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New centre takes hard look at international development

UTSC's new Centre for Critical Development Studies aims to provide a scholarly critique of international development efforts while also preparing students to be critical members of the profession.

“What we wanted to do was to set our centre apart both pedagogically and intellectually,” says Paul Kingston, associate professor of political science and director of the new centre.

“We're interested in examining that difficult nexus between practice and research: practice, which is about solving problems of poverty, inequality and oppression; and research, which is about recognizing the incredible complexity of trying to do that.”

The CCDS was created as part of a major reorganization that saw the creation of six new academic units  at UTSC. The centre now becomes home to International Development Studies, a program started more than 25 years ago which was previously housed in the Department of Social Sciences.

“It’s huge,” Kingston says of the importance of the new centre, which as an “extra-departmental unit” has a rank similar to a department. “It gives us a little bit of autonomy, and it gives us some extra resources.”

The faculty decided to use the name “critical development studies” as a way to signal that the centre is not only a professional program, but also provides a scholarly critique of international development. Faculty are especially skeptical of standardized approaches and prescriptions for development, most recently prominent in the hegemonic power of neo-liberalism.

They are more interested in how local development initiatives from the countries themselves can be supported. “If we have a bent, it's probably that we're interested in solutions that come out of voices from below. These are, at the end of the day, our constituents,” Kingston says.

International Development Studies is known for producing students who go on to do well professionally, thanks largely to its successful co-op program. More than 200 students major in IDS, in addition to 74 co-op students and 56 specialist non-co-op students.

“We are interested in training critical practitioners who can then place themselves within agencies and undertake reflective policy-making," says Kingston. "We have been enormously successful in doing that.”

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