Sociology of Development Research Paper

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Development can be viewed as “organized social change” (McMichael 2000). Social change has long been a topic for social theorists and sociological studies. But viewing it as influenced by the intentionality of external actors is relatively recent and refers primarily to the economic performance of the global South1 (Elliott 1994:10).



The development era and the modernization project began in the 1940s as the United States became the undisputed military and economic power in the capitalist world and the Soviet Union emerged as its chief military and economic rival. Through the establishment of multilateral institutions at the end of World War II, in which the United States held primacy, and through the development of bilateral aid institutions and economic, political, and military relationships, the United States sought to improve conditions, first in Europe and then in the global South, and to tie nations in Asia Minor, the Middle East, and the South in general to the capitalist camp. The Soviet Union, through close integration with its client states in Eastern Europe and military, economic, and political ties to selected countries in the South, competed with the United States for influence. While one system was capitalist with varying degrees of market economies and the other state socialist with command economies, both pursued modernization projects. Ultimately, the promise of modernization was what each superpower dangled before nations of the global South. This research paper is about the modernization project of the surviving capitalist system. Whether the United States–led modernization project itself succeeded is the question addressed. We seek to answer this question through the lens of the sociology (and economics) of development.

There are few areas of sociology where theory is so closely linked to changes in the global landscape than in the sociology of development, which takes as given that the causes of underdevelopment are linked to its “cure.” Development theories have been used to justify a set of policies consistent with the modernization project that support capital accumulation. That use has impelled other sociologists, practitioners, and activists to provide countertheories with different causal models of how to, first, get to the modernization goal, then expand that goal, and ultimately reject it. The study of the organization of development efforts, the degree to which development can be intentional, the very definitions of development, whether it is unidimensional or multidimensional, and the actors involved (global, national, regional, local) make the sociology of development a highly contested and potentially influential realm of sociology.

To understand this contextual and contrapuntal relationship between competing development theories, we will look at different stages and turning points in the world economy and political situation in relation to the global North’s dominant assistance paradigms in relation to industrial and agrarian developments and characterize the South’s responses to them. Thus, we will address each time period by looking at the global context, the particular modernization project applied in that context (both industrial and agricultural manifestations), the response of the South, and the alternative development theories used to respond to the modernization project. We will sum up with an assessment regarding future directions of the sociology of development.

The Modernization Project as it Grew Out of World War II

Economic and Political Context

Discourses of underdevelopment and development emerged in the 1940s and became institutionalized in the context of decolonization, the Cold War, and the United States’ struggle for hegemony. A specific blueprint for planned social change (modernization overcoming traditionalism), shaped by Western notions of social evolution, was promoted by the North, adopted by elites in the South, and underpinned the newly established global institutions. These included the United Nations, the development institutions established by the Bretton Woods Agreement signed in July 1944, which became operational in 1946 (the World Bank, made up of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the International Development Association, and the International Monetary Fund [IMF]), and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). That blueprint was articulated around the notion that Third World2 countries would “catch up” with the First World through economic growth, technological transfer, and Westernization. Thus, a series of bilateral development assistance programs were set up, increasingly supplemented by multilateral foreign assistance efforts.

The devastation of Europe and Japan in World War II marked the end of the empire, opening the floodgates for new nation-states to emerge in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. Thus, decolonialization preceded modernization, as the emerging Cold War demanded that attention be paid to stopping regimes hostile to Northern interests from coming to power. Development aid was one positive sanction for directing Southern countries toward the Northern modernization project. Covert military intervention was a negative sanction. In some places, these two efforts were linked.

The United States did not attempt to mobilize a major foreign economic assistance program until near the end of World War II. The Marshall Plan, with its large capital investments in Europe’s productive infrastructure, was the initial bilateral commitment to development assistance (Morss and Morss 1982:19). The Marshall Plan attempted to block communist political and military initiatives and prevent Russia from gaining ground in a war-ravaged Europe. It also ensured that the United States would have important trading partners.

The immediate and striking success of the Marshall Plan in Europe and the heightened fear of communist influence in developing countries inspired U.S. planners to attempt a similar operation in the South. However, the Marshall Plan contrasted markedly with the subsequent focus of aid to developing countries. Financial capital and physical infrastructure were the limiting factors in rebuilding Western Europe and Japan. Institutional structures that favored industrial production had been in place, only temporarily interrupted by the war. A highly educated population was able to provide the management and skilled labor necessary for moving from reconstruction immediately into production. Market channels had merely to be revitalized, not invented. Reconstruction was carried out by the private sector, with financing from the public sector. In contrast, in the South, education and technical knowledge (human capital), as well as institutional capacity, were lacking. Modernizing the South was a much more daunting task.

