Political Economy and Development

Inequalities in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

We investigate the political economy of development through a human geography lens. Our work explores political and economic interactions and the implications of these interactions on different societies. Central to this research is the dynamic and controversial relationship between development and globalisation.

Our world is becoming increasingly uneven and unjust. Despite large advances in absolute terms in poorer regions since the middle of the 20th century, the relative distribution of welfare between nation-states and individuals is more uneven than ever before. At the core of these trends are political-economic decisions and processes. Understanding these factors is essential to understanding the exclusionary and uneven processes of development which have ensued. Through this understanding, we are better able to address global disparities.

Political Economy

Our research highlights the strong connections between political-economic shifts and the growth of global inequalities. The group collects quantitate and qualitative data in the broad themes of aid and development, trade and markets, resource distribution and environmental policy, the movement of people and culture, and geographical indicators in product marketing. Particular focus is placed on political and socio-economic transformations in the Pacific, Latin America and Asia regions.


We assert that globalisation is actually increasing geographical differences and social and economic inequality.

Global discontent is being fuelled by the fact that most of the world’s population cannot access the networks of power and privilege that would allow them to prosper from the opportunities afforded by the processes of globalisation.

Development Studies at Victoria University of Wellington

Victoria University of Wellington’s Geography and Development Studies programmes have a long and proud history of research on the political economy and ecology of development.

Our founding professors Keith Buchanan, Ray Watters and Harvey Franklin are of international standing. A well-known international journal – Asia Pacific Viewpoint – has evolved from these endeavours and was ranked 11th in the world in Area Studies in the Social Science Citation Index. More recently, we have established the Victoria Institute for Links with Latin America.

Our group researches in a range of areas, both thematic and geographical, and members supervise a large number of postgraduate students. This research grows out of the tradition of grounded research that is theoretically informed. Our group is highly regarded with an average PBRF score of 7.0, which represents research of international standing.

Theoretical Approaches

The political economy approach stresses that the unequal spread of human development results from political and economic decisions and structures. From this viewpoint, our research seeks to analyse these political-economic decisions and their predominantly negative implications. Our research asserts that the processes of inequalities and global disparities are not inevitable, but rather, are the consequences of dominant market-led political structures.

The assertion that globalisation exacerbates uneven development has led us to analyse how globalisation and development are linked, and to gather empirical evidence based around coherent theoretical frameworks.

There are three broad views with respect to the relationship between development and globalisation:

  • Neoliberal - globalisation is a force for positive developmental change
  • Neostructural – the developmental impacts of globalisation depend on how it is regulated
  • Post-developmental - globalisation grows out of colonial relations of power and increases underdevelopment

We assemble data from grounded research in the Pacific islands, Pacific Asia, Latin America and Africa in order to explore these theoretical relationships.

Read more about our Research Projects.