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Journal of Political Ecology:
Case Studies in History and Society
VOLUME 4 (1997)
Paradigms: Peasants, Labor and the Capitalist World System in Africa and
Latin America, edited by Frederick Cooper. Madison: University of
Wisconsin Press, 1993. viii 430 pp.
Development: An Introduction to the Third World, by Ted Lewellen.
Westport: Bergin and Garvey, 1995. xi, 271 pp.
Reviewed by Richard K. Reed, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Trinity University.
The 1970s saw a burst of insight
into the historical development of global economic and political relations.
Previously, social science had envisioned the world as divided into two
distinct sectors, the "traditional" and the "modern."
Radical critiques of that paradigm recognized that the centers of a world
system manipulate and expropriate wealth from "underdeveloped"
countries. In turn, these reformulations have been roundly criticized
over the last two decades. The world capitalist system has been shown
to be less a monolith than a pastiche of struggles in which local conditions
and groups exert considerable power. Moreover, our concept of world structures
has come under attack as rooted in time and place. We have come to see
our models as subjective representations of our world, rather than objective
It is perhaps a fitting moment in
the historical development of our own knowledge to take account of the
state of our concepts. The two books offered here explore these models
of the world system, considering the recent advances. These authors do
more than consider the state of the art, they lay the groundwork for further
developments and new understandings.
The first of these books, Confronting
Historical Paradigms: Peasants, Labor and the Capitalist World System
in Africa and Latin America, proposes to re-evaluate our paradigms for
understanding world history. Five established scholars discuss the theories
and models for African and Latin American development. They seek to bridge
these two continents and compare the project of workers in these two sectors
of the world system.
The work sets its task as more than
an explication of the historical relation between peasants and labor in
these regions. It redefines these processes, using recent advances in
historiography and cultural analysis to evaluate the promises and pitfalls
of the models. It does not engage directly with the conventional paradigms
of modernization theory; nor does it try to provide the final and ultimate
model to supplant the more recent critiques of radical models. This work
attempts to provide voices to the growing discussions of history and change
in a global perspective. In short, it is designed to stimulate new thinking
and work on the topic.
The work successfully opposes discussions
of African and Latin American literatures. This allows the reader to understand
the areas of commonalties and the different paths that the two have traveled
over the last decades. Moreover, by discussing concepts (e.g., "peasant")
and case materials from two continents, it allows the reader to appreciate
historical differences between the areas. This can account for some, but
nor all, of the theoretical incongruities.
In the introductory essay, Stern
points out that the last two decades have seen splintering in the historical
study of labor and peasantry. First, the objective stance of traditional
historiography has been thoroughly criticized, replaced by an awareness
of the analysts perspective. Second, the social history movement has shifted
the focus of analysis to the power of non-elite sectors. Third, the specialization
of historians has created scholarly myopia, obstructing the grand vision
of writing world history. This volume, then, seeks to rediscover the common
ground in historical analysis of labor s relations to world structures.
Stern finds the common ground in
the dialogue between diverse voices and experiences. On one hand, the
voices of anthropologists, historians, Latin Americanists and Africanists
have brought diverse perspectives to the study of these issues. On the
other hand, the project of this social analysis has shown that the monolithic
world system is more accurately described as myriad local experiences.
Diverse forms of resistance and accommodation influence the relations
that develop. The cadence of these voices, attended to in unison, provides
"reverberations" that make the larger themes and issues evident.
In the first analytic essay, Stern
evaluates Wallerstein s model from a peripheral perspective, focusing
on Latin American sugar and silver production in the sixteenth and seventeenth
century. Wallerstein s model improved our understanding of capitalist
market relations. However, Stern points out that it misses important local
factors that constrained and patterned the development of sugar and silver
economies. Stern posits that two additional local factors need to be integrated
into our understanding of world history: popular strategies of resistance
and the struggles of local mercantile elites.
Shifting to Africa, Cooper offers
a comparative perspective on global economic history. The basic essay
was written in 1980 and passes the test of time in its clarity and comprehensiveness.
Cooper follows his original piece with a more current postscript that
analyzes recent theoretical contributions to the understanding of African
He asks succinctly "But is
there anything in this trend toward cultural and linguistic analysis that
is relevant to the "dismal science" which was the subject of
this essay?" (1993:195). He answers the rhetorical question with
qualified affirmation, citing studies that explore the power of development
concepts to define relations between the center and periphery. For example,
Cooper points to Ferguson s (1990) study of Lesotho, which was defined
as "politically and economically isolated." This blinded the
world to a century of exploitation it received at the hands of world and
In Roseberry s essay, "Beyond
the Agrarian Question in Latin America," he reassesses the structural
focus of the debates about Latin American peasantry. The radical critique
of modernization theory focused on dependent relations emanating from
the center of world capitalism, and gave the impression that a general
history was imposed on "from above". Attracted in the 1980s
to the historical and systemic concerns of dependency and world-systems
theories, a cohort of scholars transformed them. Anthropologists and historians
brought an awareness of the profound complexity of class and ethnic relations
that defy and confound categorization. These called attention to the actions
of local groups and the experience of individual actors. Peasants relate
to their political worlds in a complex montage of resistance and accommodation.
These are reactions to, but not determined by, the larger world of which
they are a part.
Mallon provides the final and concluding
chapter to this volume. She points out that the last generation scholars
critiqued the dual structure of modernization theory, highlighting links
of central powers to Latin American and African societies. The present
generation of scholars have discovered diverse voices and case studies
that challenge the universalist paradigms of dependency and world systems
theories. Our task, therefore, is to find the underlying resonance in
the variety of historical experiences over the two continents and four
Mallon points out the current study
of universalist paradigms make us aware of the contestation of knowledge,
discourse and culture. These recognize how local power negotiates with
larger structures. As long as awareness of these issues remains the sole
property of the intelligentsia of so-called developed countries however,
it reinforces the imperialism and power differentials of the past.
