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The Politics of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) - POL00108M

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  • Department: Politics
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Judith Krauss
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25

Module summary

This optional module dovetails with the two new core modules for the MA Global Development Politics and should be of interest to students on other MA programmes both within Politics and beyond (e.g. Education, Environment and Geography) given the omnipresence of the Sustainable Development Goals in public and private sector and civil society. Following the Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015), the 17 Sustainable Development Goals were to address key criticisms made of the earlier global governance framework: they were to address both industrialised and emerging countries, they were to encompass different aspects of environment, economy and society, and fundamentally, they were to 'transform our world'. However, they have been critiqued for abiding silo thinking, prioritising economy over environment, failing to prioritise justice and exacerbating colonial thinking, all of which raises questions about whether they are as transformative as they have been billed. This module will highlight the politics of the SDGs in terms of their genesis and current practice, dynamics of (colonial) knowledge production, interdependencies and trade-offs, as well as the politics of social, environmental and economic goals. The module will consider gender and decolonial thinking as cross-cutting issues to be addressed throughout the module.

The module will also give students some opportunity to have input on what specific social, economic and environmental goals they would like to focus in later stages of the module, which will be decided by student mentimeter vote in week 4. In seminars, it will in part employ a flipped-classroom methodology which will encourage some group work among student groups of 3-4 involving at least two different native languages, who will present their own work and ideas related to specific module themes. In addition to these presentations, and constructive feedback on them from tutors and peers, seminars will also give students an opportunity to receive input and feedback on their blog pieces and portfolios.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2024-25

Module aims

This optional module highlights the tensions inherent in the politics and practices of 'sustainable development' more generally and the Sustainable Development Goals more specifically. The aim is for it to run in the spring semester, offering a more concrete arena within which global development politics have played out and continue to play out: the SDGs. It will also speak in various ways to other MA programmes within the department and their core themes, ranging from human rights via gender to conflict, as well as to other MA programmes in Education or Environment.

The assessment has been chosen in response to Faculty and external examiner feedback promoting real-world assessments. Consequently, students will be assessed based on a portfolio of four 1,000-word academic blog pieces. Each blog will be standalone and speak to distinct themes of the module. This asks students to produce public-facing outputs intended for an informed, but non-specialist audience, that draws on academic and policy literature, and presents their thoughts in a clear, concise manner.

The blog format will build on their academic writing skills, but also encourage them to think about how to engage an audience. The blogs also constitute outputs which they can share or reference with future employers and stakeholders. Both the outputs and the skills that students learn from it reflect an understanding of education as part of a wider project of critical thinking and societal transformation building on Paulo Freire, and an inspiration from bell hooks regarding education building and manifesting hope. Students will have an opportunity in seminars to pitch their blog ideas and receive feedback from tutors as well as from fellow students, in addition to written feedback on formative 200-word blog plans for each of their four blogs.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students will know:

  • What are the Sustainable Development Goals;

  • What have been and are the politics surrounding the Sustainable Development Goals;

  • How do these politics resonate with wider global challenges and the possibilities of addressing them

  • How to communicate with non-academic, expert audiences on these themes.

Module content

The contents of the module will include:

  1. Intro to course

  2. Debating the SDGs: from the Millennium Development Goals to 'Transforming our World'

  3. Data in the SDGs: targets, indicators and justice

  4. Interdependencies and trade-offs in the SDGs (plus student vote on social goals, economic goals and environmental goals to be covered in weeks 7, 8, 9)

  5. (De)coloniality of the SDGs: universality, blindness and modernity-coloniality

  6. Knowledge production through the SDGs: direct, slow and epistemic violence

  7. Social goals: focus TBD by student vote

  8. Environmental goals: focus TBD by student vote

  9. Economic goals: focus TBD by student vote

  10. Beyond the SDGs? The post-2030 agenda

  11. Assessment preparation


Task Length % of module mark
Portfolio of four standalone, public facing academic blog pieces
N/A 100

Special assessment rules




Module feedback

Students will have an opportunity in seminars to pitch their blog ideas and receive feedback from tutors as well as from fellow students. The seminars and the Assessment preparation session in week 11 will involve the convenor sharing experiences on writing and editing academic blogs, instruction on how to write them and how they match up with academic skills, and constructive feedback from tutors and peers. Additional support from academic skills experts or the Library will be sought as needed.

Students will receive written timely written feedback on their formative assessment, which are 200-word plans for each of their four blog pieces (800 words total).

Students will then also receive written timely feedback on their summative assessments.

All feedback will speak to the assessment criteria developed for this module, which are specific to writing academic blogs.

Indicative reading

2016 Special Issue in 'International Environmental Agreements' on the Sustainable Development Goals; 2017 Special Issue in 'Globalizations' on the SDGs

Fletcher, R., Rammelt, C. (2017) Decoupling: A key fantasy of the post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda.

Kothari, A., Salleh, A., Escobar, A., Demaria, F., Acosta, A. (Eds., 2019), Pluriverse: a post-development dictionary. Tulika Books.

Krauss, J.E., Jiménez Cisneros, A., Requena-i-Mora, M. (2022) Mapping Sustainable Development Goals 8, 9, 12, 13 and 15 through a decolonial lens: falling short of ‘transforming our world’. Sustainability Science 17, 1855–1872.

Roy, I., Hickey, S. (Forthcoming) Global Development Politics. Routledge

Umbach, G., Tkalec, I. (Eds.; forthcoming) Data and the Sustainable Development Goals. Edward Elgar.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.