The Making of the Developing World

There is always a challenge of ‘where to begin?’ when teaching a subject. Like Janet Abu-Lughod, I feel that some understanding of the back-story is crucial, because it frames the current conversation about cities in a global society. There are many assumptions embedded in the concepts of ‘globalization’ and ‘global society,’ and much of that back-story has been discussed within the field of Development Studies. That is why I wanted to look at how “the developing world” was made–as an idea, as an ideology, as a worldview.

Today there is a very active debate about how to teach that back-story. Scholars are very reluctant to teach “Western Civilization” courses today (as they did from about 1890 to 1990). We will discuss this debate itself as part of this course.
Instead, I propose that this back-story needs to be understood as a political genealogy. Not a classic History, where cause-and-effect are implied by the sequence of events, but rather a back-trace of specific changes that shape present world-views and assumptions. Globalization and global society can be conceived in economic terms (as Friedmann and Sassen argued), but worldviews themselves are primarily political.

So my back-trace was a political genealogy, focused on moments of social-political change that shaped worldviews to the point in the late 1800s when Europe became the “measure of the world,” the standard by which countries were judged to be ‘civilized’ or ‘industrialized’ or ‘advanced.’ The terminology changes over time, and the older terms are now seen as impolite or even embarrassing. But the world continues to be seen in a very normative way that shapes debates about globalization and global society. And the way we talk about the world–the discourse about global society–has hard, specific implications in terms of policy and the shaping of cities. So in itself, a back-trace of political discourse and institutional innovations might seem abstract, but the consequences get very specific and tangible, as we will see in this course.

I began back at a time when worldviews were very different. However, those late-Medieval worldviews still play a major role in contemporary politics, such as the American framing of the War on Terror and European opposition to Muslim immigration. So we will return to this schema throughout the course.

In the 1400s the peoples of Eurasia were recovering from the double shock of the Mongol conquests and the Black Plague. Though Mongol power fragmented fairly quickly, Turkic leaders continued to create powerful regimes in South Asia and the eastern Mediterranean. The Ottoman Turks took Constantinople in 1453, which controlled access to the Black Sea and the overland “Silk Road.” The Ottomans quickly extended their power to the Levant, Egypt, and North Africa, restricting Christian trade in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The Spanish and Portugese managed to conquer the Iberian peninsula in 1492, in what they regarded as a Crusade. The Spanish colonization of the Caribbean, Central and South America was framed as a Crusade.
(Meanwhile, the Portugese got serious about long-distance trade with the Far East as soon as they figured out how to sail around the southern tip of Africa).

1. In Europe, a bunch of small countries remained un-united. How did that happen? (Wars of Religion, Treaty of Westphalia)
These countries remained intensely competitive, especially in long-distance trade. Portugal set the template, but then the French, Dutch, and English competed with the Portugese and each other for control of key routes and ports.
2. Long-distance trade required unusual forms of organization. Thus, the English and the Dutch invented the idea of ‘perpetual corporations.’ While monarchs tried to consolidate absolute power at home, they granted a lot of operating freedoms to trading corporations. (they ‘parcelized’ their sovereign power).
3. Trading corporations ended up being like governments, in places like Virginia and Bengal. They controlled territory. They waged war with local political opponents, and also made treaties with local powers. They managed personnel. They built forts and garrisons, and governed cities and people (both Europeans and ‘Natives’). They managed revenue and expenditures. They managed long-distance trade. And this was done by groups of people who were not aristocrats, and definitely not royalty.
4. So: Anglo-Dutch colonization was NOT understood as a Crusade. It was primarily business, although missionizing was allowed.
And, when the United States became independent, I argue that many of the practices that shaped the early republic were things that the company-men were already doing: governing territory and people, waging wars and making treaties, managing trade and operating budgets, and doing it in a corporate way–not as a top-down monarchy.

One of my long-standing discomforts with the way I first learned the Industrial Revolution was that it focused on mechanical technologies as the cause. James Watt invents (or improves) the steam engine and voila! The world is transformed! Again, some recent research indicates a better explanation for how and why this happened in England when it did. I think the crucial changes were:
1. Domestic stability in England after 1689 (Europe is also stable after 1650). The ability to enforce laws, including trade-marks, contracts, patents, and licenses. This made ‘intellectual property’ possible. Otherwise, you might have a good idea, but if anyone else can take that idea and use it themselves, then innovators get no reward for their creativity.
2. Increased sharing of information, including technologies that used to be kept as guild secrets. Once you could enforce intellectual property rights, patents became valuable.
3. So James Watt and the steam engine do matter, but the nature of the Industrial Revolution gets reframed. Technology does not just show up out of nowhere; technical innovation gets rewarded in a new system of property-enforcement. Again, an institutional change.

By the late 19th century, European countries become very powerful. After 1860, they begin mass-producing steel (I agree with Diamond and many other historians that this made a crucial difference in warfare). But they also adopted new organizational technologies, many of which were hashed out by trading companies or learned as a way of supporting economic growth. European powers remained un-united and violently competitive, “sharpening their knives on each other.” By 1884, they realized they could conquer all the non-Western peoples and lands that had not been conquered before, especially in Africa and the Middle East. (the Americas had already become a series of independent, European-type countries, and Britain already ruled India, Australia, and New Zealand directly).
The ideology of the late-19th century European societies is crucial: they came to see themselves as “the standard of modern civilization.” This concept of being the “standard” by which all other countries should be measured is a powerful political ideology. Timothy Mitchell recognized that these ideologies were promoted and reinforced at Exhibitions, starting with the Great Exhibition in London in 1851. There were a series of Expos after that, but the most important ones were Paris (1889), Chicago (1893), and New York (1939). I may get back to these exhibitions later.

Industrial-era imperialism ended (or transformed) very suddenly at the end of the Second World War in 1945. The era of US-Soviet competition was also the era when the US promoted decolonization and development, as part of its long-struggle effort to win whole countries away from the communist movement.
Harry Truman proposed to use the “New Deal” policies of the Roosevelt era as a template for a “Fair Deal” set of international policies for the development of newly-independent countries. The New Deal had succeeded in pulling the U.S. out of the Depression through state-led investments in infrastructure and industrialization, so why not do the same thing in other societies that had not yet industrialized? The big incentive for the U.S. was that it had a serious competitor, and the Soviets were seen as a real threat.
But the worldview that European=advanced+modern, and that Rest-of-World=backward, was inherited from the era of Industrial Empire and framed the assumptions behind the terms developed/developing, industrialized/industrializing, and Global North/Global South. Even though there really was a three-way struggle in the United Nations in the 1950s, the ‘Third Way’ movement of Sukarno, Nehru, and Nasser was reduced into a two-part “First World/Third World” distinction. Implicitly, the Eastern Bloc was the “Second World” (although from the Soviet perspective the capitalist countries were still lagging behind because they had not yet become socialist). What persisted in Western countries was a very durable set of assumptions about a hierarchy of cultural advancement, where Western countries were at the top.

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