Modernization in Theory and Practice

The modernization project was synonymous with development after World War II. McMichael (2000) sees the development/modernization project as “linking human development to national economic growth” (p. 25). Modernization would take place through the nation-state, and economic growth was the motive force for improvements in the standard of living of citizens of each country. Thus, traditionalism, localism, and “excessive” display of ethnic interests were negative; modernization was positive. The Western or capitalist version of modernization involved what Parsons (1951) termed the pattern variables: achievement rather than ascription, specificity rather than diffuseness, universalism rather than particularism, and orientation toward self rather than the collective. Economists linked these modern pattern variables of social action to economic growth (Rostow 1951, 1952).

Dominant Assistance Paradigms

The initial model of economic development that directed the post–World War II efforts of the United States has been referred to as the resource-constraint model. Walter Rostow (1951, 1964) was the best-known proponent of this model. The 15 years that followed World War II were typified by efforts to increase national output and by investments to increase capital stock. Morss and Morss (1982) refer to this as the “big lever” approach to development.

The Point IV Program, announced by President Harry Truman in his inaugural address on January 20, 1949, laid out the rationale for a plan to provide economic and technical assistance to help people in developing countries produce more, eschewing the colonial model of exporting raw materials from and importing manufactured goods to colonies. In 1950, Commonwealth foreign ministers met in Colombo and launched the Colombo Plan, which provided aid to South and Southeast Asia for economic development. In both cases, decolonization was linked to development (McMichael 2000:23).

During the late 1940s and 1950s, most Northern countries gave foreign aid multilaterally through the United Nations or, in the case of British Commonwealth countries, Plan Colombo. Japanese overseas development assistance was initially in the form of reparations. For example, it was only in 1959 that the Canadian Department of Trade and Commerce set up an Economic and Technical Assistance Bureau to look after developing countries’ growing needs for international assistance. Australia’s International Aid program began in 1974, although the Australian government provided development assistance to Papua New Guinea since 1946. Japan’s Official Development Assistance began in 1954 when it joined the Colombo Plan, an organization set up in 1950 to assist Asian countries in their socioeconomic development.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the United States dominated the global economy from a technological standpoint and continued its bilateral stance on foreign assistance. It was reassuring to U.S. citizens that the United States not only led in patents granted and productivity per worker but also in lawn mowers and televisions per capita (Lipton 1984). Thus, there seemed an obligation to send the kind of assistance that remade the South in the North’s image.

Dominant Agrarian Paradigms

The Green Revolution began during this period. Scientists trained in the United States and Europe were successful in creating new cultivars adaptable to Mexican commercial farming.

While efforts at selecting and breeding corn were relatively unsuccessful in terms of increased production, the wheat program, led by Norman Borlaug, resulted in widespread adoption and large production increases. The new “miracle varieties” required a substantial increase in inputs, including water, fertilizer, and later pesticides, but they allowed two blades to grow where only one was there before. It can be argued that the difference in the impact of the two programs was due less to research results than to differences in the users of the products. Wheat farmers in Mexico were more like U.S. farmers than were the Mexican corn farmers. The wheat farmers were commercial farmers, while the corn farmers were subsistence farmers (Myren 1969).

Responses from the South

Latin American states, particularly the larger ones— Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina—having profited from stimulation of industrial production for the war effort, were prepared to continue expansion of industrial production. The UN Economic Commission for Latin America articulated an import substitution industrialization strategy (Prebisch 1950), which from the mid-1950s on, involved, first, fomenting domestically owned consumer goods and light industry and, later, heavy industry (Gereffi 1994:39). Only at the beginning of the 1970s did the failure to markedly expand the middle class result in the stagnation of this policy.

Alternative Development Paradigms

Certain writings that came out of the European/ African experiences with colonialism and decolonization rejected Westernization. At the same time, Vatican II (1962–1965) and the following encyclical, Populorum Progressio (1967) and meeting of the Council of Bishops in Medellin, Colombia (1968), inspired Liberation Theology in the South, particularly Latin America (Gutiérrez 1973). A number of the influential priests active in the Liberation Theology movement were sociologists, such as Camilo Torres in Colombia (Torres 1965).

Membership in the United Nations increased during the 1950s and 1960s, as countries in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean gained independence. As members of the United Nations, these nations had a heightened concern for economic development and general skepticism of the Westernized modernization model for achieving it. They agitated for change in the market (trade policies) and state (development policies) as means toward modernization. Julius Nyerere, the first president of Tanzania, redefined development as “increasing peoples’ freedom and wellbeing” (Snyder 2004:34).

There was a definite conflict between the economic resource-constraint initiative (modernization), which favored advantaged classes and a trickle-down approach, and the political participation initiative, which was concerned about distributional issues. It was often convenient to abandon the efforts aimed at increasing participation. The rationale for abandonment was not to note the inconvenience and political sensitivity of this approach but to label participation a failure (Holdcroft 1978).

