Ph.D. Curriculum

Learn more about the graduate courses available in the Development Studies (previously known as Development Sociology) Ph.D. program: 

Core Courses

These course recommendations exist for several reasons. First, in a rapidly changing and interdisciplinary field such as Development Studies, there still remains a need for graduate degree holders to have some common core of training. Second, students with this basic theoretical and methodological background are at a competitive advantage in the current job market, both academic and non-academic. Third, given that the Field sometimes admits graduate students without sociological theory and methodology training, such students will particularly benefit from taking this core before going on for a Ph.D. Equivalent core courses may be substituted from Cornell or elsewhere, with permission of your special committee chair. Graduate fields at Cornell, including Development Studies, have no mandatory course work requirements nor credit hours to be earned, and courses can be taken within any school or department at Cornell. However, the Field of Development Studies has a set of four core courses which are highly recommended to all students. They should be completed within the first year for all Ph.D. students.

The five Core Courses are:

  • GDEV 6030: Classical Sociological Theory (Next offered fall 2023)  
  • Sociological Theories of Development (Next offered Spring 2025)
  • GDEV 6150: Qualitative Research Methods (offered every Spring)
  • GDEV 6190: Quantitative Research Methods (offered every Fall)
  • GDEV 7970: Development Studies PhD Seminar (offered every Fall and Spring)

It is important that all students entering Development Studies take these courses in a similar sequence in order to maximize the cohort effect of learning similar subjects within a similar group of people. This may not always be possible, but is strongly encouraged by the Field.

Since course offerings vary from year to year, please contact the Director of Graduate Studies to help plan your schedule.

We feel that all graduate students should enter the program with or otherwise take at least one entry-level statistical method such as Statistics for the Social Sciences course offered through Cornell's Industrial and Labor Relations School (ILRST 5100) or Statistical Methods offered through Biometry (BTRY 6010) (other equivalents exist). The former is offered both Fall and Spring semesters; the latter in Fall and Summer. We are aware that this prescription, both in content and timing, is challenging, especially for students with little previous theory and methods in sociology. The advantage of this demanding first-year plan is that you will have considerable freedom in your second year to tackle your Master’s thesis and be well prepared from a course-standpoint to accomplish it. 


The graduate program in Development Studies is noted for its ability to provide training that is tailored to the research interests of each individual student while simultaneously ensuring a sound grounding in sociology. Graduate students, in conjunction with their Special Committee, craft a program of study that draws from all across the university. The core courses provide a sociological foundation from which to pursue this course of inquiry. Overall, the graduate program is organized into three concentrations:

Focuses on theoretical, methodological and applied aspects of population and development in both developing countries and the United States from a social demography perspective emphasis on links between population, food and environmental sustainability, fertility, and population movements. 

Core Members:

Emphasis on environmental equity and rural sustainability, social carrying capacity and the nexus between poverty and resource allocation, access and use, and devolution of power and responsibility. 

Core Members:

Affiliate Members:

  • Combines themes of political and economic sociology, within macro- and micro-comparative and historical approaches
  • Emphasizes general training in the social change and development area to enhance students' credentials for general sociology programs
  • Views development as less the analysis of the Third World, and more the analysis of global and local processes with broad variation.

Core Members: 

Affiliate Members:

Special Committee

The special committee consists of two or more faculty chosen to guide the student’s work in specific subject matter areas. Members assist in course selection, thesis and Ph.D. preparation, and examine the student in "A" and "B" exams. Members of special committees serve on a mutually agreed upon basis. Students may elect to change members of their special committee, and faculty may also resign from a special committee.

  • Must be a faculty member of the Field of Development Studies
  • Must represent one of the three major concentrations currently offered by the Field

Other members of a graduate student's special committee guide the student's training in minor subject areas.

  • Three committee members required
  • The third member must represent either a concentration from another field or a concentration in Development Studies other than that represented by the Chair. 

Within Development Studies, some graduate students are "internationally oriented" while others focus on the United States or Canada. Still others pursue a domestic/international orientation and select their courses and committee members accordingly.