GEOG 497 B - Making the Most of Good Intentions:

Evaluating Global “Development” Work Critically

Course Description

When are good intentions not enough? When are they harmful? How can we best use our good intentions to make a difference in issues of poverty, injustice, and inequality? This seminar is intended as a forum for students with good intentions — those of us who serve and advocate for the poor and marginalized locally and globally — to pause from the ongoing momentum of our work for self-reflection. The seminar provides an academic space to complement the student-driven Critical Development Forum.

Throughout the course, we will challenge ourselves to reflect critically and honestly on our motivations and explore the contradictions of our past, current, or future work and advocacy. Readings will unpack the historical, social, political, economic, cultural, and environmental context of our engagement in development and global (in)justice.

This course aims to inspire students to overcome the fear of questioning good intentions in order to deepen the impact of their work and bring about structural social change. At the culmination of the course, students will have the option of partnering with the Critical Development Forum to design activities to engage the University and local community in the themes of the course.

Syllabus available here.

About the Course:

In my final year as an undergraduate at the University of Washington, I developed and taught a new seminar course on critical approaches to international development. I was advised by Professor Matthew Sparke of the Department of Geography. The course was designed to encourage students to reassess their position within the interwoven systems of development and oppression. In ten weeks, through the practice of critical pedagogy, I found that students became more critically conscious of their privilege and unintentional complicity in oppression, more conscious of the pervasive problems of the “developed” world, more confident that we have much to learn from the global South, and ultimately more critical of the idea of development itself. Members of the class also became more interested in political advocacy, and more critical of the global aid industry. The course’s syllabus and pedagogical methods introduced the rich ideas of critical development theory, while simultaneously avoiding the pervasive emotional detachment common when students learn about global injustice through conventional academic courses.

After the course, one of the students took it upon himself to teach the course again the next year while I was traveling.  Another student from the course expressed interest later in creating a similar course focused specifically on engineers. We are currently developing that course, details will be posted here as we progress..


Curriculum & Reflections

 In the interest of sharing resources, the  full course curriculum is available upon request. It has details of activities and prep, though incompletely documented as the experimental course was constantly tweaked week by week.

A report based on student feedback, and a selection of student reflections are available here.