The “Revolutionary” 1960s

Economic and Political Context

Politically, the 1960s can be characterized as a period of revolutionary movements or, with respect to U.S. development efforts, of efforts to contain those movements. The 1960s began on January 1, 1959, with the triumph of the Cuban Revolution. The Cuban Revolution, the Bay of Pigs debacle (1961), and the Cuban missile crisis (1962) colored U.S. development efforts in Latin America throughout the 1960s and even into the 1980s, as the specter of the Cuban revolution haunted the Central American revolutions and was used to justify U.S. support of Central American counterinsurgency in the Reagan era. Similarly, the war in Vietnam, heating up in the early 1960s, affected development approaches in Asia and beyond. As United States Agency for International Development (USAID) states in its brief history on its Web site:

In Asia, USAID’s first emphases were on countering the spread of communism, particularly the influence of the People’s Republic of China. This quickly ballooned into a large program of assistance based on counter-insurgency and democratic and economic development in Vietnam, which lasted until the withdrawal of American troops in 1975. In Africa, USAID focused on such initiatives as the education of the leadership of the newly-independent countries and meeting other economic and social imperatives. (USAID 2005)

Perhaps more important for understanding the unfolding sociology of development, the intellectual impacts of the anti-Vietnam War movement in the United States and in Europe generated new intellectual currents, as did the foment around land reform and movements against el imperialismo yanqui4 in Latin America and in other parts of the South.

Modernization in Theory and Practice

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, a new generation of modernization sociologists began filling in empirical underpinnings for Parsons’s (1951) pattern variables of achievement, specificity, universalism, and individualism. David McClelland (1964) was a noted early modernization sociologist who used projection techniques to assess individuals’ achievement motivation or need for achievement and analyzed the content of popular literature to get at national entrepreneurial qualities. Alex Inkeles (1964) conducted cross-national surveys with individuals in different walks of life to determine their location on a modernity scale, which he found to be cross-nationally valid and which correlated to the degree of modernity of the country. A modern man (women were not prominent subjects in the modernization project) was open to new experiences, was independent of authority figures, believed in science, was oriented to social mobility, planned ahead, and was active in local civic life. Bellah’s (1957) study of the origins of industrialism in Tokugawa Japan was a more nuanced and culturally sensitive modernization study (see So 1990, chap. 3, for a discussion of these and other modernization theorists’ work).

Dominant Assistance Paradigms

The Alliance for Progress was established in 1961 in direct response to the Cuban revolution of 1959. It recognized that some of the constraints to progress in the hemisphere stemmed from more than a lack of resources and knowledge. Land reform, an issue Smith (1947) was loath to address in the 1940s, became a salient issue in the 1960s.

In 1962, USAID was created under the Kennedy administration, bringing together a number of previously dispersed foreign aid programs: the International Cooperation Administration, the Development Loan Fund, the Food for Peace (P.L. 480) program, and local currencylending activities of the Export-Import Bank. The new organization was perceived as a permanent agency, unlike its predecessors, which had been created to deal with particular international problems (Tendler 1975:15). The new agency was established for the following reasons:

The new directions most emphatically stressed were a dedication to development as a long-term effort requiring countryby-country planning and a commitment of resources on a multi-year, programmed basis. The new focus of development was to achieve economic growth and democratic, political stability in the developing world to combat both the perceived spread of ideological threats such as communism and the threat of instability arising from poverty. The economic development theory of W. W. Rostow [1951], which posited “stages of economic development,” most notably a “takeoff into growth” stage, provided the premise for much of the development planning in the newly-formed U.S. Agency for International Development. (USAID 2005)

While World Bank loans and USAID assistance were aimed at moving countries into a capitalist mode of production and thus the Western geopolitical camp, the Soviet Union’s foreign assistance included loans repaid in local currency or traditional exports combined with technical assistance supporting countries doing central planning and public ownership. Setting the development agenda became a key strategy in the Cold War and the North’s modernization project, whether capitalist or socialist.

Dominant Agrarian Paradigms

From the U.S. perspective, foreign aid was to become a lever for convincing governments to make policy changes, including land reform, needed to diminish a perceived communist threat. The major landowners were fearful of expropriation if their land continued to be exploited in the traditional extensive manner, so they began to intensify production, investing in the capital improvements and technological inputs necessary to produce such crops as sugar and cotton for the world market. The newly created national research institutions emphasized the crops grown by these modernizing operators, for it was the large farmers who had political influence over the state.

Responses from the South

Partly aided by post–World War II land reforms that sharply reduced inequality and the large amounts of aid from the United States in the 1950s, South Korea and Taiwan, which along with the city-states of Singapore and Hong Kong, made great leaps forward in export-oriented industrialization (EOI), steadily raising the standards of living of their people. These advances were made in relation to strong direction from the state (Gereffi 1994), and in the case of Korea, a militant labor movement helped guarantee that benefits accrued to workers as well as to industrialists (Berberoglu 1992:61–64). In the 1960s, industrialization in these two countries focused on light, labor-intensive industries, but in the 1970s, they expanded into petrochemicals, steel, automobiles, and ship building. Gereffi (1994:38) argues that in the 1970s, there was a degree of convergence of these Asian economies with those of the larger Latin American countries. Both groups of countries diversified their industrial activities to include both import substitution industrialization and EOI.

