On June 23 – 25 I (with the help of Lisa Law) coordinated a research symposium on ‘Rethinking Development Pedagogy and Practice’. Below is a brief summary of the event, along with thanks to our event sponsors, the Research for Development Impact (RDI) Network and Rustic Pathways.




How can scholars and educators of development best enable students and practitioners to acquire the conceptual and pragmatic skills required to confront the immediate and inescapable challenges that we, as a global society, now face?


And how can we best equip students with the resilience, reflexivity, and hope required to become productive agents of positive social change? 


From June 23 – 24 scholars from 14 Australian Universities, New Zealand, Singapore, and the United Kingdom came together to explore these questions at James Cook University’s ‘Rethinking Development Pedagogy and Practice: New Visions for Global Development’ Symposium.


Proceedings began with two insightful keynote presentations from National University of Singapore’s  (NUS) Professor Jonathan Rigg and Cambridge University’s Dr. Emma Mawdsley, who respectively discussed (1) emergent forms of impoverishment in Southeast Asia and (2) the increasingly polycentric assemblages that constitute the international development landscape. Drawing on more than 20 years of empirical research in Northern Thailand, Professor Rigg highlighted the complexity that surrounds long-term shifts in the livelihoods and wellbeing of the poor, noting that while the aggregate data suggesting continued overall improvements, some people’s wellbeing had become notably worse. This analysis was well complemented by the discussion provided by Dr. Mawdsley, who provided a wide-ranging discussion on the increasing significance of South-South development cooperation, and also contemporary forms of inquiry that seek to move beyond problematic binaries of the Global North and South.


Keynote presentations were followed by two further presentations exploring the shifting landscapes of international aid; the first a provocatively titled paper ‘The DAC is Dead?’ by Dr. Patrick Kilby, and the latter an exploration of the relationship between culture and development in China’s Belt and Road initiative by Deakin University’s Professor Tim Winter.


More directly attuned to questions surrounding pedagogy, were papers by Professor Petra Tschakert, Dr. Susan Engel and Massey University’s Professor Glenn Banks. Drawing on the reflections and experiences of students from the University of Western Australia’s Master of International Development, Professor Tschakert’s paper insightfully examined the significance of emotions in the teaching and learning of development. This analysis was well complemented by the discussion of Dr. Engel, who mapped the various development studies programs across Australian universities and gave attention to their various structures and learning outcomes. Finally, in Professor Banks presentation he explored the development studies program of his own institution, Massey University, where he emphasised the merits of stakeholder engagement in ensuring that teaching programs remain relevant to employer needs – an insight that was later further explored by Dr. Sheila Scopis in her discussion of La Trobe University’s Master of International Development.


For me personally, the most enjoyable aspect of the symposium was the 3 roundtable discussions that were held over the course of the two days. In an atmosphere of warm collegiality, more than 30 scholars, practitioners and students of development came together to discuss how we might better improve the content and delivery of development studies programs across Australia. Here, pertinent questions were raised, including: If we really know what our students want? If our teaching meeting their needs? What will our students do with their degrees (within a somewhat contracting aid sector)? How can we improve stakeholder engagement? How can we best teach both ‘core skills’ and reflexive life-long learning? How do we encourage student voice in the classroom?


In seeking to identify some of the knowledges, skills, theories, and competencies that any development studies student should have key themes that continued to emerge across discussions included: Lifelong learning and research skills; An understanding of social and environmental justice; Appreciation of and exposure to interdisciplinary ways of thinking;  Critically reflexive practice; , place sensitivity and cultural competence; and student/teacher positionality.


There is a gap within the field of development studies regarding the critical analysis of development pedagogy. This was well recognised at the Rethinking Development Pedagogy and Practice symposium, and a conversation was started that those in attendance felt must continue further.


With the kind support of the Research For Development Impact Network (RDI) Network it appears that a teaching-related symposium will become an annual event for Australia’s development studies community. In 2018, the first follow-up symposium will be held as a co-convened event by Murdoch University, Curtin University and the University of Western Australia.


I look forward to seeing the directions this discussion takes.


