Marxism and Development Sociology: Interpreting the Impasse

  • David Booth


After more than a decade of vigorous growth, the ‘new’, Marxist-influenced sociology of development1 has reached something of an impasse. At the theoretical level the most influential positions of the past are now strenuously rejected by many of their former adherents, few of whom pretend to see a clear way forward. Bold and heterodox proposals have not been lacking, but have failed to establish themselves as a widely accepted alternative, showing an equal and in some ways parallel inability to generate theoretically-informed research on fundamental issues of Third World development. Apparently promising discussions about basic concepts have proved inconclusive, with related empirical work becoming increasingly arid and repetitive. Large areas remain under-researched and untheorised; and even the strongest sections of the literature lack the cumulative quality that one expects of a healthy field of enquiry in the social sciences.


Informal Sector Dependency Theory Capitalist Development Marxist Theory Capitalist Mode 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    I refer here and throughout the chapter to the broad current of discussion and research which emerged during the first half of the 1970s under the influence of Marxist and ‘neo-Marxist’ critiques of earlier literature in the ‘modernisation’ tradition. Influential early compilations include Ronald H. Chilcote and Joel C. Edelstein (eds), Latin America: The Struggle with Dependency and Beyond, Cambridge, Mass., Schenkman, 1974Google Scholar
  2. Ivar Oxaal, Tony Barnett and David Booth (eds), Beyond the Sociology of Development, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975Google Scholar
  3. and Peter C.W. Gutkind and Immanuel Wallerstein (eds), The Political Economy of Contemporary Africa, Beverly Hills, Sage, 1976.Google Scholar
  4. 2.
    Anne Phillips, ‘The Concept of “Development” ’, Review of African Political Economy, no. 8, Jan.—Apr. 1977Google Scholar
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  6. and Henry Bernstein, ‘Sociology of Underdevelopment vs. Sociology of Development?’ in David Lehmann (ed.), Development Theory: Four Critical Studies, London, Frank Cass, 1979Google Scholar
  7. and Henry Bernstein, ‘Industrialization, Development, and Dependence’ in Hamza Alavi and Teodor Shanin (eds), Introduction to the Sociology of ‘Developing Societies’, London, Macmillan, 1982.Google Scholar
  8. 3.
    Barry Hindess and Paul Hirst, Mode of Production and Social Formation: An Auto-Critique of ‘Pre-Capitalist Modes of Production’, London, Macmillan, 1977CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  11. and Anthony Giddens, A Contemporary Critique of Historical Materialism, Vol. 1: Power, Property and the State, London, Macmillan, 1981.Google Scholar
  12. 4.
    There are numerous critical surveys of dependency writing. Two of the most recent and useful are Gabriel Palma, ‘Dependency and Development: A Critical Overview’ in Dudley Seers (ed.), Dependency Theory: a Critical Reassessment, London, Frances Pinter, 1981Google Scholar
  13. Gabriel Palma, Gary Gereffi, The Pharmaceutical Industry and Dependency in the Third World, Princeton University Press, 1983, ch. 1.Google Scholar
  14. 8.
    See for example Philip O’Brien, ‘A Critique of Latin American Theories of Dependency’ in Oxaal et al., op. cit., p. 24, and Sanjaya Lall, ‘Is “Dependence” a Useful Concept in Analysing Underdevelopment?’, World Development, vol. 3, nos 11/12, 1975, p. 800.Google Scholar
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    The Development’, op. cit., pp. 4, 9–10, 10–13, emphasis added (page references are to the reprinted version in Frank, Latin America: Underdevelopment or Revolution?, New York, Monthly Review Press, 1969 ).Google Scholar
  16. 11.
    See for example Henry W. Kirsch, Industrial Development in a Traditional Society: The Conflict of Entrepreneurship and Modernization in Chile, Gainesville, University Presses of Florida, 1977Google Scholar
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  20. 14.
    Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, London, Bogle-l’Ouverture, 1972, passimGoogle Scholar
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  25. 15.
    In this particular respect one can agree with the protests of Cardoso, ‘The Consumption’, op. cit., p. 18, echoed by, among others, Raymond D. Duvall, ‘Dependence and Dependencia Theory: Notes Toward Precision of Concept and Argument’, International Organization, vol. 32, no. 1, Winter 1978, p. 58CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    See for example Theotonio Dos Santos, ‘El Nuevo Caracter de la Dependencia’ in José Matos Mar (ed.), La Crisis del Desarrollismo y la Nueva Dependencia, Buenos Aires, Amorrortu, 1969, pp. 110–12Google Scholar
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  30. and Giovanni Arrighi and John S. Saul, Essays in the Political Economy of Africa, New York, Monthly Review Press, 1973, ch. 3.Google Scholar
  31. 17.