Perhaps what is important about the advances made by the East Asian “tigers” (Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong) is that in the 1980s, and even today, neoconservatives hold them up as shining examples of how open economies of the South can move forward dramatically on the path of development; they fail to take into account the fact that they were shepherded through the various stages of industrialization by strong states that regulated the private sector and, unlike the Latin American countries, instituted policies that sharply limited growth in inequalities (Schnitz 1984).

While there was a great deal of popular mobilization around breaking up the large estates and distributing the land among peasants in Latin America during the 1960s and 1970s, the concern for land reform among liberal Latin American leaders was less a concern for social justice and more a desire to modernize large estates and increase productivity as a way to deflect peasant agitation for land (Barsky and Cosse 1981). The latter objective was effectively accomplished in most countries in South America during this period (Thiesenhusen 1995).

Alternative Development Paradigm

By the mid-1960s, sociologists, particularly in the South, questioned the causal assumptions behind the modernization model, although they did not question the modernization goal. They insisted that underdevelopment could not be understood without examining the legacy of colonialism. Dependency (Chilcote 1974; Cardoso and Faletto 1979) and world-systems theories (Wallerstein 1974; Chirot and Hall 1982) were the main challenges to modernization theories in the 1960s and 1970s. Even scholars from more traditional economic and sociological backgrounds questioned the enduring inequalities (Boserup 1970; Snyder 1972) that remained as the modernization model was applied. With the work of Esther Boserup, the macroanalysis of regional inequality was coupled with mezzoanalysis of continuing gender, ethnic, and class inequality.

Dependency theorists responded to the modernization theorists, first, on the basis of the causes of underdevelopment and, second, on the actual impact of the interventions aimed at reducing it. While the modernization approach represented the North, dependency theory came from the South (Blomstrom and Hettne 1984). Thus, the historical relationships between North and South had to be examined and specified (Cardoso and Faletto 1979).

Alvin So (1990) sees dependency theory arising in Latin America “as a response to the bankruptcy of the program of the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA) in the early 1960s” (p. 91). Neither orthodox Marxism nor the modernization model provided adequate explanatory power or viable action agenda (Dos Santos 1973). Andre Gunder Frank (1968) brought Northern attention to this perspective in discussions of neocolonialism and the creation of dependency in his book Development and Underdevelopment in Latin America. Dos Santos laid out three historical forms of dependency: colonial dependence, financial-industrial dependence, and technological-industrial dependence. The modernization model created technological-industrial dependence. Amin (1976) stressed that the peripheral formation of capitalism was quite different from what had occurred in the Northern countries; the Southern social and economic base was characterized by extremely uneven production, disarticulation, and the economic domination of the center. Dependency theorists, a very heterogeneous group, did not deny the modernization project’s goal of economic growth. But they demanded that it be broadened to include all those living in the periphery. Thus, they concluded that there was a need for decreased contact with the core rather than the transfer of technology and structures from the core to the periphery. Perhaps the greatest weakness of classical dependency theory was its overspecification, leading to what in retrospect was an increasingly unlikely solution— revolutionary decoupling from the North.

The 1970s: Commodity Boom and Industrial Stagnation

Economic and Political Context

U.S. trade imbalances and an outflow of foreign exchange during the Lyndon Johnson presidency of “guns and butter” (1963–1969) led to President Richard Nixon’s negotiation of the Smithsonian agreement in May 1973, which replaced the Bretton Woods agreement. The “dirty float” was instituted, which allowed currency values to fluctuate worldwide. According to Allen and Laney (1982),

the advent of floating exchange rates signaled a decline in the role of central banks in establishing exchange rates, and, to an extent, interest rates, opening the door for market forces to prevail as capital controls were reduced and cross-country banking restrictions were eased. (P. 36)

Capital, always more mobile than other factors of production, became even more mobile.

For developing countries, introduction of the “floating peg” was propitious. Many of them had pegged their currency to the U.S. dollar and thus became more competitive vis-à-vis European producers. Furthermore, the expanding Middle Eastern markets—and speculation by oil-producing states in the commodities markets—allowed for rapid expansion of exports, including agricultural products, without pressure from established suppliers who saw their market share threatened. The United States and Western European nations did feel threatened. They responded with increased protectionism.

Modernization in Theory and Practice

Mainstream development theorists focused on the notion of dual economies, where traditional agricultural sectors diverted resources from industry, dampening accumulation. However, Theodore Schultz (1964) and others wrote about the rationality of the peasantry in the face of highly risky contexts.

In the 1970s, world-systems theories (Wallerstein 1974, 1986; Chirot and Hall 1982) were added to dependency theory as a challenge to modernization theories, but not necessarily to the modernization project. While dependency theory focused particularly on U.S. neo-imperialism and increasing international inequality, world-systems theory arose in an attempt to provide a more complete analysis of the forces at work in the development process (Berberoglu 1992). World-systems theory linked unequal development in capitalist agriculture to the origins of the European world economy in the sixteenth century (Wallerstein 1974, 1979). That analysis of particular kinds of market and state relationships stresses the historical roots of underdevelopment.

