Social Change and Development Short Essay Assignment | Homework Help Websites

1 Development: Theory and Reality

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Development, today, is increasingly about how we survive the future, rather than how we improve on the past. While ideas of human progress and material improvement still guide theory and policy making, how we manage “energy descent” and adapt to serious ecological deficits, climatic disruption, and social justice effects will define our existence. How will this change our understanding and practice of development?


A central issue is how effectively policy makers (in states and development agencies) recognize the need for wholesale public coordination of planning to minimize and adapt to inevitable climatic changes. Plenty of new ideas, practices, and policies are surfacing, but more as a cacophony rather than a strategic endeavor to reverse our ecological footprint (see Glossary/Index for bolded definitions). For example, while the Chinese government is strategic in promoting green technology, China—the major offshore assembly zone for global commodities—leads in global greenhouse gas emissions (one-third).1 Climate summits tend to confirm ambivalence of governments held hostage to domestic growth policies—whether these governments are from the global North or the global South. Across this historic divide, there is now a shared global crisis of unemployment and debt, compounding the challenges of development futures with rising inequalities.


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Not only are there increasingly evident biophysical limits to development as we know it, but development is now compromised by public austerity policies across the nation-state system, most recently evident in Greece. Such policies, introduced to the global South from the 1980s, now shape northern societies and their interrelations. All over, the development ideal of a social contract between governments and citizens is crumbling as hard-won social rights and public entitlements erode, generating despair, disillusionment, or disorder as citizens protest cutbacks. Arguably, “development” is not only in crisis but is also at a significant turning point in its short history as a master concept of (Western-oriented) social science and cultural life.


This book is a guide to the rise and transformation of “development” as a powerful instrument of global social change over the last two centuries. From one (long-term) angle, it appears increasingly cometlike: a brilliant lodestar for ordering the world, but perhaps destined to burn out as its energy-intensive foundations meet their limits. From another (immediate) angle, the energy and inequality dilemma forces renewed critical thinking about how humans might live sustainably and equitably on the planet. These perspectives are the subjects of chapters to come. Here, we are concerned with the source and maturation of development as a master concept—both its promises and its paradoxes.


Development: History and Politics

Development had its origins in the colonial era, as European domination came to be understood as superiority and leadership along a development axis. Global in its origins, the meaning of development nevertheless compared European accomplishments with societies increasingly disrupted by imperial ventures. While such accomplishments came with substantial environmental and social—and often violent—upheaval, they have been represented in theory as a set of idealized outcomes to be emulated by other countries. Accordingly, development’s ends justify its means, however socially and ecologically disruptive the process may be.


Here, Michael Cowan and Robert Shenton’s distinction between development as an unfolding universal social process and development as a political intervention is useful. In the nineteenth century, development was understood philosophically as improving humankind (in the form of knowledge building, technological change, and wealth accumulation). In relation to this, European political elites interpreted development practically, as a way to socially engineer emerging national societies. Elites formulated government policy to manage the social transformations attending the rise of capitalism and industrial technologies, so development was identified with both industrialization and the regulation of its disruptive social impacts. These impacts began with the displacement of rural populations by land enclosures for cash cropping, a process that generated “undesirables,” such as menacing paupers, restless proletarians, and unhealthy factory towns.2 Development, then, meant balancing technological change and the rise of new social classes, fashioning policies to manage wholesale social transformations. At the same time, such transformations became the catalyst of competing political visions—liberal, socialist, conservative—of the ideal society.


In Europe’s colonies, the inhabitants appeared undeveloped—by self-referential (evolutionary) European standards. This ideological understanding of development legitimized imperial intervention, whether to plunder or civilize. Either way, the social engineering impulse framed European imperialism. Not only did massive colonial resource extraction facilitate European industrialization, but European colonial administrators also managed subject populations experiencing their own wrenching social transformations. Thus, development assumed an additional, normative meaning, namely, the “white man’s burden”—the title of a poem by nineteenth-century English poet Rudyard Kipling—imparting honor to an apparently noble task. The implied racism remains a part of the normative understanding (and global consequence) of development.


Thus, development extended modern social engineering to colonies incorporated into the European orbit. Subject populations were exposed to a variety of new disciplines, including forced labor schemes, schooling, and segregation in native quarters. Forms of colonial subordination differed across time and space, but the overriding object was either to adapt or marginalize colonial subjects to the European presence. In this sense, development involved a relation of power. For example, British colonialism introduced the new English factory-model “Lancaster school” to the (ancient) city of Cairo in 1843 to educate Cairo’s emerging civil service. Egyptian students learned the new disciplines of a developing society that was busily displacing peasant culture with plantations of cotton for export to English textile mills and managing an army of migrant labor, which was building an infrastructure of roads, canals, railways, telegraphs, and ports.3 Through the colonial relation, industrialism transformed both English and Egyptian society, producing new forms of social discipline among working-and middle-class citizen-subjects. And while industrialism produced new class inequalities within each society, colonialism racialized international inequality. In this way, development introduced new class and racial hierarchies within and across societies.


While development informed modern narratives in the age of industrialism and empire, it only became formalized as a project in the mid-twentieth century. This period was the high tide of decolonization, as the Western (British, Italian, German, French, Dutch, Portuguese, and Belgian) and Japanese empires succumbed to the moral force of anticolonial resistance and when a standardizing concept—development as an emancipatory promise—became the new global ontology (a way of seeing/ordering the world).


In 1945, the United Nations, with the intent of expanding membership as colonies gained independence as sovereign states, institutionalized the System of National Accounts. A universal quantifiable measure of development, the gross national product (GNP), was born. At this point, the colonial rule of subjects under the guise of civilizing inferior races morphed into the development project, based on the ideal of self-governing states composed of citizens united by the ideology of nationalism. And by the twenty-first century, the global development project focused on market governance of and by self-maximizing consumers. Given this trajectory, development is conventionally understood as economic growth and rising consumption.


Development Theory

Identifying development with rising consumption privileges the market as the vehicle of social change. The underlying philosophy—deriving from a popular (but limiting) interpretation of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations4 and formalized in neoclassical economic theory—is that markets maximize individual preferences and allocate resources efficiently. Whether this theory reflects reality or not, it is a deeply held belief now institutionalized in much development policy across the world. Why is this the case?


Naturalizing Development

There are two ways to answer this question. First, a belief in markets is a central tenet of liberal Western philosophy. Hungarian philosopher Karl Polanyi noted that modern liberalism rests on a belief in a natural human propensity for self-gain, which translates in economic theory as the market principle—realized as consumer preference.5 Self-gain, expressed through the market, drives the aspiration for improvement, aggregated as consumption. Second, as Polanyi noted, to naturalize market behavior as an innate propensity discounts other human traits or values—such as cooperation, redistribution, and reciprocity, which are different organizing principles by which human societies have endured for centuries. For Polanyi and other classical social theorists, pursuit of individualism via an economic calculus is quite novel in the history and makeup of human societies and quite specific to modernity, rather than being inherent in human social life.


While cooperative values are clearly evident today in human interactions, the aspiration for improvement, normalized now as a private motivation, informs development. That is, well-being and self-improvement center on access to goods and services through the marketplace. Dating from the mid-twentieth century, in an era of powerful anticolonial, labor, and citizenship movements, formulations of development paired private consumption with public provisions—infrastructure, education, health, water supply, commons, clean air, and so forth. The mid-twentieth century was the heyday of the welfare, or development, state. But from the last quarter of the twentieth century, provisioning has increasingly been subjected to privatization, as the market, rather than the state, becomes the medium through which society develops.


This outcome was prefigured in one of the most influential theories of development emerging in the post–World War II world. In 1960, economist Walt Rostow published The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto,6 outlining a development theory that celebrates the Western model of free enterprise—in contrast to a state-planned economy. The “stages” traverse a linear sequence, beginning with “Traditional Society” (agrarian, limited productivity) and moving through “Preconditions for Take-Off” (state formation, education, science, banking, profit-systematization), “Take-Off” (normalization of growth, with investment rates promoting the expanded reproduction of industry), and “Maturity” (the second industrial revolution that moved from textiles and iron to machine-tools, chemicals, and electrical equipment)—and finally to the “Age of High Mass-Consumption,” characterized by the movement from basic to durable goods, urbanization, and a rising level of white-collar versus blue-collar work.


This evolutionary sequence, distilled from the US experience, represents the consumer society as the terminal stage of a complex historical process. Rostow viewed the US model as the goal to which other (i.e., developing) societies should aspire, which partly explains his book’s subtitle—expressing the Cold War rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union at the time. The theorization of development as a series of evolutionary stages naturalizes the process, whether it occurs on a national (development era) or an international (globalization era) stage. Mass consumption was a final goal to be realized through membership of the “free world” at the time, and by implication, US assistance would be available to spur the Third World of postcolonial, developing nations into progress along the stages.


However, note that Rostow’s “development blueprint” depended on a political context. That is, markets required creating, securing, and protecting (by a development state). They could not be natural. And development was neither spontaneous nor inevitable; rather, it was shaped by social struggle, and it required an institutional complex on a world scale (a development project) to nurture it along, complete with trade, monetary, and investment rules, aid regimes, and a military umbrella—all of which were supplied through postwar, multilateral institutions and bilateral arrangements led by the United States. In this way, a theory of spontaneous markets diverges from reality. But reality was nonetheless shaped by this theory—informing public discourse and translated into policy implementation via an increasing market calculus. This is a central paradox explored in this book.


Global Context

Reality is more complicated than it first appears. For example, Rostow’s prescriptions artificially separated societies from one another. This may have expressed the idealism of mid-twentieth-century nationalism. But to assign stages of growth to societies without accounting for their unequal access to offshore resources discounted a fundamental historic relationship between world regions shaped by colonial and investment patterns. Not only did European powers once depend on their colonies for resources and markets, but these patterns continued in the postcolonial era. Because of continuing First World dependence on raw materials from the Third World, some societies were more equal than others in their capacity to traverse Rostow’s stages, in part because resource extraction was one way, as we shall see in Chapter 4.