    The argument here is not the usual one that the ‘testers’ have set up grossly oversimplified dependency propositions as straw men to be knocked down with the most advanced quantitative techniques. On the contrary, the quantitative literature has become increasingly adept at operationalising the more sophisticated dependency theses, and the balance of declared findings is overwhelmingly fal’ourable to some important dependency claims; the objection is that most studies are restricted to evaluating the statistical support for dependency theory and no attention is given to the possibility that the relationships detected might equally be consistent with alternative interpretations, the obvious candidates being those suggested by neoclassical and mainstream institutionalist development economics (see particularly Volker Bornschier, Christopher Chase-Dunn and Richard Rubinson, ‘Cross-national Evidence of the Effects of Foreign Investment and Aid on Economic Growth and Inequality: a Survey of Findings and a Reanalysis’, American Journal of Sociology, vol. 84, no. 3, Nov. 1978Google Scholar
  32. Vincent A. Mahler, Dependency Approaches to International Political Economy: a Cross-National Study, New York, Columbia University Press, 1980Google Scholar
  33. and Steven Jackson, Bruce M. Russett, Duncan Snidal and David Sylvan, ‘A Formal Model of “Dependencia Theory”: Structure and Measurement’ in Merritt and Russett, op. cit.). The approach followed by Patrick J. McGowan and Dale L. Smith, ‘Economic Dependency in Black Africa: An Analysis of Competing Theories’, International Organization, vol. 32, no. 1, Winter 1978, seems more promising in this regard.Google Scholar
  34. 19.
    Lall, op. cit.; Thomas E. Weisskopf, ‘Dependence as an Explanation of Underdevelopment: A Critique’, University of Michigan, Center for Research on Economic Development (mimeo), Mar. 1976; and David Morawetz, Twenty-Five Years of Economic Development, 1950–75, Washington, D.C., World Bank, 1977, pp. 40–1.Google Scholar
  35. There is also telling argument along similar lines from economists of various schools in Benjamin J Cohen, The Question of Imperialism, London, Macmillan, 1974, ch. 6Google Scholar
  36. C. Richard Bath and Dilmus D. James, ‘Dependency Analysis of Latin America: Some Criticisms, Some Suggestions’, Latin American Research Review, vol. 11, no. 3, 1976Google Scholar
  37. Michael Lipton, Why Poor People Stay Poor, London, Temple Smith, 1977, ch. 3Google Scholar
  38. the contributions by Albert Fishlow and Carlos Diaz-Alejandro in Fishlow et al., Rich and Poor Nations in the World Economy, New York, McGraw-Hill/Council on Foreign Relations, 1978Google Scholar
  39. and Ian M.D. Little, Economic Development, New York, Basic Books/Twentieth Century Fund, 1982, ch. 12.Google Scholar
  40. 20.
    See note 2; also John G. Taylor, From Modernization to Modes of Production: a Critique of the Sociologies of Development and Underdevelopment, London, Macmillan, 1979CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. and John Weeks, ‘The Differences between Materialist Theory and Dependency Theory and Why They Matter’, The Differences between Materialist Theory and Dependency Theory and Why They Matter, vol. 8, No. 3/4, Summer/ Fall 1981.Google Scholar
  42. 22.
    On the transiency of such concerns, see Paul Streeten, ‘Development Ideas in Historical Perspective’ in his Development Perspectives, London, Macmillan, 1981.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. 23.
    Albert O. Hirschman, ‘The Political Economy of Import-Substituting Industrialization in Latin America’, Quarterly Journal of Economics, vol. 82, Feb 1968Google Scholar
  44. I.M.D. Little et al., Industry and Trade in Some Developing Countries, Oxford University Press, 1970Google Scholar
  45. Bela Balassa and Associates, The Structure of Protection in Developing Countries, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1971Google Scholar
  46. various contributions in Werner Baer and Larry Samuelson (eds), Latin America in the Post-Import Substitution Era, Oxford, Pergamon Press, 1977; and in a rather special way, Lipton, op. cit.Google Scholar
  47. 24.
    Dudley Seers, ‘Indian Bias?’ in Urban Bias’ — Seers versus Lipton, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, Discussion Paper 116, Aug. 1977.Google Scholar
  48. 28.
