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Rebels, Riots and Revolutions in International Development


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 7
  • Convenor and tutor: Professor Karen Wells
  • Assessment: a contemporary archive (15%), 3000-word literature review (35%), 2000-word film review (15%) and 2000-word essay (35%)

Module description

Reducing poverty and increasing equality are declared objectives of many governments, development and aid agencies and civil society organisations, but there is widespread scepticism about the potential for progressive change through conventional politics.

This module introduces you to other social forces that have tried, and sometimes succeeded in, overturning old regimes and installing new forms of development. We study the dynamics of major social and political upheavals, from the revolutionary overthrow of powerful elites to the collapse of established orders through internal tensions. We examine why some forms of civil unrest dissipate while others develop momentum, and how revolutions bring forth counter-revolutionary responses.  

Indicative module syllabus

  • Theories of revolution: the role of states, classes, individuals and political imaginaries in revolutionary change
  • Theories of revolution: reactions to development, restoration and counterrevolutions
  • Food riots and political change
  • Nationalist revolutions after 1945 and international development: Pan Africanism, the non-aligned movement and the formation of the Third World
  • The collapse of the Soviet Union as a response to failed development
  • Socialist revolutions in Latin America and the Caribbean

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will:

  • understand how processes of development produce oppositional movements
  • be able to explain why some movements ‘fail’ and others ‘succeed’
  • have a broad and deep knowledge of the academic research on: riots and populist insurgencies, nationalist revolutions, socialist revolutions and counter-revolutionary forces.