It was this reality that stimulated dependency analysis and world-system analysis. The concept of “dependency” (referring to unequal economic relations between metropolitan societies and non-European peripheries) emerged in the mid-twentieth century from several quarters—an empirical observation by economist Hans Singer that “peripheral” countries were exporting more and more natural resources to pay for increasingly expensive manufactured imports; an argument by Singer’s collaborator, Argentinean economist Raúl Prebisch, that Latin American states should therefore industrialize behind protective tariffs on manufactured imports; and earlier Marxist theories of exploitative imperialist relations between the European and the non-European world.7 Dependency was, then, a relationship accounting for the development of Europe at the expense of the underdevelopment of the non-European world. Economist Andre Gunder Frank put it this way:


[H]istorical research demonstrates that contemporary underdevelopment is in large part the historical product of past and continuing economic and other relations between the satellite underdeveloped and the now-developed metropolitan countrie…. When we examine this metropolis-satellite structure, we find that each of the satellites … serves as an instrument to suck capital or economic surplus out of its own satellites and to channel part of this surplus to the world metropolis of which all are satellites.8


World-system analysis, advanced by sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein, deepened the concept of dependency by elevating the scope of the modern social system to a global scale. States became political units competing for—or surrendering—resources within a world division of labor. Here, regional labor forces occupy a skill/technological hierarchy associated with state strength or weakness in the capitalist world economy.9 From this perspective, the “core” concentrates capital-intensive or intellectual production and the “periphery” is associated with lower-skilled, labor-intensive production, whether plantation labor, assembly of manufactured goods, or routine service work (e.g., call centers). As we shall see, this kind of geographical hierarchy is increasingly complicated by what journalist Thomas Friedman calls “flat world” processes, exemplified, for him, by India’s embrace of information technology.10


While dependency broadens the analysis of development processes to world-scale relationships, challenging the assumption that societies are aligned along a self-evident spectrum of growth stages, it implies a “development-centrism”—where (idealized Western) development is the term of reference. In this regard, Wallerstein has argued that given the power hierarchy of the world system, (idealized Western) development represents a “lodestar,” or master concept, of modern social theory.11 As such, the privileging of Western-style development denied many other collective/social strategies of sustainability or improvement practiced by non-Western cultures. Nevertheless, while measuring all societies against a conception of (industrial) development may have seemed the appropriate goal for modernization and dependency theory at mid-century, from the vantage point of the twenty-first century it is quite problematic. The growing recognition that the planet cannot sustain the current Western-emulating urban-industrial trends in China and India is one dramatic expression of this new reality.


Agrarian Questions

Urbanization is a defining outcome of development and the “stages of growth” metaphor, where “tradition” yields to “modernity” as industrialization deepens and nurtures it. Political scientist Samuel Huntington, writing about the process of modernization in Political Order and Changing Societies (1968), claimed, “Agriculture declines in importance compared to commercial, industrial, and other nonagricultural activities, and commercial agriculture replaces subsistence agriculture.”12 While this theoretical sequence is clearly in evidence and has informed policies discounting small-scale farming, there is a further question regarding whether and to what extent this is natural, or inevitable. And this in turn raises questions about the model of separate national development. In fact, the demise of millions of small producers has foreign, or international, origins—in the form of colonialism, foreign aid, and unequal market relations—expressing the global power relations identified by dependency and world-system analysts. How we perceive these changes is the ultimate question: We know, for instance, that agricultural productivity ratios across high- and low-input farming systems have risen from 10:1 before 1940 to 2,000:1 in the twenty-first century,13 putting small producers (primarily in the global South) at a competitive disadvantage in the global market. Even as social changes occur within nations, does that mean the change is “internally” driven? Thus, if subsistence agriculture declines or disappears, is this because it does not belong on a society’s “development ladder”?14 Or is it because of an exposure of smallholders to forces beyond their control, such as unequal world market competition by agribusiness?


Small farming cultures are represented as development “baselines”—in theory and in practice, given modern technology’s drive to replace labor and control production (with commercial inputs such as seed, fertilizer, and pesticides along with farm machinery). Unrecognized is the superior capacity or potential in surviving agrarian cultures for managing and sustaining their ecosystems compared to industrial agriculture, which attempts to override natural limits with chemicals and other technologies that deplete soil fertility, hydrological cycles, and biodiversity.15 The current “global land grab” depends on representing land in the global South as “underutilized” and better employed by conversion to commercial agricultural estates producing foods and biofuels largely for export.16 Such activities raise a fundamental question as to whether and to what extent development—as modeled—is inevitable or intentional, and national or international.


Ecological Questions

This example of conversion of farming into an industrial activity underscores a significant ecological blindspot in development theory. Where the passage from small farming to large-scale (commercial) agriculture is represented as improvement, or development, it is an insufficient measure if it does not take into account the “externals.” These are the significant social and environmental impacts, such as disruption of agrarian cultures and ecosystems, the deepening of dependency on fossil fuel, and modern agriculture’s responsibility for up to a third of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). Such consequences challenge the wisdom of replacing a long-standing knowledge-intensive culture/ecology (farming) with an increasingly unsustainable industrialized economic sector (agriculture).


One key example of this ecological blindspot is its reproduction in the Human Development Index (HDI), constructed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 1990. The HDI overcame the singular emphasis on economic growth as development, but carried forward the absence of the ecological dimension:


The concept of human development focuses on the ends rather than the means of development and progress. The real objective of development should be to create an enabling environment for people to enjoy long, healthy and creative lives. Though this may appear to be a simple truth, it is often overlooked as more immediate concerns are given precedence.17


While the HDI is known for its more robust measurement of (human) development, its data sources have lacked environmental content. This is particularly so, given that humanity has now overshot the earth’s biocapacity (see Figure 1.1). Focusing on the outcomes of development discounts how we live on the earth—that is, measuring what practices are sustainable or not. It was only in 2011 that the UNDP began to embrace an ecological sensibility. Thus, the Human Development Report (2011) is “about the adverse repercussions of environment degradation for people, how the poor and disadvantaged are worst affected, and how greater equity needs to be part of the solution.”18


Figure 1.1 Humanity’s Ecological Footprint


Figure 1.1 Humanity’s Ecological Footprint

Source: Global Footprint Network, 2010 National Footprint Accounts.


Given the UNDP’s reputation for questioning conventional wisdom, this new focus complements the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, which noted that the last half century of human action has had the most intensive and extensive negative impact on world ecosystems ever, and yet this has been accompanied by continuing global gains in human well-being.19 Known as the “environmentalist’s paradox” (since we might expect ecosystem degradation to negatively affect human well-being), researchers have noted that average measures of well-being may reduce the validity of this claim, but perhaps more significantly, “technology has decoupled well-being from nature” and time lags will only tell.20 In other words, mastery of nature may be effective in the short-term in generating rising consumption patterns, but also in masking the long-term health implications of ecosystem stress. What such research suggests is that development needs a robust sustainability dimension—as suggested at the end of this book in the section on sustainable development approaches.


Development Paradoxes

The environmentalist’s paradox, when inverted, is, in fact, a “development paradox.” Former World Bank economist Herman Daly formulated this as an “impossibility theorem”—namely, that the universalization of US-style high mass-consumption economy would require several planet Earths. Either way, the ultimate paradox here is that the environment is not equipped to absorb its unrelenting exploitation by the current growth model of endless accumulation. In other words, development as we know it is undermining itself.


Three of the nine designated planetary operational boundaries have been crossed already—climate change, biodiversity, and the nitrogen cycle—while others such as fresh water use and oceanic acidification are at serious tipping points. Meanwhile, the costs of environmental degradation are borne disproportionately by the poor—the very same people targeted by the development industry. This is a key development paradox. Related to these formulations is the notion (advanced by the World Bank in 1992) that economic growth is a condition for sustainable development, which the UK Stern Review of 2006 termed a paradox since the cost of climate change adaptation would be far greater if we wait for higher future levels of wealth to address the problem.


Some subsidiary paradoxes include such questions as these: Are low-carbon cultures that live with rather than seek to master nature backward? Are non-Western cultures judged poor in what makes Western cultures rich? Is frugality poverty? Why is malnutrition common to Western and non-Western cultures (see Figure 1.2)? Are non-Western cultures rich in what Western cultures are now poor (nonmonetized items such as open space, leisure, solidarity, ecological knowledge)? Should we measure living standards only in monetary terms?

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Figure 1.2 Percentage of Population That Is Malnourished and Overweight


Figure 1.2 Percentage of Population That Is Malnourished and Overweight

Source: Adapted from New Internationalist 353 (2003): 20.


Sources: Foster (2011); Stern (2006); Daly (1990).


Social Change

As we have seen, development theory provides a blueprint, and justification, for universalizing a European-centered process. European industrialization depended on displacing non-European industry and capturing non-European resources (labor, minerals, raw materials, and foodstuffs). Such colonial intervention was justified as a civilizing mission—asked what he thought of British civilization, the leader of India’s independence movement, Mahatma Gandhi, reputedly replied, “It would be a good idea.” Of course, colonial subjects resisted—for example, the successful late-eighteenth-century slave uprising in the French colony of Saint Domingue (forming the Haitian free state), but also the unsuccessful Amritsar rebellion, put down savagely by British forces in India in 1919. Such uprisings marked a long-term politics of decolonization, with colonial subjects gaining moral and material power as countermovements to European empires, which in turn became increasingly costly to maintain. Resistance to colonial relations—including substantial peasant mobilizations from China to Mexico to Kenya—was matched with labor uprisings and political organization during the late-colonial era. The British faced widespread labor strikes in their West Indian and African colonies in the 1930s, and this pattern continued over the next two decades in Africa as British and French colonial subjects protested conditions in cities, ports, mines, and on the railways.21


In other words, large-scale social changes accompanying industrial development involve definitive power struggles. Colonial rule generated a politics of decolonization, including class conflict, identity/cultural claims, and the desire for equality of treatment, including sovereignty. The colonial project was certainly anchored in class relations, as empires subordinated colonial labor forces and resources to service imperial needs. But this economic relation was accompanied by fundamental racial politics that both justified subjugation and fueled resistances in the name of human rights across the colonial world. These struggles ushered in a postcolonial era, which informed a mid-twentieth-century global development project, embedded in a system of sovereign nation-states forming the United Nations organization in 1945.


The divisive racial legacy of colonialism certainly did not disappear, but a very diverse world was bound together now by a universal principle: an international governmental structure enshrining the meaning and measurement of development as a national standard. This was institutionalized in the UN System of National Accounts, by which monetized economic activity was recorded as gross national product (GNP). Outside of the Communist bloc (also known as the Second World), as national economic growth and income levels became the measure of development, so First- and Third-World societies came to be governed by the market (and its metrics), with varying degrees of public regulation.