World-systems theory, like dependency theory, looked at internal as well as international inequalities. It provides a useful frame for sociologists to examine gender, inequality, and development (Ward 1984).

While dependency theory focuses on the core and the periphery, world-systems theories see the world as more complex, moving from a bimodal system to a trimodal one: core, semiperiphery, and periphery. Wallerstein (1979:70) sees semiperipheral countries serving to buffer the economic and political crises brought about by increasing accumulation in the core countries. Gereffi’s (1994) analysis of industrialization in the South is an excellent example of the application of world-systems theory.

Dominant Assistance Paradigms

In 1971, the Senate rejected the foreign assistance bill for the two succeeding fiscal years. This was the first time that either House had rejected foreign aid authorization since approval of the Marshall Plan in 1948. According to USAID’s (2005) publicly presented history, the Senate rejected the bill for multiple reasons: (1) opposition to the Vietnam War; (2) concern that aid was too focused on short-term military considerations; and (3) concern that aid, particularly development aid, was a giveaway program producing few foreign policy gains for the United States.

The House Committee on Foreign Affairs took the lead in reforming foreign assistance by introducing the concept of “basic human needs” for aiding the “poorest of the poor” in Southern nations and focused on more direct assistance to those groups by replacing

the old categories of technical assistance grants and development loans with new functional categories aimed at specific problems such as agriculture, family planning, and education. The aim of bilateral development aid was to concentrate on sharing American technical expertise and commodities to meet development problems, rather than relying on largescale transfers of money and capital goods, or financing of infrastructure. The structure of the FAA [Foreign Assistance Act, first passed in 1962] remains today pretty much the way it was following these 1973 amendments. (USAID 2005)

The decade of the 1970s was also a period of reorientation by the World Bank. Johnson named Robert McNamara, who had prosecuted the Vietnam War as U.S. Secretary of Defense in Lyndon Johnson’s cabinet, to the presidency of the World Bank in 1968, but the full implementation of McNamara’s reforms did not occur until his second term as bank president. The new focus was on poverty reduction and basic human needs, necessitated, according to Ayres (1983), by the failure of the trickle-down approach to have any impact on poverty. The change in focus was announced in McNamara’s speech to the World Bank Board of Governors in Nairobi on September 24, 1973. Prior to McNamara’s tenure, the World Bank was

a remarkably conservative institution. It was basically a project lender. The projects it financed were quite traditional as it shunned riskier sectors in the borrowing nations.

The objective was growth, and growth could be technocratically orchestrated regardless of the political systems in the countries that were the recipients of Bank loans . . . The Bank in the pre-McNamara years avoided a role as a development agency in favor of the more traditional role of bank. (Ayres 1983:3–4)

Between the first half of the 1960s to 1975, more than three-fourths of the bank’s lending was for electric power and transportation, 6 percent was for agricultural development, and 1 percent was for social services. By the time McNamara left the bank in 1981, lending for agriculture and rural development had grown to 31 percent of the total, with three-fourths of the agricultural and rural development loans having a small farmer component. And the World Bank’s total loan portfolio had quadrupled in McNamara’s tenure. Lending for industrial development with more attention to small industry, significant investment in primary and informal education, in health, and in urban housing also showed remarkable growth during his tenure. Power, transportation, and telecommunications, while growing in absolute amount, declined from 57 percent of the total in 1968 to 39 percent in 1981 (Ayres 1983:4–6).

Dominant Agrarian Paradigm(s)

At the same time U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Butz (1971–1976) urged U.S. farmers to plant fencerow to fencerow, secretaries of agriculture in developing countries encouraged conversion of forests and prairie into cropland. While colonization schemes allowed fulfillment of individual desires for land, they also furthered national goals of expanding export earnings and securing borders in remote areas. That they required expensive infrastructure was no problem: Credit was readily available as both public and private banks scurried to recycle petrodollars. The fact that these investments rapidly degraded the environment and exploited the colonists who first cleared the land, then were forced to sell out to large landowners, was generally ignored (Flora 1990).

Integrated rural development projects (IRDPs) established during the 1970s continued efforts to extend the Green Revolution to farmers with key resources, such as flat land, the ability to purchase fertilizer, and to access irrigation water. The desire for quick results over potential long-term gains heavily influenced where IRDPs were located.

Declining foreign assistance activity by U.S. universities in the mid-1970s (less than half the contracts that were in place in 1970) corresponded with both a decline in total USAID funding and the redirection of development activities. Land-grant universities were able to mobilize their considerable political clout to argue that the emphasis on capital transfer over institution building was inappropriate. Stressing the continuing world food problem, the universities presented themselves as uniquely able to combat famine and reduce hunger in the developing world by applying the research-teaching-extension model to increase productivity.

