Sumner and Tribe’s International Development Studies

"View Of Kaeng Krachan Dam,petchaburi Province,thailand" by cbenjasuwan at
“View Of Kaeng Krachan Dam, Petchaburi Province, Thailand” by cbenjasuwan at

Andy Sumner and Michael Tribe’s International Development Studies: Theories and Methods in Research and Practice is a brief overview of the field in a textbook format. The author’s intent is to introduce the reader to key ideas and debates in development studies. The study begins by asking what is the meaning of development, and then discusses the history of the term. Subsequent chapters are concerned with large questions, such as “What can we `Know’ in Development Studies?” Because the book has a focus on research and methods, the book includes a chapter on how we should define rigor, and how research should shape practice. The chapters follow a standard format, which includes numbered sub-headings and brief summaries at the end of every chapter.

The strengths of the work are its brevity -167 pages, not counting the index- and organization.  I liked the work’s balance, and its reflective approach to key issues. Because all development entails change, it always involves ethical questions: what are the boundaries of what constitutes development? How does ethnocentrism shape definitions of development? How do power inequities shape development in practice, and does this undermine the legitimacy of the field itself? The bitter critiques of development over the last two decades have shaped the work, which is reflective and theoretically informed.

The weakness of the work is that it sometimes seems to be as interested in raising issues as in resolving them. At times my students commented that they would have liked to have seen stronger arguments made on behalf of particular theses. Although the work has some case studies towards the end, it would have benefited from more and longer case studies, as well as the inclusion of more voices from people in the field. Students would also like to see more discussion of sustainable development, which is missing from the index. The final chapter on the future of the field is also far too brief at four pages.

Overall, Sumner and Tribe’s book provides a good introduction to the field, which would benefit from being paired in an IDS class with more case studies, as well as a work on sustainable development.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

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