The “market society” was the product of modern capitalism and commodification of the material world, expressed in monetary exchanges. As Karl Marx pointed out, even human labor power came to be commodified, as villagers lost their means of livelihood and were forced to work for monetary wages.22 Karl Polanyi extended this observation to land and currency, noting that with the rise of nineteenth-century market society each of these substances came to be traded for a price. He argued that neither labor, land, nor money were produced for sale, and so were really “fictitious commodities.” When these substances are treated as commodities, workers, farmers, and businesses are exposed to exploitative or uncertain conditions. That is, their labor, farming, or entrepreneurship experience competitive relations beyond their control by a market with seemingly independent authority. Accordingly, social countermovements would inevitably arise and advocate for protection from unregulated markets (a “double movement”). The resulting effect would be to re-embed markets within social/public controls. In Polanyi’s account, this explains the origins of the twentieth-century welfare state, which became a model for the development state. It arose out of a European-wide social mobilization to protect the rights of workers, farmers, and businesses from the ill effects of unrestrained markets.23


The Projects as Historical Framework

Within the terms of this broad social-change theory, then, the postcolonial world order emerged from the combined force of decolonization politics and public initiatives to regulate capitalist markets (as distinct from the Communist model of a state-planned economy). Development as an ideal and as a policy carried forward the social welfare dimension, reinforced by the UN Declaration of Universal Human Rights (1948), by which governments were enjoined to protect civil rights through a social contract between state and citizen. This idealistic contract defined the era of the development project (1940s–1980), rooted in public regulation of markets as servants of states. The following era of the globalization project (1980s through the present) saw markets regain ascendancy—with states as servants—and the incorporation of the “good market, bad state” mantra into public discourse. The tension between these poles continues in what may become a sustainability project as the world transitions to a new project governed by environmental stress and climate uncertainty.


Here, we frame the story of development around the three projects: colonial, development, and globalization. This framework stresses that the meaning and practice of development changes with changing political-economic (and environmental) conditions. The transition from the development to the globalization project stemmed from a political reversal “from above” by increasingly powerful business and financial interests and their allies to reduce or eliminate public regulation of corporations and their ability to operate across national borders. Deregulation of markets has been the ultimate goal, legitimized by neoliberal economic theory. And subsequent controversies over the impact of globalization at the turn of the twenty-first century have been generated by social mobilization “from below,” driven by economic destabilization and intensification of social inequalities as markets have been disembedded from social controls.24


These protests, dramatized in 2011 by the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement among others, draw attention to the development paradox, where poverty accompanies economic growth. This is evidenced in an Oxfam report that 2016 marked the threshold of the top 1 percent of the world’s population owning more than 50 percent of global wealth, 25 as well as continuing a food crisis that renders almost a billion people chronically hungry.26


The current market malaise and combination of crises—food, energy, climate, social—suggests the world may transition toward another project, which I would term the sustainability project. The dynamic that links these projects, and accounts for their succession, can be thought of as a series of Polanyian “double movements”: politicization of market rule (for or against) via social mobilization. The colonial project, accompanying the rise of capitalist markets, yielded to the development project, as social and decolonization countermovements challenged the ascendancy of the market in their respective territories. Then the development project yielded to a globalization project installed by a global power-elite to restore market sway and reduce the power of states and citizens to the status of servants and consumers respectively.


Currently, the crisis of the globalization project (addressed in Chapter 8) is stimulating a wide range of sustainability initiatives at all scales, geared to containing or reducing environmental degradation and climate warming. How these may coalesce into some kind of world ordering is not yet clear. Whether we will see or make a more authoritarian world order built on energy and climate security claims or some decentralized, ecologically based social organization are some of the possibilities that are informing debate (see Chapter 9). In the meantime, we can situate our condition via some “development coordinates.”


The Development Experience

Development is not an activity that other societies do to catch up to the “developed societies.” That nomenclature is unfortunate, since it suggests a condition enjoyed by citizens of the global North that is the goal and envy of the rest of the world. Indeed, some argue that the West is busy “undeveloping,” as jobs relocate to growth areas such as China and India, as northern public infrastructure decays, as social services such as education and health care dwindle, and as ecosystems degrade. From this perspective, development does not look like a linear process, nor is there a model outcome since it is an uneven global dynamic.


From a global perspective, development redistributes jobs to lower-wage regions. While transnational firms thereby enhance profitability, northern consumers (at least those with incomes) enjoy access to low-cost products that are produced offshore. In this sense, development has been identified—for its beneficiaries—as consumption. This, of course, corresponds with Rostow’s final growth stage, but not as a national characteristic—rather as a global relationship. Much of what we consume today has global origins. Even when a product has a domestic “Made in …” label, its journey to market probably combines components and labor from production and assembly sites located around the world. Sneakers, or parts thereof, might be produced in China or Indonesia, blue jeans assembled in the Philippines, a cell phone or portable media player put together in Singapore, and a watch made in Hong Kong. The British savor organic vegetables from western China, the Chinese eat pork fed with South American soy, and North Americans consume fast foods that may include chicken diced in Mexico or hamburger beef from cattle raised in Costa Rica. And, depending on taste, our coffee is from Southeast Asia, the Americas, or Africa. We readers may not be global citizens yet, but we are certainly global consumers.


But global consumers are still a minority. While over three-quarters of the world’s population can access television images of the global consumer, only half of that audience has access to sufficient cash or credit to consume. Television commercials depict people everywhere consuming global commodities, but this is just an image. We know that much of the world’s population does not have Internet access (despite increasingly ubiquitous mobile phones), and we know that a relative minority of the world’s population consumes a vast majority of global goods and services.27 Distribution of, and access to, the world’s material wealth is extraordinarily uneven. Almost half of the ex-colonial world dwells now in slums. Over three billion people cannot, or do not, consume in the Western style. Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano makes this observation:


Advertising enjoins everyone to consume, while the economy prohibits the vast majority of humanity from doing so…. This world, which puts on a banquet for all, then slams the door in the noses of so many, is simultaneously equalizing and unequal: equalizing in the ideas and habits it imposes and unequal in the opportunities it offers.28


And yet it is important also to note that while readers may be accustomed to a commercial culture and view it as the development “standard,” other cultures and peoples are noncommercial, not comfortable with commercial definition, or are simply marginal (by choice or circumstance) to commercial life. Contrary to media images, global consumerism is neither accessible to—nor possible for—a majority of humans, nor is it necessarily a universal aspiration, whether by cultural choice for some peoples, or simply for others needing to make ends meet on a day-to-day basis.


Nevertheless, the global marketplace binds consumers, producers, and even those marginalized by resource consumption. Consumers everywhere are surrounded, and often identified by, world products. One of the most ubiquitous, and yet invisible, world products is coltan, a metallic ore used in consumer electronics, such as computers and cell phones, in addition to nuclear reactors. It comes predominantly from the Congo, where militarized conflict over this valuable resource has caused nearly four million deaths, and mining has negative environmental consequences for forests and wildlife. Such ethical issues, similar to those associated with “blood diamonds,” have driven some electronics corporations to mine coltan elsewhere in Africa.29


The global economy is a matrix of networks of commodity exchanges. In any one network, there is a sequence of production stages, located in a number of countries at sites that provide inputs of labor and materials contributing to the fabrication of a final product (see Figure 1.3). These networks are called commodity chains. The chain metaphor illuminates the interconnections among producing communities dispersed across the world. And it allows us to understand that, when we consume a product, we often participate in a global process that links us to a variety of places, people, and resources. While we may experience consumption individually, it is a fundamentally social—and environmental—act.


Figure 1.3 A Commodity Chain for Athletic Shoes


Figure 1.3 A Commodity Chain for Athletic Shoes

Source: Adapted from Bill Ryan and Alan During, “The Story of a Shoe,” World Watch, March/April 1998.


Commodity chains enable firms to switch production sites for flexible management of their operations (and costs). Any shopper at The Gap, for example, knows that this clothing retailer competes by changing its styles on a short-term cycle. Such flexibility requires access through subcontractors to labor forces, increasingly feminized, which can be intensified or let go as orders and fashion changes. Workers for these subcontractors often have little security—or rights—as they are one of the small links in this global commodity chain stretching across an often-unregulated global workplace.


The world was shocked in 2010 when 18 Chinese migrant workers between 17 and 25 years old attempted suicide at Foxconn factories in three Chinese provinces. Foxconn recorded profits that year in excess of some of its corporate customers, such as Microsoft, Dell, and Nokia. Foxconn—responsible for producing the iPhone4, the iPod, and the iPad2—captures 50 percent of the world electronics market share in manufacturing and service.30


Not everything we consume has such global origins, but the trend toward these worldwide supply networks is powerful. Our food, clothing, and shelter, in addition to other consumer comforts, have increasingly long supply chains. Take food, for example. Britain was the first nation to deliberately “outsource” a significant part of its food supply to its empire in the 1840s. In spite of the fact that the British climate is ideal for fruit production, 80 percent of pears and almost 70 percent of apples consumed by Britons now come from Chile, Australia, the United States, South Africa, and throughout the European Union.31 The Dutch concept of “ghost acres” refers to additional land offshore used to supply a national diet. Britons are estimated to use about 4.1 million hectares of ghost acres to grow mainly animal feed.32 Ghost acres include “food miles,” prompting the remark, “This form of global sourcing … is not only energy-inefficient, but it is also doubtful whether it improves global ‘equity,’ and helps local farmers to meet the goals of sustainable development.”33 In other words, much commercial agriculture today is dedicated to supplying the global consumer rather than improving production for domestic consumers. It is extroverted, rather than introverted as in the Rostow schema.


Half of all [Guatemala’s] children under five are malnourished—one of the highest rates of malnutrition in the world. Yet the country has food in abundance. It is the fifth largest exporter of sugar, coffee, and bananas. Its rural areas are witnessing a palm oil rush as international traders seek to cash in on demand for biofuels created by US and EU mandates and subsidies. But despite being a leading agro-exporter, half of Guatemala’s 14 million people live in extreme poverty, on less than $2 a day.34


Globalization deepens the paradox of development by virtue of its sheer scale. Integrating the lives of consumers and producers across the world does not necessarily mean sharing the benefits of development globally. The distance between consumers and producers and their environments means it is virtually impossible for consumers to recognize the impact of their consumption on people and environments elsewhere. At the other end, producers experience the social distance in the difficulty in voicing concerns about working conditions or the health of their habitats. Bridging this distance has become the focus of initiatives such as fair trade, or brand boycotts organized by activist movements or nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), to enhance transparency with information to support more responsible consumption (paradoxically perpetuating dependency on tropical exports versus local food system development).


Case Study Waste and the Commodity Chain

The disconnect between development theory and the environment is dramatized by the problem of waste, concealed in plain sight. The fact that consumption simultaneously produces waste is neither something consumers want to acknowledge, nor does it feature in measures of economic growth. And yet waste in general, and electronic waste (e-waste) in particular, are huge and problematic by-products of our lifestyle. The household electronics sector is now the fastest growing segment of municipal waste streams, as computing and communication technologies rapidly evolve. The UN estimates the annual global generation of waste from electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) runs at a rate of between 20 million and 50 million tons. In 2009, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) reported that e-waste could increase by 500 percent over the next decade in rising middle-income countries. The toxicity of this waste is extraordinary: From 1994 to 2003, for example, disposal of personal computers released 718,000 tons of lead, 287 tons of mercury, and 1,363 tons of cadmium into landfills worldwide.


