In a compelling new contribution in the journal Development and Change, a political economy collective led by Jeorg Wiegratz builds a strong case against calls to “universalize” Development Studies shifting the focus from “International” to “Global” Development. Indeed, many such calls at universalization – at least in the two influential “pandemic papers” the collective thoroughly revises, one is main-authored by Oldekop and the other by Leach – are misguided. As convincingly argued by the collective, these calls tone down the structural historical nature of the Global North-Global South divide; they erase development paradigms and understandings from the Global South and trivialize the nature of challenges emerging from long histories of colonization and plunder, which still regenerate along global value chains and networks, as authors like Suwandi have shown, as well as distinct regimes of social reproduction and contemporary crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, as I explain here and here.
Yet, universalizing and globalizing are not the same thing; they can be operated in distinct ways, and through entirely different intellectual projects. Moreover, the discipline of Development Studies, in its mainstream dominant avatar, badly needs “globalizing,” given its Eurocentrism – yet in ways that center the experiences in/of the majority world; think through plural frameworks and locations; and speak to the extraordinarily diverse material realities and practices of power, inequality, and subordination across our planet. Crucially, such experiences, realities, and practices are, at once, the result of trajectories mediated by the Global North-Global South Divide, as emphasized in critical International Development frameworks, yet also always been global in nature – calling for Global Development lenses – unlike what narrow development economic theorizing heavily relying on modernization theory has and still suggest/ed. Ultimately, one may wonder: in the debate between “International” and “Global” Development, why and what exactly do we need to choose?
In what remains a classic essay in the study of Development, Michael Cowan and Robert W. Shenton differentiate between Development as an Intentional process, and Development as an Immanent process. Development as an Intentional process has always been linked to the evolution of the aid regime, “catching up” development paradigms, and produced complex and problematic forms of governance and governmentality, both internationally and nationally, often aimed at the management, control, and disciplining postcolonial populations, as Sanyal points out. Neeladri Bhattacharya’s masterful The Great Agrarian Conquest emphasizes that development, as already the colonial enterprise, invented a grammar of power; categories and classifications – e.g., the “agrarian,” the “village,” earlier on, the “poor,” the “informal sector” later – to rule and/or subordinate. Many critical literatures, especially from the Global South, including Structuralism, Dependency Theory (including in their powerful novel reconceptualizations, such as that explained by Kvangraven), and Decolonial frameworks (a point noted in the work of Wiegratz and his co-authors), have engaged with the shortcomings of International Development as an intentional project, criticizing the simplistic theories and solutions proposed by mainstream International Development thinking and interventions, and stressing their constitutive material and discursive power in deepening and regenerating unequal relations in the world economy.
Development as an Immanent process, on the other hand, speaks to capitalist transformations, both in the Global North (often wrongly taken as point of reference) and in the Global South. The latter can be conceived, in the words of Sud and Sanchez-Ancochea, as a “territorial, relational, structural and political construct” historically subordinated to varying degrees in the global system – notwithstanding the simultaneous presence of many “Souths” in the North and vice versa, especially taking race and mobility into account, as Pailey argues. Quite intriguingly, when it comes to Immanent Development, there has been less of a neat separation between mainstream and heterodox/critical accounts, in the sense that many frameworks across these camps have contributed to reify development as a linear process. More specifically, Immanent Development has been trivialized in both mainstream and heterodox stagist accounts, including Marxist ones inspired by Bill Warren’s work, Selwyn writes, as a process of elite-centered sectoral capitalist penetration and transformation taking place in economic phases. This approach needs undoing, as capitalism – aka Immanent Development – has always been Global, and accounts claiming otherwise are, in fact, Eurocentric, pitching western countries’ experiences as a “model” of capitalist penetration to follow, or fight against. Eurocentric, stagist takes of Immanent Development are becoming ever more dangerous, given their emphasis on manufacturing development and disregard for climate change, as denounced for decades now by Eco-Feminist scholars such as Mies and Shiva, Mathaai, and Barca, as well as Decolonial (e.g., Cusicanqui, Tamale), World Ecology (e.g., Moore) and now Degrowth theorists and frameworks (e.g., Kallis, Hickel).
As works by Banaji and Bannerji show, we have always been coeval on this planet – and simultaneously subjected for centuries now to the laws of capital, despite its manifestation in varied, regional multiple forms of exploitation and oppression. It is exactly these considerations that pushed me and a collective of authors to write a book, eventually published in 2021 in the middle of the first COVID-19 lockdown, titled Marx in the Field. At times wrongly clubbed with stagist theorists – admittedly often due to the prolific work of economistic and/or formalist Marxists – Marx unequivocally interpreted capitalism as a global system (see these works by Banaji and Pradella). Hence the book, in a nutshell, aims at celebrating the global reach and potential of Marxian global political economy, reclaiming its relevance for the study of the development process, and particularly to guide field-based research, as Marcus points out, “in” and “for” the World system. The collection takes an uncompromising global approach to the study of Development. It stresses the global nature of supposedly “local/regional” themes representing long-term concerns for International Development – for example, urban or rural poverty and precarious work across South Asia, Southern and West Africa, or South America. At the same time, it explores the accumulation strategies of a huge set of actors benefitting from contemporary Immanent Development frontiers and hierarchies – e.g., regional exporters, larger farmers, global and local traders, and in so doing it explores globalizing processes cutting across the world economy, and connecting regions, peoples, and inequalities. The geographical reach of the collection is also global, including Gulf countries, North America, Southern Europe, or Post-Soviet Central and Eastern Europe.