    Mori Kenzo, ‘Marx and “Underdevelopment”: His Thesis on the “Historical Roles of British Free Trade” Revisited’, Annals of the Institute of Social Science (University of Tokyo), no. 19, 1978, especially pp. 50–1. See also Palma’s already cited articles.Google Scholar
  49. 29.
    Warren, op. cit., chs 3 and 4, is good on this phase despite his rather one-sided reading of Marx (and terse dismissal of Mori’s argument, p. 153n), but see also Second Congress of the Communist International: Minutes of the Proceedings, vol. 1, London, New Park, 1977, p. 117; Jane Degras (ed.), The Communist International, 1919–1943: Documents, vol. 1, London, Oxford University Press for RIIA, 1956, p. 384Google Scholar
  50. and esp. Richard B. Day, ‘Trotsky and Preobrazhensky: The Troubled Unity of the Left Opposition’, Studies in Comparative Communism, vol. 10, nos 1/2, Spring/Summer 1977.Google Scholar
  51. In retrospect it seems clear that Aidan Foster-Carter’s ‘Neo-Marxist Approaches to Development and Underdevelopment’ in Emanuel de Kadt and Gavin Williams (eds), Sociology and Development, London, Tavistock, 1974, overrated the consistency of ‘palaeo-Marxism’ in respect of such questions, and that my own essay on Frank (in Oxaal et al. op. cit.) may have helped to give the false impression that dependency theory was the result of the first-ever major encounter between Marxist theory and Third-World nationalism.Google Scholar
  52. 32.
    See for example Nicola Swainson, The Development of Corporate Capitalism in Kenya, 1918–77, London, Heinemann, 1980Google Scholar
  53. Frits Wils, Industrialization, Industrialists and the Nation-State in Peru, University of California, Institute of International Studies, 1979Google Scholar
  54. Colin Leys’s 1978 and 1980 contributions to the ‘Kenya debate’, reprinted as ‘Accumulation, Class Formation and Dependency: Kenya’ and ‘Kenya: What Does “Dependency” Explain?’ in Martin Fransman (ed.), Industry and Accumulation in Africa, London, Heinemann, 1982Google Scholar
  55. David G. Becker, The New Bourgeoisie and the Limits of Dependency, Princeton University Press, 1983Google Scholar
  56. Bernardo Sorj, ‘The State, the Bourgeoisie and Imperialism in the Light of the Peruvian Experience’ in David Booth and Bernardo Sorj (eds), Military Reformism and Social Classes, London, Macmillan, 1983, pp. 194–8Google Scholar
  57. Eugene F. Sofer, ‘Recent Trends in Latin American Labor Historiography’, Latin American Research Review, vol. 15, no. 1, 1980Google Scholar
  58. Ian Roxborough, ‘The Analysis of Labour Movements in Latin America’, Bulletin of Latin American Research, vol. 1, no. 1, Oct. 1981; Henfrey, op. cit., pp. 47–9Google Scholar
  59. and David G. Becker, ‘Modern Mine Labour and Politics in Peru since 1968’, Boletin de Estudios Latinoamericanos y del Caribe, no. 32, June 1982. It is often argued that because of its emphasis on ‘external’ exchange relationships the dependency approach has engendered better work on dominant than on subordinate classes; however, this would seem quite a relative difference in the light of Leys’s critique.Google Scholar
  60. 45.
    Mueller’s work on Tanzanian tobacco farming is the exception that confirms the rule (see e.g. Susanne Mueller, ‘Barriers to the Further Development of Capitalism in Tanzania: The Case of Tobacco’, Capital & Class, no. 15, Autumn 1981).Google Scholar
  61. Kitching’s large and excellent book on Kenya does not qualify, since despite the unashamedly evolutionary and vigorously anti-‘populist’ Marxism he espouses elsewhere (see note 34) he favours ‘unpacking’ the concept of mode of production into a number of lower-level concepts for the purposes of analysing particular societies, a view not unlike the one taken here (Gavin Kitching, Class and Economic Change in Kenya: The Making of an African Petite-Bourgeoisie, New Haven, Conn., Yale University Press, 1980, p. 5 ).Google Scholar
  62. 46.
    The more theoretical contributions are extremely well surveyed and discussed, with varied emphases, by Aidan Foster-Carter, ‘The Modes of Production Controversy’, New Left Review, no. 107, Jan.—Feb. 1978; John Harriss, ‘The Mode of Production Controversy: Themes and Problems of the Debate’, University of East Anglia, Development Studies Discussion Paper 60, Nov. 1979Google Scholar
  63. Harold Wolpe, ‘Introduction’ in Wolpe (ed.), The Articulation of Modes of Production, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980Google Scholar
  64. and David Goodman and Michael Redclift, From Peasant to Proletarian: Capitalist Development and Agrarian Transitions, Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1981, chs 2–3.Google Scholar
  65. 50.
