What Counts as Development Research?

Negotiating Boundaries and Borders

ISBN: 978-0-7623-1283-2, eISBN: 978-1-84950-395-2

ISSN: 1042-3192

Publication date: 15 March 2007


This chapter explores what counts as research on development and argues for a challenge to conceptions which continue to define it geographically rather than systemically. It is argued that, despite an apparent openness and fluidity, qualitative research on development tends to be understood as referring to ‘field research’ in the South.1 This can constrain the boundaries of development research, what is understood to be development and also the critical capacity of qualitative approaches to development. Challenging the traditional definitions and boundaries of development research will open spaces for critical analysis and research, which can reshape development theory. It also allows for engagement with the widening set of practices, policies and social relations which have a bearing on development, but which have so far been largely excluded from qualitative research on development. However, for qualitative research to play a critical role in challenging these boundaries, we need to acknowledge the roles qualitative research on development already plays and has played, and the ways this is shaped by the contemporary and historical contexts, traditions and preoccupations of development research.


Humble, D. and Smith, M. (2007), "What Counts as Development Research?", Smith, M. (Ed.) Negotiating Boundaries and Borders (Studies in Qualitative Methodology, Vol. 8), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 13-34. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1042-3192(06)08002-5

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