Cellular, or mobile, phones (1.2 billion sold globally in 2007) leach more than 17 times the US federal threshold for hazardous waste. And yet the noxious ingredients (including silver, copper, platinum, and gold) are valued on second-hand markets, just as discarded e-waste may be recycled for reuse in poorer markets—sometimes by businesses such as Collective Good, which donates a portion of the profits to the Red Cross or the Humane Society. Refurbishing phones occurs from Ghana to India, where labor costs are lower and environmental regulations are less. About 70 percent of the world’s discarded e-waste finds its way through informal networks to China, where it is scavenged for usable parts—often by children with no protection—and abandoned to pollute soil and groundwater with toxic metals. Africa is one of the largest markets for discarded phones, while China sells between 200 million and 300 million phones annually to dealers in India, Mongolia, Vietnam, and Thailand, from where they may pass on to buyers in Laos, Cambodia, Bangladesh, and Myanmar. Just as water seeks its own level, unregulated markets enable toxic waste to leach into the global South. While there are regulations regarding hazardous waste, the 170-nation agreement called the Basel Convention is ambiguous on the question of restricting the movement of e-waste from North to South.


Why is the current fixation on the virtual, or “dematerialized,” information economy unable to recognize the dependence on offshore manufacturing and disposal of waste—both of which pose social and environmental hazards?


Sources: Schwarzer et al. (2005); Widmer et al. (2005); Mooallem (2008); Leslie (2008); Salehabadi (2011).


Case Study Consuming the Amazon

In a report, Eating Up the Amazon, Greenpeace noted, “Europe buys half the soya exported from the Amazon state of Matto Grosso, where 90% of rainforest soya is grown. Meat reared on rainforest soya finds its way on to supermarket shelves and fast food counters across Europe.” As the Greenpeace website claimed, “Nuggets of Amazon forest were being served up on a platter at McDonald’s restaurants throughout Europe.” Following this dramatic report, McDonald’s slapped a moratorium on purchasing soya grown in newly deforested regions of the rainforest and entered into an alliance with Greenpeace, and other food retailers, to develop a zero deforestation plan, involving the government in monitoring the integrity of the forest and of its inhabitants, some of whom had been enslaved and subjected to violence. The global soy traders—Cargill, ADM, Bunge, Dreyfus, and Maggi—made a two-year commitment to the alliance.


What is all this about? Like many NGOs, Greenpeace made the unseen relations embodied in chicken nuggets explicit. Documenting the ways in which the Brazilian soy boom—with all its social and environmental consequences—is a product of the fast-food diet, Greenpeace brought to light what is routinely made invisible by the impersonal marketplace. By tracing the soy chain—with the aid of satellite images, aerial surveillance, classified government documents, and on-ground observation—Greenpeace reconstructed the geography of the soy trade, bringing the ethical dimensions of their diet to consumers’ notice. While traders can escape the notice of the consuming public, retailers have become “brand sensitive” in an era in which information technology has created a new public space, and consumers have the ability to choose not to consume products that come with baggage.


What is the value of fast food compared with the value of preserving one of the richest and most biologically diverse rainforests on the planet—especially given that the scientific journal Nature recently warned that 40 percent of the Amazon rainforest will disappear by 2050 if current trends continue? And what is it about the market that conceals the consequences of our consumer choices?


Source: Greenpeace, Eating Up the Amazon, 2006. Available at



Development, conventionally associated with economic growth, is a recent phenomenon. With the rise of capitalism, European rulers pursued economic growth to finance their needs for military protection and political legitimacy. But “development,” as such, was not yet a universal strategy. It became so only in the mid-twentieth century, as newly independent governments embraced development as an antidote to colonialism, with varying success.


The mid-twentieth-century development project (1940s–1970s) was an internationally orchestrated program of nationally sited economic growth across the Cold War divide, involving financial, technological, and military assistance from the United States and the Soviet Union. In United Nations terms, development was a timely ideal, as formerly colonized subjects gained political independence, and all governments were enjoined to implement a human rights-based social contract with their citizens, even as this ideal was unevenly practiced. This book traces the implementation of this project, noting its partial successes and ultimate failure, in its own terms, to equalize conditions across the world, and the foreshadowing of its successor, the globalization project, in laying the foundations of a global market that progressively overshadowed the states charged with development in the initial post–World War II era.


The globalization project (1970s–2000s) superimposed open markets across national boundaries, liberalizing trade and investment rules and privatizing public goods and services. Corporate rights gained priority over the social contract and redefined development as a private undertaking. The neoliberal doctrine (“market freedoms”) underlying the globalization project has been met with growing contention, symbolized by the antineoliberal social revolt in Latin America over the last decade, recent Middle East and southern European rebellions against authoritarianism and austerity, and the growing weight and assertiveness of the more state-regulated economies of China (and India) in the world political economy. Polanyi’s double movement is alive and well.


Whether the global market will remain dominant is still to be determined. In the meantime, an incipient sustainability project, heavily influenced by the climate change emergency, may be forming, with China leading the green technology race and a myriad of environmental and justice movements across the world, pushing states, business leaders, and citizens toward a new formulation of development as “managing the future” sustainably (in contrast to “improving on the past,” as in modernization).


Finally, development, as we know it, is not the same across time, nor is it the same across space. It is uneven within and among societies. It has been, and will continue to be, contentious. This book seeks to make sense of this by emphasizing development paradoxes and providing students with a “birds-eye” (global) perspective on development controversies not easily seen from the ground.


Instituting the Development Project

As we have seen in Chapter 1, “development” emerged as a comparative construct, in context of European colonization of the non-European world. Not only did the extraction of colonial resources facilitate European industrialization, but this process also required colonial administrators to manage subject populations adjusting to the extractive economy and monocultures, administering colonial rule for their masters, and experiencing physical as well as psychic displacement. Here, development assumed an additional meaning: the proverbial “white man’s burden,” underscoring its racial dimension.


Non-European cultures were irrevocably changed through colonialism, and the postcolonial context was founded on inequality. When newly independent states emerged, political leaders had to negotiate an unequal international framework not of their making, but through which their governments acquired political legitimacy. How that framework emerged is the subject of this chapter. But first we must address the historical context of colonialism.



Our appeal to history begins with a powerful simplification. It concerns the social psychology of European colonialism, built largely around stereotypes that have shaped perceptions and conflict for at least five centuries. (Colonialism is defined and explained in the “What Is Colonialism?” box, and the European colonial empires are depicted in Figure 2.1.) One such perception was the idea among Europeans that non-European native people or colonial subjects were “backward” and trapped in stifling cultural traditions. The experience of colonial rule encouraged this image, as the juxtaposition of European and non-European cultures invited comparison, but through the lens of Europe’s missionary and military–industrial engagement. This comparison was interpreted—or misinterpreted—as European cultural superiority. It was easy to take the next step, viewing the difference as “progress”—something colonizers had—to impart to their subjects.


Figure 2.1 European Colonial Empires at the Turn of the Twentieth Century


European Colonial Empires at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

Such a powerful misinterpretation—and devaluing—of other cultures appears frequently in historical accounts. It is reflected in assumptions made by settlers about indigenous people they encountered in the Americas and Australasia. Europeans perceived Native Americans and aboriginal Australians as people who did not “work” the land they inhabited. In other words, the native populations had no right of “property”—a European concept in which property is private and alienable. Their displacement from their ancestral lands is a bloody reminder of the combined military power and moral fervor with which the European powers pursued colonization. It also foreshadowed the modern practice of rupturing the unity of the human and natural world, a unity characterizing some non-European cultures.


In precolonial Africa, communities relied on ancestral ecological knowledge and earth-centered cosmologies to sustain themselves and their environment. These methods were at once conservative and adaptive because, over time, African communities changed their composition, scale, and location in a long process of settlement and migration through the lands south of the equator. European colonists in Africa, however, saw these superstitious cultures as static and as only occupying—rather than improving—the land. This perception ignored the complex social systems adapted first to African ecology and then to European occupation.1 Under these circumstances, Europeans viewed themselves as bringing civilization to the nonwhite races. French historian Albert Sarraut, ignoring non-European inventions such as gunpowder, the compass, the abacus, moveable type printing, and the saddle, claimed,


It should not be forgotten that we are centuries ahead of them, long centuries during which—slowly and painfully, through a lengthy effort of research, invention, meditation and intellectual progress aided by the very influence of our temperate climate—a magnificent heritage of science, experience, and moral superiority has taken shape, which makes us eminently entitled to protect and lead the races lagging behind us.2


The ensuing colonial exchange was captured in the postcolonial African saying “When the white man came, he had the Bible and we had the land. When the white man left, we had the Bible and he had the land.” Under colonialism, when non-Europeans lost control of their land, their spiritual life was compromised insofar as it was connected to their landscapes. It was difficult to sustain material and cultural integrity under these degrading extractive processes and conditions. At the same time, European colonization of natural resources converted land, water, cultivars, and food into economic categories, discounting their complex regenerative capacities and ecological interdependencies.


Development, European-style, thus came to be identified as the destiny of all humankind. The systematic handicapping of non-Europeans in this apparently natural and fulfilling endeavor remained largely unacknowledged, just as non-European scientific, ecological, and moral achievements, and legacies in European culture, were generally ignored.



Colonialism is the subjugation by physical and psychological force of one culture by another—a colonizing power—through military and economic conquest of territory and stereotyping the subordinated cultures. It predates the era of European expansion (from the fifteenth century to the twentieth century) and extends to Japanese colonialism in the twentieth century and, most recently, Chinese occupation of Tibet and Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. Colonialism has two forms: colonies of settlement, which often eliminate indigenous people (such as the Spanish destruction of the Aztec and Inca civilizations in the Americas); and colonies of rule, where colonial administrators reorganize existing cultures by imposing new inequalities to facilitate their exploitation. Examples of the latter were the British creating local landlords, zamindars, to rule parts of India; confiscating personal and common land for cash cropping; depriving women of their customary resources; and elevating ethnoracial differences, such as privileging certain castes or tribes in the exercise of colonial rule. Outcomes are, first, the cultural genocide or marginalization of indigenous people; second, the introduction of new tensions around class, gender, race, and caste that shape postcolonial societies; third, the extraction of labor, cultural treasures, and resources to enrich the colonial power, its private interests, and public museums; fourth, the elaboration of ideologies justifying colonial rule, including racism and notions of backwardness; and fifth, responses by colonial subjects, ranging from death to internalization of inferiority to a variety of resistances—from everyday forms to sporadic uprisings to mass political mobilization.


What Are Some Characteristics Of Precolonial Cultures?

