of development
  • Power, environment and resources
  • Global health and development



Critical Approaches to Development

This theme brings together the research domain’s members under an overarching concern with the ways in which development is always ‘contested’ and the dynamics of these forms of contestation. Members of the domain have therefore been exploring how development as both concept and practice varies across geographic scale and space and the role of both in reworking conceptualisations of development. We explore how development is a process that is inherently unequal and in which inequalities are perpetually (re)produced in new ways and forms, often through even the most well-intentioned of interventions. We approach theories of development critically to explore, methdologcally, conceptually and empirically, how development is dynamic, powerful and productive. We work through these ideas in applied research, exploring examples from sustainable consumption to the historical geographies of development thinking in post-colonial settings. These innovative areas of application also enable us to explore discourses of post and anti-development, as well as examining the new geographies of development that emerge from these political spheres.

Theme Leaders: Andrew Brooks, Ruth Craggs and Alex Loftus

Political Ecology

This theme examines how unequal power among societal actors shapes the regulation and representation of human-environment relations. Linked to the rapidly expanding and multidisciplinary research field of political ecology, our concern is to assess how such things as class, gender, race, ethnicity and development map onto globally shifting political economies encompassing the production and consumption of everyday consumer goods, North-South dynamics, the commodification of nature, as well as the institutions and processes of environmental governance occurring at multiple scales. As a world-leading centre for political ecology research, we seek to combine conceptual innovation with in-depth empirical investigation through historical and contemporary case studies drawn from around the world. Recent work thus addresses the moral politics of non-governmental organisations, conflict over access to natural resource commodities, and the cultural politics of middle-class and wealthy consumerism. These studies often crisscross the North and the South, as well as the urban and the rural, through multi-scale analyses that explore the ‘interconnectedness’ of things.

Theme Leaders: Raymond Bryant and Alex Loftus

Urban Geographies of Development

The Contested Development domain has a deep interest in the relationship between the urban and development and how development processes shape cities in new, unequal and unanticipated ways. Working at the intersections of urban studies, history, sociology, anthropology and development studies; domain members have explored how urban forms and formations reflect often-fragmented geographies of development. Of particular concern have been questions of urban livelihoods in cities of the global south, rural-urban migration in African cities, the unfolding of development policies in de/post-colonial urban settings, the connections between decolonisation and British urbanism and the politics of urban health in cities of the south. This work has taken place across a number of cities from Maputo, to Cape Town, Harare, Addis Ababa and Durban.

Theme Leaders: Debby Potts, Clare Herrick, Ruth Craggs and Andrew Brooks

Power, Environment and Resources

This theme explores how geographies of social power map onto resources use and management, conflicts over environmental amenities and geopolitical boundaries. A significant area of expertise here is water (see research hub) which allows theme members to explore the interface between resources, access, politics and development. This can be within the context of natural resource management or vulnerability to hazards.  In exploring how the environment and natural resources are framed and the kinds of discourses surrounding them, the theme exposes the processes of decision-making, the ways institutions work and the scales at which water is problematised.  The relationship between water and conflict and the sub-national hydropolitics that surround these contestations is also a significant area of research interest.  The analytical and applied concern with geographical differentiations in power relationships is also evident in research on territorial disputes, terrorism and geopolitics which so often enfold questions of resources and access to them.

Theme Leaders: Naho Mirumachi,Daanish Mustafa and Richard Schofield

Global Health and Development 

This research theme works across the Contested Development domain, the Department of Social Science, Health and Medicine and the International Development Institute. It explores the dialectical relationships between global health – as a field of research, policy, practice and politics – and development. Here development is approached critically as both essential to and a threat to the achievement of global health objectives. The theme thus builds on the extremely limited social science research on the ways in which global health and development intersect and, in particular how the changing nature of development itself has become one of the primary rationales behind calls to shift the current landscape and architecture of global health governance and interventions. In empirical terms, these ideas are explored with reference to the changing geographies of the non-communicable disease burden and the political contestations that have come to encircle efforts to govern exposure to their behavioural risk factors such as alcohol, tobacco and food.

Theme Leader: Clare Herrick


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