Article

Development

Andrew Schrank

in Sociology

ISBN: 9780199756384
Published online July 2011 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0011
Development

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Development occupies an ambiguous position in contemporary sociology. It is simultaneously a cause (or correlate) of phenomena that are of general sociological interest (e.g., urbanization, stratification, democratization), an outcome to be explained by way of sociological analysis, and a contested concept that is defined, interpreted, and operationalized in different ways by different people. The sociology of development is therefore an expansive subfield with porous boundaries. Sociologists who study development frequently identify with other subfields (e.g., political sociology, economic sociology, demography); sociologists who associate with other subfields frequently brush up against the sociology of development in the course of their research; and sociologists who invoke development—as either cause or consequence—frequently take it to mean different things. Nevertheless, the subfield’s lineage is as distinguished as its boundaries are porous, for development loomed large in the classical tradition and played a central part in the theories of Karl Marx, Max Weber, and Émile Durkheim—not to mention their offspring. For instance, the “modernization” theories that dominated the postwar era drew their primary inspiration from Weber and Durkheim. They posited a more or less universal, albeit uneven, process of development animated not only by endogenous evolutionary processes but also by the diffusion of Western technologies and values to non-Western environments over time. While Marx agreed that the growth of capitalism would eventually draw “even the most barbarian” of nations into the modern world, and therefore anticipated the modernization perspective by almost a century, his descendants portrayed capitalism as less aid than obstacle to late development, and therefore abandoned orthodox Marxism for neo-Marxist perspectives (e.g., “dependency” and “world systems” theories) that posited an antagonistic, rather than symbiotic, relationship between the developed and developing worlds in the late 1960s and 1970s. Only by embracing socialism, they argued, could the developing world overcome the legacy of colonialism and usher in an era of prosperity and generalized well-being. By the late 1980s, however, neo-Marxist pessimism had run aground on the shoals of the East Asian “miracle,” and sociologists had begun to embrace middle-range alternatives that focused on specific states, firms, sectors, and communities.

Article.  9301 words. 

Subjects: Sociology ; Comparative and Historical Sociology ; Economic Sociology ; Gender and Sexuality ; Health, Illness, and Medicine ; Population and Demography ; Race and Ethnicity ; Social Movements and Social Change ; Social Stratification, Inequality, and Mobility ; Social Theory

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