All precolonial cultures had their own ways of satisfying their material and spiritual needs. Cultures varied by the differentiation among their members or households according to their particular ecological endowments and social contact with other cultures. The variety ranged from small communities of subsistence producers, who lived off the land or the forest, to extensive kingdoms or states. Subsistence producers, organized by kin relations, usually subdivided social tasks between men, who hunted and cleared land for cultivation, and women, who cultivated and processed crops, harvested wild fruits and nuts, and performed household tasks. These cultures were highly skilled in resource management and production to satisfy their material needs. They generally did not produce a surplus beyond what was required for their immediate needs, and they organized cooperatively—a practice that often made them vulnerable to intruders because they were not prepared for self-defense. Unlike North American Indians, whose social organization provided leadership for resistance, some aboriginal cultures, such as those of Australia and the Amazon, lacked leadership hierarchies and were more easily wiped out by settlers. By contrast, the Mogul empire in seventeenth-century India had a complex hierarchical organization, based on local chiefdoms in which the chief presided over the village community and ensured that surpluses (monetary taxes and produce) were delivered to a prosperous central court and “high culture.” Village and urban artisans produced a range of metal goods, pottery, and crafts, including sophisticated muslins and silks. Caste distinctions, linked to previous invasions, corresponded to divisions of labor, such as trading, weaving, cultivating, ruling, and performing unskilled labor. Colonizers typically adapted such social and political hierarchies to their own ends—alienating indigenous cultures from their natural ecologies and their political systems from their customary social functions, incubating tensions that have been inherited by postcolonial states.


Sources: Bujra (1992); Rowley (1974).


The Colonial Division of Labor

From the sixteenth century, European colonists and traders traveled along African coasts to the New World and across the Indian Ocean and the China seas, seeking fur, precious metals, slave labor, spices, tobacco, cacao, potatoes, sugar, and cotton. The principal European colonial powers—Spain, Portugal, Holland, France, and Britain—and their merchant companies exchanged manufactured goods such as cloth, guns, and implements for these products and for Africans taken into slavery and transported to the Americas. In the process, they reorganized the world.


The basic pattern was to establish in the colonies specialized extraction of raw materials and production of primary products that were unavailable in Europe. In turn, these products fueled European manufacturing as industrial inputs and foodstuffs for its industrial labor force. On a world scale, this specialization between European economies and their colonies came to be termed the colonial division of labor (see Figure 2.2).


Figure 2.2 Distinguishing Between an International and a National Division of Labor


Distinguishing Between an International and a National Division of Labor

While the colonial division of labor stimulated European industrialization, it forced non-Europeans into primary commodity production. Specialization at each end of the exchange set in motion a transformation of social and environmental relationships, fueled by a dynamic relocation of resources and energy from colony to metropolis: an unequal ecological exchange.3 Not only were the colonies converted into exporters of raw materials and foodstuffs, but they also became “exporters of sustainability.”4


The colonial division of labor, as cause and consequence of economic growth, exposed non-European cultures and ecologies to profound disorganization, as colonies were converted into supply zones of labor and resources. Local crafts and mixed farming systems were undermined, alienating land and forests for commercial exploitation and rupturing the ecological balance. Not only did non-European cultures surrender their handicraft industries in this exchange, but also their agriculture was often reduced to a specialized export monoculture, where local farmers produced a single crop, such as peanuts or coffee, for export, or plantations (sugar, cotton, tea, rubber, bananas) were imposed on land appropriated from those who became plantation laborers. Systems of export agriculture interrupted centuries-old patterns of diet and cultivation, creating the all-too-familiar commercial food economy, in which “what was grown became disconnected from what was eaten, and for the first time in history, money determined what people ate and even if they ate.”5


Handicraft decline was often deliberate and widespread. Perhaps the best-known destruction of native crafts occurred through Britain’s conquest of India. Until the nineteenth century, Indian cotton muslins and calicos were luxury imports into Europe (as were Chinese silks and satins). By that time, however, the East India Company (which ruled India for the British Crown until 1858) undermined this Indian craft and, in its own words, “succeeded in converting India from a manufacturing country into a country exporting raw produce.”6 The company had convinced the British government to use tariffs of 70 percent to 80 percent against Indian finished goods and to permit virtually free entry of raw cotton into England. In turn, British traders flooded India with cheap cloth manufactured in Manchester. Industrial technology (textile machinery and the steam engine) combined with political power to impose the colonial division of labor, as British-built railway systems moved Indian raw cotton to coastal ports for shipment to Liverpool and returned across India selling machine-made products—and undermining a time-honored craft.


Case Study The Colonial Division of Labor and Unequal Ecological Exchange

The ecological dimension of the colonial division of labor reminds us that industrialism is premised on transforming nature from a regenerative system to mere “raw material.” Prior to industrial society and colonialism, the majority of humans depended on their local ecosystem to supply their various needs via a multiplicity of locally produced materials, harvesting just what was necessary. Overharvesting resources wastes energy, reducing an ecosystem’s capacity and thereby threatening the sustainability of the human community. The colonial division of labor depended on overharvesting. Here, trade across ecosystem boundaries focused extractive activities on those few resources profitable to the traders. Stephen Bunker and Paul Ciccantell, in their research on Amazonian ecology, observe the following:


Extractive economies thus often deplete or seriously reduce plants or animals, and they disrupt and degrade hydrological systems and geological formations [which] serve critical functions for the reproduction of other species and for the conservation of the watercourses and land forms on which they depend. Losses from excessive harvesting of a single species or material form can thus ramify through and reduce the productivity and integrity of an entire ecosystem.


The early Portuguese colonists, enslaving indigenous labor, extracted luxury goods from the Amazon, such as cacao, rosewood, spices, caymans, and turtle eggs—all of which had high value-to-volume ratios in European markets. Wealthy Europeans prized turtle oil for perfume and lighting their lamps, but wasteful harvesting of turtle eggs for the oil severely depleted protein supplies and Amazonian aquatic environments on which populations depended for their material reproduction. English and French colonies of the eighteenth century imposed monocultures of sugar, tobacco, coffee, and tea. Mimi Sheller observes, “In consuming the Caribbean … Europe was itself transformed.”


By the nineteenth century, European and North American extraction focused on industrial inputs such as rubber, further disrupting Amazonian habitats and ecology and exposing local industry to competition from commodities imported cheaply in the ample cargo space on the return leg of the rubber transport ships. As demand for rubber intensified later in the century, rubber plantations were established in Southeast Asia and Africa, by the British and the Americans respectively—in turn transforming those ecologies by introducing monocultures and also impoverishing the Amazonian economy as feral rubber extraction declined.


What are the consequences of the developmentalist focus on human exchange through trade, ignoring the exchange with nature?


Sources: Bunker and Ciccantell (2005: 34–47); Sheller (2003: 81).


Social Reorganization Under Colonialism

The colonial division of labor devastated producing communities and their craft- and agriculture-based systems. When the British first came to India in the mid-eighteenth century, Robert Clive described the textile city of Dacca as “extensive, populous, and rich as the city of London.” By 1840, Sir Charles Trevelyan testified before a British parliamentary committee that the population of Dacca “has fallen from 150,000 to 30,000, and the jungle and malaria are fast encroaching upon the town…. Dacca, the Manchester of India, has fallen off from a very flourishing town to a very poor and small town.”7


While native industries declined under colonial systems, local farming cultures lost their best lands to commercial agriculture supplying European consumers and industries. Plantations and other kinds of cash cropping proliferated across the colonial world, producing specialized tropical exports ranging from bananas to peanuts, depending on local agroecologies (see Table 2.1). Non-European societies were fundamentally transformed through the loss of resources and craft traditions, as colonial subjects were forced to labor in mines, fields, and plantations to produce exports sustaining distant European factories. This was a global process, whereby slaves, peasants, and laborers in the colonies provisioned European industrial classes with cheap colonial products, such as sugar, tea, tropical oils, and cotton for clothing. European development was realized through a racialized global relationship, “underdeveloping” colonial cultures. The legacy of this relationship continues today—for example, Mali (ranked 176th out of 187 on the UN Human Development Index) derives half of its export revenues from cotton, with 40 percent of its population depending on this crop for their livelihoods, but the country is in unequal competition with highly subsidized cotton producers in the United States, the European Union, and China.8


Table 2.1 Selected Colonial Export Crops

Colonial systems of rule focused on mobilizing colonial labor. For example, a landed oligarchy (the hacendados) ruled South America before the nineteenth century in the name of the Spanish and Portuguese monarchies, using an institution called encomienda to create a form of native serfdom. Settler colonialism also spread to the Americas, Australasia, and southern Africa, where settlers used military, legal, and economic force to wrest land from the natives for commercial purposes, using slave, convict, and indentured labor.9 As the industrial era matured, colonial rule (in Asia and Africa) grew more bureaucratic. By the end of the nineteenth century, colonial administrations were self-financing, depending on military force and the loyalty of local princes and chiefs, tribes, and castes (note that the British presence never exceeded 0.5 percent of the Indian population).10 Native rulers were bribed with titles, land, or tax-farming privileges to recruit male peasants to the military and to force them into cash cropping to pay the taxes supporting the colonial state.


Male entry into cash cropping disrupted patriarchal gender divisions, creating new gender inequalities. Women’s customary land-user rights were often displaced by new systems of private property, circumscribing food production, traditionally women’s responsibility. Thus, British colonialism in Kenya fragmented the Kikuyu culture as peasant land was confiscated and men migrated to work on European estates, reducing women’s control over resources and lowering their status, wealth, and authority.


In India, production of commercial crops such as cotton, jute, tea, peanuts, and sugar cane grew by 85 percent between the 1890s and the 1940s. In contrast, in that same period, local food crop production declined by 7 percent while the population grew by 40 percent, a shift that spread hunger, famine, and social unrest.11 Using tax and irrigation policies to force farmers into export agriculture, Britain came to depend on India for almost 20 percent of its wheat consumption by 1900. Part of the reason that “Londoners were in fact eating India’s bread” was the destruction of Indian food security by modern technologies, converting grain into a commodity. New telegraph systems transmitted prices set by London grain merchants, prying grain reserves from villages along railway networks for export to Britain. Thus, new global market technologies undermined the customary system of grain reserves organized at the village level as protection against drought and famine. For example, during the famine of 1899 to 1900, 143,000 peasants in Berar starved to death—as the province exported tens of thousands of cotton bales in addition to 747,000 bushels of grain.12


Starvation in the colonies was not simply due to conversion of resources into export commodities. British rule in India, for example, converted the “commons” into private property or state monopolies. Forest and pasture commons were ecological zones of nonmarket resources to which villagers were customarily entitled:


[Village economy across monsoonal Asia] augmented crops and handicrafts with stores of free goods from common lands: dry grass for fodder, shrub grass for rope, wood and dung for fuel, dung, leaves, and forest debris for fertilizer, clay for plastering houses, and, above all, clean water. All classes utilized these common property resources, but for poorer households they constituted the very margin of survival.13


By the end of the 1870s, Britain had enclosed all Indian forests, previously communally managed. Ending communal access to grassland resources ruptured “the ancient ecological interdependence of pastoralists and farmers,” and age-old practices of extensive crop rotation and long fallow, to replenish soils, declined with the expansion of cotton and other export monocrops.14 Export monocultures displaced indigenous irrigation systems with canals, which blocked natural drainage, and thus exacerbated water salinity and pooled water in swamps, the perfect host environment for the dreaded malarial anopheline mosquito. A British engineer reported to the 1901 Irrigation Commission, “Canals may not protect against famines, but they may give an enormous return on your money.”15


The colonial division of labor developed European capitalist civilization (with food and raw materials) at the same time that it undermined non-European cultures and ecologies. As European industrial society matured, the exploding urban populations demanded ever-increasing imports of sugar, coffee, tea, cocoa, tobacco, and vegetable oils from the colonies, and the expanding factory system demanded ever-increasing inputs of raw materials such as cotton, timber, rubber, and jute, employing forced and slave labor.