Kearrin Sims


The 2017 James Cook University symposium ‘Rethinking Development Pedagogy and Practice’ was convened by Dr. Kearrin Sims (JCU) and Associate-Professor Lisa Law (JCU). The event was held at the Cairns Institute, James Cook University Cairns Campus, and received financial support from the RDI Network and Rustic Pathways. Thank you to all who attended and made this such an enjoyable event. Special thanks go to Lisa Law (JCU), David King (JCU), Philippa Smales (RDI Network) and Sam Murray (Rustic Pathways)


Full program details can be found below.


For more information on either of our event sponsors visit:






Rethinking development pedagogy and practice: New visions for global development, 23-25 June 2017, The Cairns Institute, James Cook University (Cairns)


Friday June 23                    


7:30 – 8:30                  Seminar registration 

8:30 – 8:35                  Acknowledgement of Country

8:35 – 8:45                  Welcome to James Cook University:  Dale Anderson, Acting Deputy Vice Chancellor for Global Strategy and Engagement (JCU)

8:45 – 9:00                  Introduction to the Symposium: Kearrin Sims (JCU)

9:00 – 9:30                  Keynote Address by Jonathan Rigg, National University of Singapore

                                     Challenging Southeast Asian Development

9:30 – 10:00                Keynote Address by Emma Mawdsley, University of Cambridge

                                     Rethinking Development Pedagogies

10:00 – 10:30             Q&A Chaired by Lisa Law (JCU)


10:30 – 11:00             Morning tea


11:00 – 11:15              JCU Masters Program Student Presentation (TBC): A

11:15 – 1:00                Presentation Session 1

                                     Petra Tschakert (UWA): Affective Dimensions of Teaching and Doing Development

                                     Susan Engel (UOW): Core Skills for Development Studies

                                     Tim Winter (Deakin): Culture and Development: Rethinking the Scales of Analysis

                                     Patrick Kilby (ANU): The DAC is Dead? Implications for Development Studies


1:00 – 2:00     Lunch     


2:00 – 2:45      Roundtable Discussion: Responding Pedagogically to New Challenges

2:45 – 3:30      Breakout Sessions: Key Challenges – Environment, Economy, Politics, Aid


3:30 – 4:00     Afternoon Tea                


4:00 –5:00      Second Roundtable discussion: Breakout Sessions findings and Intersections of Pedagogy and Practice


Saturday, June 24               


8:00 – 9:00                  Seminar registration 

9:00 – 9:15                  Introduction:  David King (JCU)

9:15 – 9:45                  Event Sponsor, Rustic Pathways Presentation


9:45 –10:30                 Presentation Session 2

                                     Glenn Banks (Massey): Educating Future Development Managers and Practitioners: Values, Positionality and Competencies

                                     Ann El Khoury (MQ): ‘Storying’ Development Transformation in a Climate Changed Global South


10:30 – 11:00             Morning Tea 


11:00 – 12:40              Presentation Session 3

                                     Sheila Scopus (La Trobe): Redesigning Pedagogies Around Networks of Practitioners Simon Foale (JCU) Connecting the Resilience of ‘Homo economicus’ in Development Discourse and Pedagogy to the Academic Disciplinary Pecking Order and the                                                          Marketised University

                                     Adam Fforde (Vic): Mickey Mousing the Log-frame: Towards a Sceptical Change Agent’s Manual

                                    Susanne Schmeidl (UNSW): Getting Real: Bringing Praxis-experience into the Development Studies Curriculum


12:40 – 1:30               LUNCH                                                                                 


1:30 – 2:00                  Keynote Address by Philippa Smales, RDI Network: Ensuring Relevancy for Future and Current Practitioners

2:00 – 2:30                  Keynote Address by Kate Lloyd, Rebecca Bilous, and Neeru Mulhotra, Macquarie University: Rethinking the Expert: Co-creating Curriculum with Community Development Partners

2:30 – 3:00                  Q&A Chaired by Kearrin Sims


3:00 – 3:30                 Afternoon Tea                 


3:30 – 4:30                  Final Roundtable discussion: Identifying key themes

4:30 – 4:45                  Seminar Conclusion: Kearrin Sims, Lisa Law