By exploring Immanent Development through this global lens, essays in the collection bring Marx “to the field” in three ways. They illustrate how Marxian categories can be concretely deployed for field research globally; they analyze how abstract categories may have to be locally translated during fieldwork and they discuss the complex links between multiple data collection methods and Marxian analysis. Crucially, most contributions in the volume expand and integrate Marxian global political economy with other intellectual traditions, including a plurality of radical feminist traditions, critical realism, and postcolonial studies, among others. On the other hand, paraphrasing Ruth Wilson-Gilmore’s powerful words, pronounced in a packed, wonderfully vibrant Historical Materialism conference plenary at SOAS, London, in 2019, which I had the pleasure to attend, “Marxists on the planet, historically, are mostly NOT white, NOT male, and NOT in the Global North.” Indeed, also in his intellectual legacy, Marx has always been “global,” his work “queered” through various intellectual and regional lenses, experiences, and understandings. In fact, one could say that through both its focus, themes and approach, Marx in the Field queers both Marxian political economy as well as Development Studies, pushing their comfort zones considerably. While some chapters focus on classic Marxian tropes in the study of contemporary capitalism – class, labor, agrarian change, global commodity chains, price formation – others aim at demonstrating the relevance of the Marxian method beyond its traditional boundaries – analyzing interplays between food, nutrition, and poverty; social reproduction, gender, and homework; the structure of refugee regimes, tribal chieftaincy, or prison labor; or the dynamics of global surrogacy.
Arguably, by showing the relevance of Marxian categories, concepts, and methods for conducting field-based research globally, and by queering Marxian political economy through intellectual traditions from both the Global North and the Global South, Marx in the Field may also propose a different paradigm through which we can glimpse at a different pathway to “globalize” the field of Development Studies, in ways that do not produce erasures or “amnesias” in knowledge production, as discussed by Fischer, among other authors, but rather through an acknowledgement of the long-standing global contours and features of processes – including slavery, colonialism, imperialism – which International Development as a discipline has too often ahistorically misrepresented as ‘local’ issues or problems afflicting the majority world.
Ultimately, drawing firm perimeters around the terms “International” or “Global” Development may be a tricky exercise in the unruly and multi-polarized field of Development Studies, which, as other social sciences, has fallen for many fashions, but which has also pushed the boundaries of thinking around socio-economic change through and from the Global South. It may also miss the point in relation to capturing lived realities. Indeed, some processes may be interpreted through different lenses based on the focus of the analysis. I have argued elsewhere that COVID-19 pandemic can be seen both as supporting the case for Global Development, given the global exposure of racial inequalities in infection and death in the world economy, as well as confirming the ongoing relevance of International Development, given practices of, referring to Ghosh, “vaccine apartheid,” and, as explained by Alami and his co-authors, IMF-led post-COVID recovery conditionalities imposed on the Global South. In my view, one could still see many reasons to support the coexistence of studying Development both in its International, Intentional dimension and in its Global, Immanent features and trajectories – as long as both center experiences of the majority world and are driven by social justice agendas. The difference always lies in content, not label; in this case, in doing and promoting progressive – radical! – Development Studies research and politics.
As Marx in the Field is finally released in paperback (here I am told I should encourage you all to get it! Here!), I sincerely hope the volume will serve well students and scholars committed to the study of both International and Global Development through doing field-based informed research committed to social justice and centered on labor, exploitation, oppression, accumulation, inequality, and plunder, as planetary concerns in Marxian political economy, as they always have been. I also hope the book will serve well Marxian political economy, by re-embedding, mainstreaming – and yes, further globalizing – the study of Marxian categories, concepts, and methods in graduate methodology classes both in Development Studies and across social sciences.
Alessandra Mezzadri is Reader in Global Development and Political Economy, SOAS, University of London.
Marx in the Field is published by Anthem Press 2023. The collective of Marx in the Field includes (in order of contribution in the volume): Alessandra Mezzadri (editor); Henry Bernstein; Barbara Harriss-White; Muhammad Ali Jan; Adam Hanieh; Susan Newman; Benjamin Selwyn; Satoshi Miyamura; Farai Mtero, Brittany Bunce, Ben Cousins, Alex Dubb, Donna Hornby; Lorena Lombardozzi; Tania Toffanin; Sara Stevano; Sigrid Vertommen; Gavin Capps, Genevieve LeBaron, Paolo Novak, and Subir Sinha.