As the African slave trade subsided, the Europeans created new schemes of forced, or indentured, labor. Indian and Chinese peasants and handicraftsmen, impoverished by colonial intervention or market competition from cheap textiles, scattered to sugar plantations in the Caribbean, Fiji, Mauritius, and Natal; to rubber plantations in Malaya and Sumatra; and to British East Africa to build the railways that intensified the two-way extraction of African resources and the introduction of cheap manufactured goods. In the third quarter of the nineteenth century alone, more than one million indentured Indians went overseas. Today, Indians still outnumber native Fijians; they also make up 50 percent of the Guyanese population and 40 percent of the residents of Trinidad. In the same period, 90,000 Chinese indentured laborers went to work in the Peruvian guano fields, and 200,000 went to California to work in the fruit industry, on the gold fields, and on the railways.16 Displacement of colonial subjects from their societies and their dispersion to resolve labor shortages elsewhere in the colonial world have had a lasting global effect—notably in the African, Indian, and Chinese diasporas. This cultural mosaic underlines modern expressions of race, ethnicity, and nationality—generating ethnopolitical tensions that shape national politics across the world today and question the modern ideal of the secular state.


The contradictions of the secular–modernist ideal stem from racialized colonial rule, where industrial and/or military techniques organized labor forces, schooling, and urban and rural surveillance, as well as supervised hygiene and public health.17 European exercise of power in the colonies revealed the hard edge of power in the modern state, premised on class structuring via racial humiliation.18 Such methods produced resistances among subject populations, whether laborers, peasants, soldiers, or civil servants. These tensions fed the politics of decolonization, dedicated to molding inchoate resistance to colonial abuses into coherent, nationalist movements striving for independence.


The Colonial Project Unlocks A Development Puzzle

The colonial project was far-reaching and multidimensional in its effects. We focus here on the colonial division of labor because it isolates a key issue in the development puzzle. Unless we see the interdependence created through this division of world labor, it is easy to take our unequal world at face value and view it as a natural continuum, with an advanced European region showing the way for a backward, non-European region. But viewing world inequality as relational (interdependent) rather than as sequential (catch-up) calls the conventional modern understanding of development into question. The conventional understanding is that individual societies experience or pursue development in sequence, on a “development ladder.” If, however, industrial growth in Europe depended on agricultural monoculture in the non-European world, then development was more than simply a national process, even if represented as such. What we can conclude from the colonial project is that development historically depended on the unequal relationships of colonialism, which included an unequal division of labor and unequal ecological exchanges—both of which produced a legacy of “underdevelopment” in the colonial and postcolonial worlds.



As Europeans were attempting to “civilize” their colonies, colonial subjects across the Americas, Asia, and Africa engaged the European paradox—a discourse of rights and sovereignty juxtaposed against non-European subjugation. In the French sugar colony of Saint Domingue, the late-eighteenth-century “Black Jacobin” revolt powerfully exposed this double standard. Turning the sovereignty rhetoric of the French Revolution successfully against French colonialism, the rebellious slaves of the sugar plantations became the first to gain their independence in the newly established nation of Haiti, sending tremors throughout the slaveholding lands of the New World.19


Resistance to colonialism evolved across the next two centuries, from the early-nineteenth-century independence of the Latin American republics (from Spain and Portugal) to the dismantling of South African apartheid in the early 1990s. Although decolonization has continued into the present day (with the independence of East Timor in 2002 and the Palestinians still struggling for a sovereign homeland), the worldwide decolonization movement peaked as European colonialism collapsed in the mid-twentieth century, when World War II sapped the power of the French, Dutch, British, and Belgian states to withstand anticolonial struggles. Freedom was linked to overcoming the deprivations of colonialism. Its vehicle was the nation-state, which offered formal political independence. Substantively, however, the sovereignty of independent states was compromised by the cultural and economic legacies of colonialism.


Colonial Liberation

Freedom included overcoming the social–psychological scars of colonialism. The racist legacy of colonialism penetrated the psyche of the colonist and the colonized and remains with us today. In 1957 at the height of African independence struggles, Tunisian philosopher Albert Memmi wrote The Colonizer and the Colonized, dedicating the American edition to the (colonized) American Negro. In this work (published in 1967), he claimed this:


Racism … is the highest expression of the colonial system and one of the most significant features of the colonialist. Not only does it establish a fundamental discrimination between colonizer and colonized, a sine qua non of colonial life, but it also lays the foundation for the immutability of this life.20


To overcome this apparent immutability, West Indian psychiatrist Frantz Fanon, writing from Algeria, responded with The Wretched of the Earth, a manifesto of liberation. It was a searing indictment of European colonialism and a call to people of the former colonies (the Third World) to transcend the mentality of enslavement and forge a new path for humanity. He wrote,


It is a question of the Third World starting a new history of Man, a history which will have regard to the sometimes prodigious theses which Europe has put forward, but which will also not forget Europe’s crimes, of which the most horrible was committed in the heart of man, and consisted of the pathological tearing apart of his functions and the crumbling away of his unity…. On the immense scale of humanity, there were racial hatreds, slavery, exploitation and above all the bloodless genocide which consisted in the setting aside of fifteen thousand millions of men…. Humanity is waiting for something other from us than such an imitation, which would be almost an obscene caricature.21


Decolonization was rooted in a liberatory upsurge, expressed in mass political movements of resistance. In Algeria (as in Palestine today), the independence movement incubated within and struck at the French occupation from the native quarter. The use of terror, on both sides, symbolized the bitter divide between colonizer and colonized (brilliantly portrayed in GilloPontecorvo’s film, Battle of Algiers).


Other forms of resistance included militarized national liberation struggles (e.g., Portuguese African colonies, French Indochina) and widespread colonial labor unrest. British colonialism faced widespread labor strikes in its West Indian and African colonies in the 1930s, and this pattern continued over the next two decades in Africa as British and French colonial subjects protested conditions in cities, ports, mines, and on the railways. In this context, development was interpreted as a pragmatic effort to preserve the colonies by improving material conditions—and there was no doubt that colonial subjects understood this and turned the promise of development back on the colonizers, viewing development as an entitlement. British Colonial Secretary MacDonald observed the following in 1940:


If we are not now going to do something fairly good for the Colonial Empire, and something which helps them to get proper social services, we shall deserve to lose the colonies and it will only be a matter of time before we get what we deserve.22


In these terms, eloquent international appeals to justice in the language of rights and freedom by the representatives of colonized peoples held a mirror up to the colonial powers, in their demands for freedom.


A new world order was in the making. From 1945 to 1981, 105 new states joined the United Nations (UN) as the colonial empires crumbled, swelling UN ranks from 51 to 156 (now 187). The extension of political sovereignty to millions of non-Europeans (more than half of humanity) ushered in the era of development.23 This era was marked by a sense of almost boundless idealism, as governments and people from the First and Third Worlds joined together in a coordinated effort to stimulate economic growth; bring social improvements through education, public health, family planning, and transport and communication systems to urban and rural populations; and promote political citizenship in the new nations. Just as colonized subjects appropriated the democratic discourse of the colonizers in fueling their independence movements, so leaders of the new nation-states appropriated the idealism of the development era and proclaimed equality as a domestic and international goal, informed by the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).


The UN declaration represented a new world paradigm of fundamental human rights of freedom, equality, life, liberty, and security to all, without distinction by race, color, sex, language, religion, political opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status. The declaration also included citizenship rights—that is, citizens’ rights to the social contract: Everyone was “entitled to realization, through national effort, and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.”24


Case Study The Tensions and Lessons of the Indian Nationalist Revolt

Mahatma Gandhi’s model of nonviolent resistance to British colonialism affirmed the simplicity and virtue in the ideal-typical premodern solidarities of Indian village life. Rather than embrace the emerging world of nation-states, Gandhi argued, didactically, that Indians became a subject population, not because of colonial force, but through the seduction of modernity. Gandhi’s approach flowed from his philosophy of transcendental (as opposed to scientific or historical) truth, guided by a social morality. Gandhi disdained the violent methods of the modern state and the institutional rationality of the industrial age, regarding machinery as the source of India’s impoverishment, not only in destroying handicrafts but in compromising humanity:


We notice that the mind is a restless bird; the more it gets the more it wants, and still remains unsatisfied…. Our ancestors, therefore, set a limit to our indulgences. They saw that happiness is largely a mental condition…. We have managed with the same kind of plough as existed thousands of years ago. We have retained the same kind of cottages that we had in former times and our indigenous education remains the same as before. We have had no system of life-corroding competition…. It was not that we did not know how to invent machinery, but our forefathers knew that if we set our hearts after such things, we would become slaves and lose our moral fibres.


Gandhi’s method of resistance included wearing homespun cloth instead of machine-made goods, foreswearing use of the English language, and mistrusting the European philosophy of self-interest. Gandhi viewed self-interest as undermining community-based ethics and advocated the decentralization of social power, appealing to grassroots notions of self-reliance, proclaiming the following:


Independence must begin at the bottom. Thus, every village will be a republic or panchayat having full powers. It follows, therefore, that every village has to be self-sustained and capable of managing its affairs even to the extent of defending itself against the whole world.


While Gandhi’s politics, anchored in a potentially reactionary Hindu religious imagery, galvanized rural India, Indian nationalism actually rode to power via the Indian National Congress and one of its progressive democratic socialist leaders, Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru represented the formative national state, viewing the Gandhian philosophy as inappropriate to the modern world but recognizing its mobilizing power. Infusing the national movement with calls for land reform and agrarian modernization to complement industrial development, Nehru declared this:


It can hardly be challenged that, in the context of the modern world, no country can be politically and economically independent, even within the framework of international interdependence, unless it is highly industrialized and has developed its power resources to the utmost.


