Democracy, Dictatorship and Development

School: School of Government
International Development Department

Modular value: 20 credits
Term long 
Contact Hours: 
3 hours per week

Aim of the Module

The relationship between democracy and development has long been one of the most vibrant and important debates within political science and development studies. This module will be based around the two central questions that underpin these debates.

The first question is whether democracies perform better when it comes to development. This is an old and rich debate and will allow students to consider some of the most pressing issues of our time such as: Does political competition actually prevent governments from making important long-term decisions on a range of issues from climate change to pensions reform? Are more tolerant societies more likely to invest in education? Do new democracies enjoy higher economic growth than other states at a comparative socio-economic level? The first half of the module is dedicated to explaining and unpacking these issues.

The second question is whether higher levels of development are required for democracy to work. This is an even older and richer debate, and one that taps into areas of continued academic and policy controversy: Does development promote democracy? Is it possible to build democracies in the context of poverty? Why might the level of national wealth, or development, shape the prospects for democratic consolidation? Is the rise of the middle class in many developing countries going to promote democratization? The second half of the module is focussed on engaging with the literature and empirical evidence around these issues.

The module is designed to introduce students to key concepts and arguments, and to enable them to appreciate the reasons why scholars and practitioners continue to disagree about the nature of the relationship between democracy and development. It will be draw on key debates and empirical evidence from across the developing world, with a focus on the areas that have inspired some of the most significant contributions to the literature, such as Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and East & South Asia. In addition, the module will explicitly draw connections between the literature and contemporary debates about whether democratic reforms need to be “sequenced” so that they come after development reforms, and whether, in order to promote development, practioners should “go with the grain” in patrimonial societies or seek to effect more far-reaching political reform.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module students should be able to:

  • Critically analyse different definitions and measures of democracy and how they apply in the developing world.
  • Understand and critique key theories regarding the relationship between democracy and development. 
  • Set out the causal mechanisms that different theoretical frameworks rely on, and evaluate these against relevant empirical evidence.
  • Apply theoretical and conceptual debates on democracy and democratization to practical contexts and scenarios, including contemporary debates about real world cases.


The form of assessment will be by written assessment:

  • Two assignments of 2,500 words each, weighted 50% each.

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