The result was the passage in 1974 of Title XII of the Foreign Assistance Act.5 In effect, Title XII gave foreign aid a domestic constituency—the land-grant system, which, Tendler (1975:38–39) argued, it previously had lacked.

During the 1970s, modernization theory was attacked as increasing inequality and failing to increase economic development, and the modernization project was on the defensive following the U.S. defeat in Southeast Asia by relatively ill-equipped guerrilla fighters whose most important weapon was nationalism (not Chinese support), public disclosure of CIA covert operations and FBI spying on domestic dissidents, and by Watergate.

Responses from the South

The 1970s, with the increased flow of petrodollars, was also a decade of building roads and other infrastructure. Changing terms of trade for raw commodities, beginning with oil, and the increased prices they commanded led to high inflation and a surplus of capital—ideal for development loans for massive infrastructural investments. Southern countries, because of favorable real interest rates that were sometimes negative, borrowed from both private domestic and international banks. Those expenditures were justified by the slogan “reaching the poorest of the poor.” It was reasoned that the poor could not be reached if there were no roads and no decent water to drink (Nicholson 1979:225). Large-capital projects suddenly became fashionable, led in rural areas by such programs as colonization, integrated rural development, and massive water projects. World Bank investment in infrastructure was thus often hidden in rural development and social programs. Government planners of the South sought out capital-intensive projects and borrowed the money to implement them. Modernization theory urged the adoption of technology, and the lenders and borrowers took this to mean that the more massive and expensive the technology, the better.

Alternative Development Paradigm

By the 1970s, theorists and practitioners of development, particularly in Latin America and Africa, increasingly questioned the modernization blueprint and terms of debate. They were greatly influenced by the context of economic crisis, environmental crisis, and—in the 1980s—the increasing burden of debt. These crises were triggered by the changed terms of trade in 1973 when the price of oil—and all commodities—rose steeply in world markets, increasing the amount of capital in circulation and thus the need (particularly by oil-exporting nations) to lend it out at interest.

Questioning the Modernization Goals

As Europe was recovering economically, the donors who supported the participatory model became bilateral donors in the mid-1970s. For example, Germany organized its semiautonomous bilateral aid agency, GTZ, in 1975. Previous development aid from Germany was through political parties or through the United Nations. The Norwegians, Swedes, and Danes became active foreign assistance donors in the 1970s. As highly participatory societies concerned with social equity, they brought that model to development practice, with an emphasis on the poor, particularly women and indigenous peoples.

As structural adjustment increased exclusionary tendencies, excluded groups became mobilized. These social movements, in turn, influenced scholarship and institutional structures.

Women in both the North and the South became increasingly concerned as the imposition of modernization further disadvantaged women (Tinker and Bramsen 1980; Charlton, Everett, and Staudt 1989; Tinker 1990). Organizing politically in Northern countries, they brought world attention to the situation of women in the South during the International Women’s Decade (1975–1985) (Snyder 1972, 2004). In the United States, the passage of the Percy Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1973 required that women be specifically addressed in foreign development assistance and led to the establishment of the Office of Women in Development in USAID (Staudt 1985; Frazier and Tinker 2004).

The Debt Crisis, Structural Adjustment, and Shrinking the State

Economic and Political Context

Credit, Weber tells us (1947:180), is a plan based on expectations about the future. Nations that borrowed, counting on the continuing decrease in the value of the dollar, now had to repay in more expensive dollars. Real interest rates in the early 1980s were double the interest rates of the 1970s (Watkins 1986; World Bank 1988).

In the early 1980s, the heavy indebtedness of the governments in the South led to a severe fiscal crisis (Schnitz 1984). In Latin America, the 1980s are referred to as “the lost decade.”

The belief in technology—particularly big technology in huge infrastructure projects in the 1970s—on the part of both international bankers and ministers of finance left Southern governments with huge debts.

Development Theory and Practice

Development practitioners decided that the state was inefficient as a modernizing entity and turned to market and civil society for solutions. The slogan was to substitute trade for aid. And the “failed states” had to reform. Structural adjustment meant cutting social programs to focus on exports.

The “Chicago boys,” who were instrumental in setting up the neoliberal regime in Chile after the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973, gained theoretical hegemony during the 1980s. The thrust of development was on hastening entrance into the market economy (Friedman 1973). In part, this was making virtue of necessity, because of the huge indebtedness of Southern economies. Incomegeneration projects for rural women were coupled with projects aimed at linking peasant men to international markets (Flora 1987).

Dominant Assistance Paradigms

During the 1980s and into the 1990s, international lenders, particularly the IMF, the lender of last resort, required countries to restructure their economies through policies of fiscal austerity and free trade that theoretically would generate the capital necessary to reduce external debt and foster internal growth. Loan write-downs, interest rate reduction, and continued capital flow were not forthcoming for most developing countries. Instead, Northern bankers and politicians urged governments in the South, often with less internal legitimacy than governments in the North, to institute policies they themselves were unwilling to institute at home because of the political protest such policies inevitably generate (George 1988).