Together, Gandhi and Nehru are revered as fathers of independence and the Indian national state, respectively. Note that the struggle against empire was woven out of two strands: an idealist strand looking back and looking forward to a transcendental Hinduism anchored in village-level self-reliance, as well as a realist strand looking sideways and asserting that Indian civilization could be rescued, contained, and celebrated in the form of a modern state.


Did Gandhi’s and Nehru’s opposing visions of development at the time of Indian independence foreshadow today’s rising tension between sustainability and maximum economic growth?


Source: Chatterjee (2001: 86, 87, 91, 97, 144, 151).


Decolonization and Development

Decolonization gave development new meaning, linking it to the ideal of sovereignty, the possibility of converting subjects into citizens, and the pursuit of economic development for social justice. Already independent Latin American states adopted similar goals, having been inspired by French and US revolutionary ideologies of liberal-nationalism, which informed nineteenth-century European nation building via national education systems, national languages and currencies, and modern armies and voting citizens. These ideologies also informed the twentieth-century movements in Asia and Africa for decolonization, coinciding with the rise of the United States to global power and prosperity. Eager to reconstruct the post–World War II world to expand markets and the flow of raw materials, the United States led an international project, inspired by a vision of development as a national enterprise to be repeated across a world of sovereign states.


US development modeled this vision, being more “inner-directed” than the “outer-directed” British imperial model (as “workshop of the world”). Despite relentless destruction of native American cultures as the continent was claimed (internal colonialism), US origins in the revolt of the North American colonies against British colonialism in the late eighteenth century informed an “anticolonial” heritage. Once slavery was abolished, the New South was incorporated into a national economic dynamic, articulating agricultural and industrial sectors. Figure 2.2 depicts the difference between the colonial and the national division between industry and agriculture.


The division of labor between industry and agriculture, defining the global exchange between colonial powers and their colonies, was now internalized within the United States. Chicago traders, for instance, purchased Midwestern farm products for processing, in turn selling machinery and goods to those farmers. This mutual prosperity of city and countryside is a model—that is, it prescribes an ideal version, even as foreign trade and investment continued. But it did industrialize agriculture as a series of specialized crops, requiring endless inputs of chemical fertilizers and hybrid seeds, with corrosive effects on soils and water cycles. The export of this developmental model of capital-intensive industrial farming has defined agricultural modernization, with global ecological consequence.25


Postwar Decolonization and the Rise of the Third World

In the era of decolonization, the world subdivided into three geopolitical segments. These subdivisions emerged after World War II (1939–1944) during the Cold War, dividing the capitalist Western (First World) from the Communist Soviet (Second World) blocs. The Third World included the postcolonial bloc of nations. Of course, there was considerable inequality across and within these subdivisions, as well as within their national units. The subdivision of the world is further explained in the “How We Divide the World’s Nations” box.


In this era, the United States was the most powerful state economically, militarily, and ideologically. Its high standard of living (with a per capita income three times the West European average), its anticolonial heritage, and its commitment to liberal domestic and international relations lent it the legitimacy of a world leader and the model of a developed society.


Ranged against the United States were the Soviet Union and an assortment of Eastern European Communist states. This Second World was considered the alternative to First World capitalism. The Third World, the remaining half of humanity—most of whom were still food-growing rural dwellers—was represented in economic language as impoverished or, in Fanon’s politico-cultural language, as the “wretched of the earth.”


Whereas the First World had 65 percent of world income with only 20 percent of the world’s population, the Third World accounted for 67 percent of world population but only 18 percent of its income. While some believe the gap in living standards between the First and Third Worlds registers differential rates of growth, others believe that much of it was a result of colonialism.26 Still others are skeptical of distinguishing cultures via a uniform standard based on income levels, since non-Westernized cultures value non-cash-generating practices.


Economic disparity between the First and Third Worlds generated the vision of development that would energize political and business elites in each world. Seizing the moment as leader of the First World, President Harry S. Truman included in a key speech on January 20, 1949, the following proclamation:


We must embark on a bold new program for making the benefits of our scientific advances and industrial progress available for the improvement and growth of underdeveloped areas. The old imperialism—exploitation for foreign profit—has no place in our plans. What we envisage is a program of development based on the concepts of democratic fair dealing…. Only by helping the least fortunate of its members to help themselves can the human family achieve the decent, satisfying life that is the right of all people. Democracy alone can supply the vitalizing force.27


The following year, a Nigerian nationalist echoed these sentiments:


Self-government will not necessarily lead to a paradise overnight…. But it will have ended the rule of one race over another, with all the humiliation and exploitation which that implies. It can also pave the way for the internal social revolution that is required within each country.28


Despite the power differential between the United States and the African countries, the shared sentiments affirmed the connection between decolonization and development, where sovereign states could pursue national economic growth with First World assistance. The program of development pursued by new nations, “dependence” in independence, marked the postcolonial experience.


President Truman’s paternalistic proclamation confirmed this understanding in suggesting a new paradigm for the postwar era: the division of humanity into developed and undeveloped regions. This division of the world projected a singular destiny for all nations. Mexican intellectual Gustavo Esteva commented,


Underdevelopment began, then, on January 20, 1949. On that day, two billion people became underdeveloped. In a real sense, from that time on, they ceased being what they were, in all their diversity, and were transmogrified into an inverted mirror of others’ reality: a mirror that defines their identity … simply in the terms of a homogenizing and narrow minority.29


In other words, the proclamation by President Truman divided the world between those who were modern and those who were not. Development/modernity became the discursive benchmark. This was a way of looking at the world, a new paradigm, suggesting that the ex-colonial world was not only backward but could also develop, with help.


This new paradigm inscribed First World power and privilege in the new institutional structure of the postwar international economy. In context of the Cold War between First and Second Worlds (for the hearts and resources of the ex-colonial world), development was simultaneously the restoration of a capitalist world market to sustain First World wealth, through access to strategic natural resources, and the opportunity for Third World countries to emulate First World civilization and living standards. Because development was both a blueprint for the world of nation-states and a strategy for world order, I call this enterprise the development project. The epithet project emphasizes the political content of development, as a global organizing principle. It also underlines the self-referential meaning of development, as defined by those with the means to make the rules.


The power of the new development paradigm arose in part from its ability to present itself as universal, natural, and therefore uncontentious—obliterating its colonial roots. In a postcolonial era, Third World states could not repeat the European experience of developing by exploiting the labor and resources of other societies. Development was modeled as a national process, initiated in European states. Its aura of inevitability devalued non-European cultures and discounted what the West learned from the non-European world. Gilbert Rist observed of postcolonial states, “Their right to self-determination had been acquired in exchange for the right to self-definition,”30 suggesting that in choosing the Western-centered future for the world, they legitimized (or naturalized) it. Of course, each state imparted its own particular style to this common agenda, drawing on regional cultures such as African socialism, Latin American bureaucratic authoritarianism, or Confucianism in East Asia.



Division of the nations of the world is quite complex and extensive, and it depends on the purpose of the dividing. The basic division made (by French demographer Alfred Sauvy in 1952) was into three worlds: The First World defined the capitalist world (the West plus Japan), the Second World defined the socialist world (the Soviet bloc), and the Third World was the rest—mostly former European colonies. The core of the Third World was the group of nonaligned countries steering an independent path between the First and Second Worlds, especially China, Egypt, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Yugoslavia. In the 1980s, a Fourth World was named to describe marginalized regions. The United Nations and the development establishment use a different nomenclature: developed countries, developing countries, and least developed countries; this terminology echoes “modernization” theory, which locates countries on a continuum, or “development ladder,” ascended as a country develops an industrial economy, rational–legal administrative structures, and a pluralist–representative political system.


Ingredients of the Development Project

The development project was a political and intellectual response to the condition of the world at the historic moment of decolonization. Here, development assumed a specific meaning. It imposed an essentially economic (reductionist) understanding of social change, universalizing an instrumental form of development across multiple cultures as a single market culture, driven by the nation-state and economic growth.


The Nation-State

The nation-state was to be the framework of the development project. Nation-states were territorially defined political systems based on the government–citizen relationship that emerged in nineteenth-century Europe. Colonialism exported this political model (with its military shell), framing the politics of the decolonization movement, even where national boundaries made little sense. The UN Economic Commission for Africa, for example, argued in 1989 that African underdevelopment derived from its arbitrary postcolonial geography, including 14 landlocked states, 23 states with a population below five million, and 13 states with a land mass of fewer than 50,000 hectares each.31 The following insert illustrates the effects of these arbitrarily drawn boundaries.


During the 1950s, certain leading African anticolonialists doubted the appropriateness of the nation-state form to postcolonial Africa. They knew that sophisticated systems of rule had evolved in Africa before colonialism. They advocated a pan-African federalism, whose territories would transcend the arbitrary borders drawn across Africa by colonialism. However, decisions about postcolonial political arrangements were made in London and Paris where the colonial powers, looking to sustain spheres of influence, insisted on the nation-state as the only appropriate political outcome of decolonization. Indeed, a British Committee on Colonial Policy advised this to the prime minister in 1957:


During the period when we can still exercise control in any territory, it is most important to take every step open to us to ensure, as far as we can, that British standards and methods of business and administration permeate the whole life of the territory.32


An African elite, expecting gains from decolonization—whether personal or national—prepared to assume power in the newly independent states. The power its members assumed was already mortgaged to the nation-state system: a vehicle of containment of political desires and of extraction of resources via European military and economic aid, investment, and trade—the paradox of sovereignty.


Pan-Africanism was unsuccessful; nevertheless, it did bear witness to an alternative political and territorial logic. Some of Guinea’s rural areas were in fact attached as hinterlands to urban centers in other states, such as Dakar in Senegal and Abidjan in the Côte d’Ivoire. Considerable cross-border smuggling today is continuing testimony to these relationships. Fierce civil wars broke out in Nigeria in the 1960s and in Ethiopia in the 1970s, states such as Somalia and Rwanda collapsed in the early 1990s, and, in the twenty-first century, military conflict in the Congo threatened a repartition of Africa, and Sudan subdivided, creating a new state in 2011—South Sudan. Such eruptions all include ethnic dimensions, rooted in social disparities and cross-border realities. In retrospect, they suggest that the pan-African movement had considerable foresight. Ideas about the limits to the nation-state organization resonate today in new macroregional groupings.33


How Was Africa Divided Under Colonialism?