As a unified piece, this work is
as important for the generalist as for those who have been engaged with
the recent material. These articles have much to offer scholars who immersed
themselves in the dependency and articulation of modes of production debates,
then abandoned them as gendered, ethnic and post-structuralist models
grew in intellectual fashion. The volume reviews the strengths of these
earlier paradigms from the vantage point of our present skepticism. It
allows us to reintegrate them into the eclectic perspectives that we use
to understand our increasingly complex world.
Dependency and Development: An Introduction
to the Third World is an introductory text, seeking to explain the third
world and its problems to the newcomer. Author Ted Lewellen describes
the relations between rich and poor nations, and the relentless change
in the modern world. Using a perspective that draws on both dependency
and development theories, Lewellen explores issues in Third World development,
including population growth, environmental problems and human rights.
As a text, the book is suitable
for advanced undergraduates, established graduate students, or the informed
generalist. The author defines basic concepts, such as "imperialism"
and "colonialism," which gives the newcomer the tools to begin
to think about different structures for international relations. It also
evaluates different models of these relations, which highlight the shifting
focus of development theory over the last decades. Finally, for the more
advanced reader, this text explores a series of case studies, in which
the models highlight critical relations between powerful and weaker countries.
First, the book sets out to define
its subject for the introductory reader. To do so, the author falls back
on the term "Third World." Despite its intellectual baggage,
the concept points to a variety of important social, economic, and political
differences between powerful nations and "the rest." Lewellen
is a cultural anthropologist, and this affiliation is clear in the multifaceted
nature of this focus. He has drawn on political science, economics and
history, using case studies from around the world. Thus, in analyzing
the "Third World," the work is interdisciplinary in both tone
The book provides a brief world
history of the broad international connections that were formed long ago.
This underscores the actions of powerful nations that have driven much
world history. While outlining the relentless drive toward connection,
Lewellen makes an effort to point to the positive and the negative impact
of these relations.
This book also introduces the reader
to the variety of theoretical formulations that have defined the development
literature. Lewellen provides a brief and cogent description of modernization,
dependency, and world systems theories. He argues that no single theory
can explain the complex present. Besides exploring the power of international
relations, he points to the powerful forces at work within weaker nations.
Thus, the book attempts a synthetic approach to understand the changing
world of today.
The heart of this book is the exploration
of six social issues understood in linkages between local and international
levels. The first analyzes the internal economies of third world countries.
The discussion of domestic economy challenges traditional perspectives
of poverty, which rely on indices of GNP, and points out that the analysis
needs to attend the distribution of income as well. In addition to the
agricultural and industrial sectors, this points to the third important
economic sector including both the informal economy and government employment.
This chapter relates the organization and problems of domestic economies
of third world countries to the traditional inner-directed models, notably
the basic needs and the import-substitution models.
The fifth chapter outlines the situation
of third world economies in the international economic order. This discusses
the imbalance in the world marketplace, then outlines neoliberal and Asian
models for extricating national economies from these ties. It concludes
with the international debt crisis of the 1980s and the new world economic
The sixth chapter outlines the link
between economics and politics in the developing world. The discussion
uses game theory to point to the conflicting agendas of the various actors,
and the means that political elites use to dominate state bureaucracies.
The seventh chapter focuses on the demographic problems faced by many
Third World countries: population growth, migration and urbanization.
Lewellen s discussion on population focuses on three aspects. He surveys
demographic arguments of world population growth, showing that economic
insecurity leads to high fertility rates in Third World countries. This
discussion also points to the problems created by urban migration in countries
with little infrastructures and declining employment. Finally, the discussion
of demography discusses the recent rise in refugee populations, and the
particular problems they create for state systems with few political and
The last two issues discussed in
this book move to the contemporary debates about the sustainability of
development and abuses of human rights. Current development is rapidly
destroying the resources on which it depends. Urban air and water are
rendered toxic by industrial development; expanding rural economies destroy
forests and leave deserts in their wake. The discussion of the environment
ends on a cautiously optimistic note, pointing to the recent policy changes
in multilateral banks drafted in response to international concern.
The last issue discussed in this
text is human rights. Lewellen points out that genocide, torture, and
murder are common in many developing areas. Ethnic differences, economic
pressures, and the consolidation of state control create an environment
where respect for humanity is often overridden by the mandate of development.
Indigenous groups, most especially, have suffered from their relations
with this process of change and development.
The final chapter in Dependency
and Development reviews the mixed outcomes of world economic growth and
political consolidation. It points to the dramatic increase in health,
education, and democratic institutions over the last decades, while recognizing
that problems continue and, in some ways, are exacerbated.
This book provides a clear and balanced
discussion of the problems and prospects inherent in our growing world.
It is informed by our contemporary understanding of the political, economic
and ecological linkages between the First and the Third Worlds. It shows
that the problems of the Third World are not a necessary aspect of world
history, but were created in relations between developed and developing
nations. The book is especially useful in being aware of the demise of
the Soviet state, and the dramatic shifts in the world s balance of power
and ideological landscape.
At a theoretical level, this book
attempts to go beyond the distinct perspectives of dependency and modernization
theories, by synthesizing them into a single approach. The result leaves
the reader with an understanding of the complexity of the problem, without
the coherence of a single approach.
Both books offer useful perspectives on the current state of international affairs and world stratification. Whereas the former book provides the advanced social scientist with much to think about, the latter starts yet another generation thinking about the problem.