Northern donor countries and multilateral lenders rejected the import substitution focus of the early theories of modernization. Rather, they urged Southern countries to seek their comparative advantage. The drive to open markets began. Structural adjustment, aimed at facilitating debt repayment, led to disinvestment in social infrastructure and safety nets that sociologists of development argued was critical for national development. Vulnerability of the poorest populations increased. In response, countermovements, consisting of feminists, environmentalists, and indigenous and other rural peoples, further challenged dominant development strategies, including the goals stressing increase in foreign exchange and gross domestic product.

The “New Orthodoxy” in foreign assistance introduced in the 1980s stressed “food self-reliance” over “food selfsufficiency.” Developing countries stressed production for export if exports produce foreign exchange to buy food grains from the United States. The goal was to reach the market-responsive farmer rather than the limited-resource farmer.

Moving from a modernization to a political economy lens, such strategies reinforced the existing relations of dependency through which the North dominated the South.

Dominant Agrarian Paradigms

Because of the demand to increase exports to provide foreign exchange, export crops were supported, which meant support for research in these areas, undergirded by schemes to bring more lands into production. Small farmers were to be better linked to the market through appropriate technologies, spurred by a number of projects aimed at increasing small-farm efficiency. Increasingly, these strategies were informed by an understanding that small farmers did what they did not out of ignorance but out of rational choice in the face of risky environments. Thus, at least a portion of aid was aimed at small farmers and farming systems. But the goal was to increase production to increase market penetration.

Responses from the South

Protests against structural adjustment grew in the South as safety nets and basic services previously offered by the state were dramatically reduced. The IMF was the focus of a great deal of this protest.

Alternative Development Paradigm

The increasing concern for inequalities that seemed an integral part of the modernization project mobilized a number of scholars to address both the means and the ends of modernization (Staudt 1991). Women and indigenous groups gained voice during the 1980s, demanding that their values and worldview were not the negative half of the traditional-modern dualism, but instead a vital part of real development.

In the 1980s and into the 1990s, reducing poverty, rural and urban, emerged as the key development issues (as opposed to the key fiscal issues of generating foreign exchange for debt repayment and cutting internal expenditures), shifting the unit of analysis from the nation-state to regions within states. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations terms sustainable livelihoods, gestion de terroir, and farming systems as “people centered approaches” (Baumann et al. 2004). Both scholars and development professionals increasingly recognized the need for programs targeted to excluded populations, particularly women (Moser 1993; Frazier and Tinker 2004); building on the Work of International Women’s Year, pro-Women in Development legislation passed first in Europe and then in the United States in the 1970s.

While locally based, these approaches turned to institutional rather than individual actors for change. Robert Chambers (1983) stressed the importance of local knowledge and the need for the outside agents of change to learn from local people. He called for reversals in learning and in management. Implicit in these ideas was an acceptance of the destructive nature of outside influence and particularly cultural and economic penetration.

Norman Uphoff (1986) was an early proponent of local agency through local institutions. International development should support those institutions in achieving more sustainable natural resources management, rural infrastructure, primary health care, agricultural production, and nonagricultural enterprises. While there was discussion with the local institution-building approach on whether to build on existing institutions or create new ones, the importance of local institutions in the global setting was stressed. The shift toward a focus on civil society began.

The 1990s

Economic and Political Context

Economies of the South followed those of the North in the economic boom of the mid-1990s, reinforcing the pressures for further liberalization of trade. But in 1997, the “miracle” economies of Asia suffered a financial crisis, greatly devaluing their currency and their stock markets. China and India, with state-controlled banking sectors, grew rapidly and were not affected by the Asian crisis. Sachs (2005) points to strict monetary and contractory fiscal policies implemented by the governments at the advice of IMF in the wake of the crisis. Banerjee (2005) points out that “many countries felt their fiscal rectitude was not adequately rewarded by increased growth” (p. 142).

In other parts of the South, ethnic cleansing and civil wars showed that the transition to capitalism and democracy was difficult and required serious institutional attention.

Modernization in Theory and Practice

The failure of the neoliberal modernization project and the growing negotiating power of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) (Carroll 1992) led to new theories of development in the 1990s, including the importance of social capital for poverty reduction (Evans 1996; Woolcock 1998; Narayan 1999) and actor network theories of development (Murdock 2000; Long 2001). These theories were partially adopted by binational and multinational state actors, with some redirection of resources for development assistance.

The sociology of development incorporates both structural and actor perspectives (Long 2001). The most interesting theories and practice struggle with the different epistemologies of the two perspectives and the intellectual and political space available.

These approaches were in part a response to the declining ability of the public sector to invest in modernization efforts and in part from a questioning of the modernization project itself. Unlike the structural theories, which conceptualize development as a product of external forces, empowerment theories of development view development as resulting from internal processes. While some of these theories accepted the structural damage caused by the intrusion of capitalism on traditional societies, all of them required a redefinition of the goals of development (Black 1991).