The colonial powers inflicted profound damage on that continent, driving frontiers straight through the ancestral territories of nations. For example, we drew a line through Somalia, separating off part of the Somali people and placing them within Kenya. We did the same by splitting the great Masai nation between Kenya and Tanzania. Elsewhere, of course, we created the usual artificial states. Nigeria consists of four principal nations: the Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, and Fulani peoples. It has already suffered a terrible war which killed hundreds of thousands of people and which settled nothing. Sudan, Chad, Djibouti, Senegal, Mali, Burundi, and of course Rwanda, are among the many other states that are riven by conflict.


Source: Quoted from Goldsmith (1994: 57).


Economic Growth

The second ingredient of the development project was economic growth. A mandatory UN System of National Accounts institutionalized a universal quantifiable measure of national development. The UN Charter of 1945 proclaimed “a rising standard of living” as the global objective. This “material well-being” indicator is measured in the commercial output of goods and services within a country: capita gross national product (GNP), or the national average of per capita income. While per capita income was not the sole measure of rising living standards (health, literacy, etc.), the key criterion was measurable progress toward the “good society,” popularized by US presidential adviser Walt Rostow’s idea of the advanced stage of “high mass consumption.”34


In the minds of Western economists, development required a jump start in the Third World. Cultural practices of wealth sharing and cooperative labor—dissipating individual wealth, but sustaining the community—were perceived as a traditional obstacle to making the transition. The solution was to introduce a market system based on private property and wealth accumulation. A range of modern practices and institutions designed to sustain economic growth, such as banking and accounting systems, education, stock markets, and legal systems, and public infrastructure (transport, power sources) was required.


The use of the economic growth yardstick of development, however, is fraught with problems. Average indices such as per capita income obscure inequalities among social groups and classes. Aggregate indices such as rising consumption levels in and of themselves are not accurate records of improvement in quality of life. Running air conditioners are measured as increased consumption, but they also release harmful hydrocarbons into the warming atmosphere. Economic criteria for development have normative assumptions that often marginalize other criteria for evaluating living standards relating to the quality of human interactions, physical and spiritual health, and so on.


The emphasis on converting human interactions into measurable (and taxable) cash relations discounts the social wealth of nonmonetary activities (nature’s processes, cooperative labor, people growing their own food, performing unpaid household labor, and community service). Wolfgang Sachs observed this of early 1940s comparative statistical measurement of “economic growth”:


As soon as the scale of incomes had been established, order was imposed on a confused globe: horizontally, such different worlds as those of the Zapotec people of Mexico, the Tuareg of north Africa, and Rajasthanies of India could be classed together, while a vertical comparison to “rich” nations demanded relegating them to a position of almost immeasurable inferiority. In this way, “poverty” was used to define whole peoples, not according to what they are and want to be, but according to what they lack and are expected to become. Economic disdain had thus taken the place of colonial contempt.35


Framing the Development Project

Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the development project was a powerful perception by planners, governmental elites, and citizens alike that development was destiny. Both Cold War blocs understood development in these terms, even if their respective paths of development were different. Each bloc took its cue from key nineteenth-century thinkers. The West identified free-enterprise capitalism as the endpoint of development, based in Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian philosophy of the common good arising out of the pursuit of individual self-interest. Communist orthodoxy identified the abolition of private property and central planning as the goal of social development, deriving from Karl Marx’s collectivist dictum: “From each according to their ability, and to each according to their needs.”


Although the two political blocs subscribed to opposing representations of human destiny, they shared the same modernist paradigm. National industrialization would be the vehicle of development in each.


National Industrialization: Ideal and Reality

“National industrialization” had two key assumptions. First, it assumed that development involved the displacement of agrarian civilization by an urban-industrial society. For national development policy, this meant a deliberate shrinking of the agricultural population as the manufacturing and service sectors grew. It also meant the transfer of resources such as food, raw materials, and redundant labor from the agrarian sector as peasants disappeared and agricultural productivity grew. Industrial growth would ideally feed back into and technicize agriculture. These two national economic sectors would therefore condition each other’s development, as in the US case discussed earlier in this chapter and illustrated in Figure 2.2.


Second, the idea of national industrialization assumed a linear direction for development—for example, catching up with the West. Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin articulated this doctrine in the 1930s, proclaiming, “We are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must make good this distance in ten years. Either we do it or they crush us.”36 Stalin’s resolve came from the pressures of military (and therefore economic) survival in a hostile world. The Soviet Union industrialized in one generation, “squeezing” the peasantry to finance urban-industrial development with cheap food.


Across the Cold War divide, industrialization symbolized success. Leaders in each bloc pursued industrial development to legitimize their power; the reasoning was that as people consumed more goods and services they would subscribe to the prevailing philosophy delivering the goods and would support their governments. In this sense, development is not just a goal; it is a method of rule.


The competitive—and legitimizing—dynamic of industrialization framed the development project across the Cold War divide. Third World states climbed on the bandwagon. The ultimate goal was to achieve Western levels of affluence. If some states chose to mix and match elements from either side of the Cold War divide, well and good. The game was still the same: catch-up. Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, proclaimed, “We in Ghana will do in ten years what it took others one hundred years to do.”37


Economic Nationalism

Decolonization involved a universal nationalist upsurge across the Third World, assuming different forms in different countries, depending on the configuration of social forces in each national political system. Third World governments strove to build national development states—whether centralized like South Korea, corporatist like Brazil, or decentralized and populist like Tanzania. The development state organizes national economic growth by mobilizing money and people. It uses individual and corporate taxes, along with other government revenues, such as export taxes and sales taxes, to finance public building of transport systems and to finance state enterprises, such as steel works and energy exploration. And it forms coalitions to support its policies. State elites regularly use their power to accumulate wealth and influence in the state—whether through selling rights to public resources to cronies or capturing foreign-aid distribution channels. As Sugata Bose remarked of the Indian state, “Instead of the state being used as an instrument of development, development became an instrument of the state’s legitimacy.”38 Either way, the development state was a central pillar of the postwar development era.


Import-Substitution Industrialization

Just as political nationalism pursued sovereignty for Third World populations, so economic nationalism sought to reverse the colonial division of labor—as governments encouraged and protected domestic industrialization with tariffs and public subsidies, reducing dependence on primary exports (“resource bondage”).


Economic nationalism was associated with Raul Prebisch, an adviser to the Argentine military government in the 1930s. During that decade’s world depression, world trade declined and Latin American–landed interests lost political power, as shrinking primary export markets depleted their revenues. Prebisch proposed an industrial protection policy. Import controls reduced dependency on expensive imports of Western manufactured goods and shifted resources into domestic manufacturing.39 This policy was adopted in the 1950s by the UN Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA), under Prebisch’s lead as executive secretary.


Import-substitution industrialization (ISI) framed initial economic development strategies in the Third World as governments subsidized “infant industries.” The goal was a cumulative process of domestic industrialization. For example, a domestic automotive industry would generate parts manufacturing, road building, service stations, and so on, in addition to industries such as steel, rubber, aluminum, cement, and paint. In this way, a local industrial base would emerge. ISI became the new economic orthodoxy in the postwar era.40


Development states such as Brazil redistributed private investment from export sectors to domestic production, establishing a development bank to make loans to investors and state corporations in such central industries as petroleum and electric-power generation. When the domestic market was sufficiently large, multinational corporations invested directly in the Brazilian economy—as they did elsewhere in Latin America during this period. Latin America characteristically had relatively urbanized populations with expanding consumer markets.41


By contrast, the South Korean state centralized control of national development and the distribution of industrial finance. South Korea relied less on foreign investment than Brazil and more on export markets for the country’s growing range of manufactured goods. Comprehensive land reforms equalized wealth among the rural population, and South Korean development depended on strategic public investment decisions that more evenly distributed wealth among urban classes and between urban and rural constituencies.


To secure an expanding industrial base, Third World governments constructed political coalitions among different social groups to support rapid industrialization—such as the Latin American development alliance.42 Its social constituency included commercial farmers, public employees, urban industrialists, merchants, and workers dependent on industrialization, organized into associations and unions. Policy makers used price subsidies and public services such as health and education programs, cheap transport, and food subsidies to complement the earnings of urban dwellers, attract them to the cause of national industrialization, and realize the social contract.


The development alliance was also a vehicle of political patronage, whereby governments could manipulate electoral support. Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which controlled the state for much of the twentieth century, created corporatist institutions such as the Confederation of Popular Organizations, the Confederation of Mexican Workers, and the National Confederation of Peasants to channel patronage “downward” and to massage loyalty “upward.” Political elites embraced the development project, mobilizing their national populations around the promise of rising living standards and expecting economic growth to legitimize them in the eyes of their emerging citizenry.


In accounting for and evaluating the development project, this book gives greatest attention to the Western bloc since Western affluence was the universal standard of development and modernity, and this has been extended under the guise of the globalization project to the ex–Second World following the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1989.


Foreign Investment And The Paradox Of Protectionism

When states erected tariffs in the development era, multinational corporations hopped over and invested in local, as well as natural resource, industries. For Brazil in 1956, foreign (chiefly US) capital controlled 50 percent of the iron and rolled-metal industry, 50 percent of the meat industry, 56 percent of the textile industry, 72 percent of electric power production, 80 percent of cigarette manufacturing, 80 percent of pharmaceutical production, 98 percent of the automobile industry, and 100 percent of oil and gasoline distribution. In Peru, a subsidiary of Standard Oil of New Jersey owned the oil that represented 80 percent of national production, and Bell Telephone controlled telephone services. In Venezuela, Standard Oil produced 50 percent of the oil, Shell another 25 percent, and Gulf, one-seventh. In what Peter Evans has called the “triple alliance,” states such as Brazil actively brokered relationships between foreign and local firms in an attempt to spur industrial development.


Sources: de Castro (1969: 241–242); Evans (1979).



The idea of development emerged during, and within the terms of, the era of the colonial project. This global hierarchy informed the understanding of development as a European achievement. Meanwhile, colonialism disorganized non-European societies by reconstructing their labor systems around specialized, ecologically degrading export production and by disorganizing the social psychology of colonial subjects. Exposure of non-European intellectuals, workers, and soldiers to the European liberal discourse on rights fueled anticolonial movements for political independence.


The political independence of the colonial world gave birth to the development project, a blueprint for national development as well as a “protection racket,” insofar as international aid, trade, and investment flows were calibrated to Western military aid to secure Cold War perimeters and make the “free world” safe for business. Third World states became at once independent, but were collectively defined as “underdeveloped.”


The pursuit of rising living standards, via industrialization, inevitably promoted Westernization in political, economic, and cultural terms as the non-European world emulated the European enterprise. Thus, the development project undercut Frantz Fanon’s call for a non-European way, qualifying the sovereignty and diversity that often animated the movements for decolonization. It also rejected the pan-African insight into alternative political organization. These ideas are reemerging, and they have a growing audience.


The remainder of this book explores how these ideals have worked out in practice and how they have been reformulated. The next chapter examines the development project in action

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