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Politics Developing World

Apr 06, 2018



  • 8/3/2019 Politics Developing World


    1Analytical Approaches to the

    Study of Politics in the

    Developing World

    Vicky Randall

    Chapter contents


    Politics and the Developing World

    Dominant Theoretical Approaches Current Approaches

    Strategies and Methods of Analysis

    Critical Perspectives


    * Overview

    Two contrasting broad approaches longdominatedpoliticalanalysis of developing coun-

    tries. One was a politics ofmodernization that gave rise to political development theory,then to revised versions of that approach that stressed the continuing if changing role

    of tradition, and the need for strong government, respectively. Second was a Marxist-

    inspired approach that gave rise to dependency theory and subsequently to neo-Marxist

    analysis that focused on the relative autonomy of the state. By the 1980s both ap-

    proaches were running out of steam but were partially subsumed in globalization theory,

    which emphasized the ongoing process, accelerated by developments in communica-

    tions and the end of the cold war, of global economic integration and its cultural and

    political ramifications. Nowadays, the very concept of a developing world is increasingly

    hard to sustain and with it the possibility of identifying one distinct analytic approach as

    opposed to middle-range theories and a particular focus on the role of institutions more

    widely evident in contemporary political studies. In the absence of such an approach,

    certain key themes and agendas provide some degree of coherence. Similarly there is no

    distinctive set of methodological approaches but rather the application of approaches

    more generally available in the social sciences. Finally, whilst it is not possible to point

    to a systematic critique of prevailing or mainstream approaches, elements of a potential

    critique can be garnered from the literatures on orientalism and post-coloniality, and

    on post-development, and more generally from a post-structural perspective.

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    This chapter provides an introduction to the main

    broad analytical approaches or frameworks of in-

    terpretation that have been employed in studyingpolitics in the developing world. The developing

    world is clearly a vast field, covering a great number

    of highly diverse political systems. To varying de-

    grees those seeking to make sense of this field have

    felt a need for theories or frameworks of analysis

    to provide them with appropriate concepts or con-

    tainers of information, and allow comparison and

    generalization across countries or regions. Some

    frameworks have been relatively modestor middle-

    range, but others have been much more ambitious

    in scope and claims. Moreover, despite aspirationsto scientific objectivity and rigour, they have in-

    evitably reflected the circumstances in which they

    were formulated for instance political scientists

    underlying values, domestic political pressures, and

    funding inducements, as well as perceived changes

    in the developing countries themselves. We all need

    to be aware of these approaches, and the surround-

    ing debates, if we are to read the literature critically

    and form our own views.

    We begin with what can be called the politics

    of modernization, emerging in the United States in

    the 1950s. This approach, including political devel-opment theory and its various revisions, operated

    from a mainstream, liberal, or, to its left critics, pro-

    capitalist perspective. The second and opposed ap-

    proach, stemming from a critical, Marxist-inspired

    perspective, has taken the form first of dependency

    theory and then of a more state-focused Marxist

    approach. More recently the dominant, although

    by no means unchallenged, paradigm has been

    globalization theory, to some degree incorporating

    elements of both developmentalist and dependency

    perspectives. Globalization theory, however, hasalso served to problematize politics in the develop-

    ing world as a coherent field, partly because it tends

    to undermine the premise of a distinct developing

    world. For this and other reasons, some have sug-

    gested that the field is currently in crisis. The last

    part of this chapter considers how far a distinctive

    and coherent approach to politics in the developing

    world is still discernible in the present day, and also

    asks whether such an approach would be desirable.

    Politics and the Developing World

    Before considering the three main approaches

    themselves, we need briefly to revisit the notions

    of developing world on the one hand and pol-

    itics on the other. This is because to understand

    and assess the approaches we need some idea ofwhat it is that such analysis is supposed to make

    intelligible or explain. As noted in the introduction,

    the term developing world has conventionally re-

    ferred to the predominantly post-colonial regions

    of Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean,

    and the Middle East, perceived to be poorer, less

    economically advanced, and less modern than the

    developed world. Developing world is preferred

    to Third World, because that latter term carries

    some particular historical connotations that make

    it especially problematic.

    But even when we use the less problematic de-veloping world, there have always been questions

    about what makes such a concept meaningful. What

    exactly are the defining features that these countries

    have in common and that distinguish them from

    the developed world, both generally and in terms

    of their politics? Are such common features more

    important than their differences? These questions,



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    becoming more pressing as the differences have

    grown, have clear implications for both the need

    and the possibility for some kind of general ap-

    proach to understanding and analysing them. More

    basically, some will want to question the assump-

    tions underlying the notion of development. From

    what to what are such countries supposed to bedeveloping, and from whose perspective?

    Similarly, politics is a highly contested notion.

    Politics on one understanding is a kind of activity

    associated with the process of government, and in

    modern settings also linked with the public sphere.

    On another understanding it is about power rela-

    tions and struggles, not necessarily confined to the

    process of government or restricted to the public

    domain. This volume takes the view that neither

    perspective on its own is sufficient, in general butparticularly in a developing world context. Our pre-

    ferred focus is on statesociety relations and seeks

    to investigate both central governmental processes

    and power relations within society, and how they

    interact. One question to be asked about the vari-

    ous approaches to studying politics in developing

    countries, surveyed below, is how far they enable us

    to do this.

    A further important question concerns the au-

    tonomy of politics: how far is politics as a level or

    sphere of social life determined by economic and/or

    social/cultural dimensions of society and how far

    does it independently impact on those dimensions?

    Is the autonomy of politics itself variable? The dif-

    ferent approaches to be considered all address thisquestion, more or less explicitly, but arrive at very

    different conclusions.

    Key points

    Awareness of the main analytical approaches en-

    ables students to be more critical.

    The expression developing world is preferable

    to Third World but the diversity of countries in-cluded still makes generalization problematic.

    Studying politics in developing countries means

    investigating both central government processes

    and power relations in society, and their interac-


    A further important question concerns the rela-

    tive autonomy of politics.

    Dominant Theoretical Approaches

    It must be stressed that approaches to the study

    of politics in this vast swathe of the worlds coun-

    tries have in practice been extremely diverse. As

    discussed further below, most of the analytic and

    methodological toolkit of political science has been

    applied at one time or another. This includes statis-

    tical analysis, rational choice theory, and discoursetheory. On the other hand, many country-based

    studies have not been explicitly theoretical at all.

    Nonetheless it is possible to argue that most stud-

    ies of politics in developing countries have been

    informed to some degree by one or other of three

    main dominant approachesmodernization the-

    ory, Marxism-inspired theory, and globalization

    theory. These approaches or theoretical frame-

    works themselves have not necessarily been directly

    or centrally concerned with politics; however, both

    modernization theory and dependency theory have

    helped at least to generate more specifically political


    The politics of modernization

    The emergence of the politics of modernization

    approach reflected both changing international po-

    litical circumstances and developments within so-

    cial science and specifically within political science.