Dominant Assistance Paradigms

By 1995, the World Bank under President Wolfensohn began to mainstream social concerns as part of the development agenda (World Bank Operations Evaluation Department 2005). People-centered approaches (Korten and Klaus 1984) were only partially able to counter the negative effects of privatization urged by the North and the abdication by nation-states of the South of their roles in providing a safety net for the majority of their citizens.

USAID shifted from a focus on agriculture to a focus on natural resources. Natural resource management in developing countries required local participation and community, not just individual, engagement (Bromley 1991). Community-based natural resource management schemes were supported in Asia,Africa, and Latin America, with an emphasis on indigenous knowledge as an important complement to scientific ecosystem knowledge (Mazur and Titilola 1992).

At the same time, there was a strong push for privatization of not only state but also communal resources.

As the central state was both impoverished and ineffective, development programs and conditions stressed decentralization and devolution (Cohen and Peterson 1999). There was, in general, “renewed emphasis on the importance of . . . institutions—ranging all the way from property rights, to civil service reform, to financial systems” (Ranis 2005:130).

Dominant Agrarian Paradigm(s)

Two paradigms dominated agrarian change. On the one hand, natural resource conservation gained in importance as the destruction of the rain forests and the increase in endangered species raised serious public concern. Particularly in marginal areas, conservation, from reforestation to sustainable watershed management, was to modify traditional agricultural systems. And on more fertile lands, technology should be used to maximize production. Finally, as the antidrug war increased in political saliency in the United States, programs to substitute nontraditional agricultural crops for coca and poppies were heavily funded.

Responses from the South

Southern resistance to policy-based loans and conditionality increased. Southern scholars focused on the negative impacts of structural adjustments, including increases in infant mortality and decreases in life expectancy. NGOs vigorously attacked the inequalities exacerbated by structural adjustment and privatization programs. The calls for growth with equity increased.

Alternative Development Paradigm

By the end of the 1990s, alternative approaches, which included participatory development, microcredit, and empowerment, were part of the international development portfolio. However, indigenous people increasingly organized themselves and allies to claim/reclaim their languages, their governance structures, and their germplasm.

The New Millennium

Economic and Political Context

By the early twenty-first century, the induced fiscal crisis of the state in many countries of the North, coupled with strategies of homeland security and increasing internal strife in the South, further reduced and redirected international development investments. As globalization has exacerbated inequality among nations, across subnational regions, and among individuals and households, development has become a global enterprise (McMichael 2000:15). The modernization project became the cultural and economic integration of the world. The market, rather than the state, is assumed to be the dominant actor, and international institutional intervention shifted from United Nations organizations, such as the United Nations

Development Program (UNDP) and the FAO, to the GATT and then the World Trade Organization (WTO). The civil society countermovements to this modernization project are an important component of the sociology of development (Flora 2003).

Modernization in Theory and Practice

Free trade as the solution to underdevelopment still has strong proponents as the WTO seeks to lower the barriers to the flow of capital, goods, and services. Development loans still have conditionality that includes decreasing tariffs and decreasing price supports.

Dominant Assistance Paradigms

Empowerment, “the expansion of assets and capabilities of poor people to participate in, negotiate with, influence, control and hold accountable institutions that affect their lives” (Narayan 2002:xviii), at least gets lip service in most development programs (Baumann et al. 2004). Gross domestic product is no longer the major indicator of development success. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are now stated as the object of development, to be sought for themselves and not assumed to come with increased incomes.

There are eight millennium development goals, and all have targets and indicators.

There are four pillars of UNDP’s strategy in support of the goals:

  • Integrating the MDGs into all aspects of the UN system’s work at the country level, including creating new guidelines for country assessments and national development frameworks.
  • Assisting developing countries in preparing MDG reports that chart progress toward the goals, in cooperation with other UN agencies, the World Bank, the IMF, civil society, and other partners.
  • Supporting the Millennium Project, led by Professor Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University, and the Millennium Campaign to build global support for the goals.
  • Supporting advocacy and awareness-raising efforts based on national strategies and national needs. Developed countries focus on trade, aid, technology, and other support needed to reach the MDGs, while in developing countries, the aim is to build coalitions for action and help governments set priorities and use resources more effectively (UNDP 2005b).

A critical aspect of the dominant development paradigm is monitoring and accountability. Not only are there nonmonetary goals, there are concrete indicators.

Responses from the South

Southern countries, particularly on the African continent, link meeting the MDGs with debt forgiveness. While the world’s richest countries discussed these issues at the July 2005 G-8 meeting, the willingness to invest in development is limited, particularly in the United States.

Sociology of development is now more concerned with globalization than with development practice. Yet there is a continuing need to theorize development processes and practices to deal with the major role of international development—reducing poverty, which includes increasing income, increasing livelihood stability, and increasing voice among the poor so that those most concerned about poverty can be involved in its reduction. This is particularly urgent, given the counterforces to development: the constant pressure for modernization that the current pressures for globalization represent.


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