    Viz. the search for factors offsetting the ‘tendency of the rate of profit to fall’; for critiques see Ian Steedman, Marx After Sraffa, London, New Left Books, 1977, ch. 9, and Cutler et al. op. cit., vol. 1, chs 4 and 6.Google Scholar
  66. 51.
    Reprinted in Paul Sweezy et al., The Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism, London, New Left Books, 1976.Google Scholar
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    Hamza Alavi, ‘India and the Colonial Mode of Production’, Socialist Register 1975, London, Merlin Press, 1975, and ‘The Structure of Peripheral Capitalism’ in Alavi and Shanin, op. cit.Google Scholar
  68. Jairus Banaji, ‘For a Theory of Colonial Modes of Production’, Economic & Political Weekly, no. 52, 23 Dec. 1972Google Scholar
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  73. cf. Andre Gunder Frank, Amin, Unequal Development: an Essay on the Social Formations of Peripheral Capitalism, New York, Monthly Review Press, 1976.Google Scholar
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    Rural researchers are divided between 1. those who see petty producers as involved in a distinct mode which ‘articulates’ with capitalism, and 2. those who argue that they are subsumed under the laws of motion of peripheral capitalism or capitalism proper, becoming at the limit, ‘disguised proletarians’. The thesis under discussion is important to both groups—for example 1. Harold Wolpe, ‘Capitalism and Cheap Labour-Power in South Africa’, Economy & Society, vol. 1, no. 4, Nov. 1972Google Scholar
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    The variety of moods and tenses employed, or the seemingly casual omission of a verb, is symptomatic of the problem. Thus we have the labour power or products of small-scale enterprises being supplied ‘below their value (under capitalist conditions)’ (Boesen, p. 157, italics removed); ‘at prices lower than those which a capitalist producer would require’ (Schejtman, p. 128); at prices ‘enabling [the wages or ‘wages’ of enterprise members] to be lower than they would otherwise need to be’ (Godfrey, p. 67); and ‘lower than they might have to be in the absence of the marginal pole’ (Sandbrook, p. 67). Criticisms in a broadly similar vein have been made by Harriet Friedmann, ‘Household Production and the National Economy’, Journal of Peasant Studies, vol. 7, no. 2, Jan. 1980, p. 173; Kitching, Class and Economic Change op. cit., Appendix; and Caroline Moser and Kate Young, ‘Women of the Working Poor’, IDS Bulletin issue on ‘Women and the Informal Sector’, vol. 12, no. 3, July 1981, p. 54.Google Scholar
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    Susan Mann and James Dickinson (‘Obstacles to the Development of a Capitalist Agriculture’, Journal of Peasant Studies vol. 5, no. 4, July 1978) have shown how it is possible to use Marxist concepts in this kind of way.Google Scholar
  85. 78.
    Exceptions include Robert H. Bates, Markets and States in Tropical Africa, University of California Press, 1981, and in part, John Harriss and Mick Moore (eds), Development and the Rural-Urban Divide’, special issue of the Journal of Development Studies, vol. 20, no. 3, Apr. 1984.Google Scholar
  86. 80.
    For example, Frances Stewart and Paul Streeten, ‘New Strategies for Development: Poverty, Income Distribution, and Growth’, Oxford Economic Papers, vol. 28, no. 3, Nov. 1976Google Scholar
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    Leys, ‘Accumulation’, op. cit.; Bienefeld, ‘Dependency in the Eighties’, op. cit.; Bernstein, ‘Industrialization’, op. cit.; and John Browett, ‘Out of the Dependency Perspective’ in Peter Limqueco and Bruce McFarlane (eds), Neo-Marxist Theories of Development, London, Croom Helm, 1983.Google Scholar
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    See David E. Stansfield, ‘Perspectives on Dependency’ in Stansfield et al. (eds), Dependency and Latin America: a Workshop, Amsterdam: CEDLA, 1974, p. 9Google Scholar
  90. and Ronald Dore, ‘Underdevelopment in Theoretical Perspective’, Institute of Development Studies, Discussion Paper 109, May 1977, p. 4.Google Scholar
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    See for example Alan Ryan, The Philosophy of the Social Sciences, London, Macmillan, 1970, pp. 182–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Martin Shaw 1985

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  • David Booth

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