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June 12, 2017

Modernising ‘the Rest’

By Sean Rai-Roche, University of Edinburgh

“What does it mean to be modern?” (Latour, 2012: 8)

“Coloniality and modernity constitute two sides of a single coin.” (Grosfoguel, 2011: 13)


The meaning of the terms ‘modernisation’ and ‘Westernisation’ are highly contested. Often conflated in popular understanding, they have come to express particular ideas within ‘development’ discourse. The discursive construction of the rigid dichotomy between ‘modern’ and the ‘traditional’ has had profound effects upon how those seen as ‘traditional’ have been emplaced, imagined and treated by those considered as ‘modern’. The idea of modernity is historically a Western concept, emerging as a result of the struggles of the Enlightenment and consolidating through the industrialisation and colonisation that followed. This, however, does not necessarily mean that they equate to the same thing. Instead of following post-development thinkers and abandoning the possibilities of modernisation without Westernisation completely, I identify possibilities and trajectories of different kinds of modernisation, which are based on a set of cultural values that are seen to contribute to the formation of a alternative type of modernisation.

Clarifying Concepts

Often associated with European Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries, the idea of modernity in Western discourse came to represent social change from a ‘pre-modern’ or ‘traditional’ society to a ‘modern’ one through the use of science and rationality. Inherent in this understanding is that there is a linear path to progress that all countries must follow if they are to become ‘modern’. In contrast, some argue that modernity began with the conquest of the Americas in the 16th century (Cupples, 2013) and that it should be seen as a “European phenomenon but one constituted in a dialectical relation with a non-European alterity that is its ultimate content” (Mignolo, 2007: 453). The idea is that Europe’s self-definition of being modern depends on the existence of an inferior, ‘non-modern’ alterity, against which claims of modernity and progress can be based.

Modernity may be understood as a discourse about the linear ‘march toward progress’, one that gains its currency from the division of societies into ‘modern’ and ‘pre-modern’. In doing so, it prescribes to those deemed as ‘pre-modern’ a process of ‘development’, aligned with Western capitalist imperatives and ideologies, as the only way to achieve modernity. Westernisation, then, is understood as the process whereby non-Western states become more like the capitalist economies and societies of the West. Thus, Westernisation is an extremely broad concept that covers changes in the political economy, social relations, epistemologies and cultures across the world, which have increasingly conformed to Western ‘ways of doing things’. This is not to say that countries undergoing Westernisation are doing so in the same ways, nor do they necessarily have their own cultures eroded or dominated as a result.

So, if it is the case that modernisation refers to the aspiration to attain a certain state of development, which is symbolised and embodied by the West, then is modernisation not synonymous with Westernisation?

Modernisation as Westernisation

Beginning in the late 1940s, colonial powers retreated in the face of growing independence movements; by the 1960s most colonised nations had become independent states. Formal decolonisation, however, did not mean an end of colonial relations. Instead, colonialism took a more subtle, concealed and epistemological form. ‘Coloniality’, a concept used by Peruvian scholar Anibal Quijano, conceptualises this hegemonic relationship between the West and ‘the rest’. The term aims to highlight how “the relation between European culture and the other cultures was established and has been maintained, as a relation between ‘subject’ and ‘object’” (Quijano, 2007: 174). Edward Said uses the concept of 'Orientalism' to demonstrate a “style of thought based upon an ontological and epistemological distinction made between 'the Orient' and (most of the time) 'the Occident'” (1978: 2). Hence, “‘the West’ is much more an idea than a fact of geography” (Slater, 1993: 421). It is important to be cognisant that the self-proclaimed ‘modern’ Occident viewed all ‘Other’ societies as being effectively the same: they were pre-modern, homogenous, irrational and without history. We can observe echoes of Orientalist discourses running through contemporary modernisation theory. Henry Bernstein (1971) asserts that modernisation is a totalising social process, which treats all ‘traditional’ societies as universal and homogenised. He argues the imaginary of the traditional “simply reflects the ethnocentrism underlying the formation of modernity” (Bernstein, 1971: 146). So, following this, if the idea of modernity is a colonial/Western concept, predicated on a division that is inherently ethnocentric, then any attempt to achieve said state of modernity must be seen within a process of Westernisation. This will be further illustrated by examining the development discourse of the 20th century.

If we consider how modernisation theory has shaped development practices in the post-WWII period, it becomes clear how intertwined it is with the process of Westernisation. Daniel Lerner, a key influence on US development policy in the post-War period, argued that for former colonies “their only hope is to be modernized by an injection of Western values and expertise” (Lerner, 1958: 1). The reason for the ‘underdeveloped’ state of many former colonies was purported to be their lack of Western values and cultural practices: “cultural Europeanisation was transformed into an aspiration” (Quijano, 2007: 169). Payne and Philips (2010) show how development theory after WWII was based on the assumption that the Third World countries needed to ‘catch up’ with the developed West. Thus, development policy in the post-War period was characterised by an insistence on the adoption of Western knowledge systems, social relations and institutional structures. Walt Whitman Rostow, and his famous work on the Stages of Economic Growth (1959), was perhaps one of the most influential theorists within development policy throughout the 1960s. Rostow asserted that all societies could be placed within five distinct categories – traditional society, preconditions to take-off, take-off, drive to maturity and the age of mass consumption – and that modernisation involved progressing from one category to the next. The theory became extremely influential within development studies and came to characterise much of US policy approach in the 1960s and 70s. It had a strong commitment to universality and assumed all countries desired capitalism and wanted to emulate the type of societies that were observable in the West. Thus, Rostow thought, “traditional society is a kind of degree zero of history corresponding to a natural state of ‘underdevelopment’” (Rist, 2008: 95). He did not value what he saw as ‘traditional society’ and did not appreciate that other cultures may not desire Western forms of social organisation.

Linking back to Bernstein, who argues “ethnocentrism is most overt when modernization is rendered synonymous with Westernization” (Bernstein, 1971: 147, emphasis added), we can see how the inherent ethnocentrism that pervades modernisation theory comes out in the equation of the idea of modernity with that of the West. This is evident in a justification of colonialism by Rostow: “colonies were often established initially […] to organise a traditional society incapable of self-organisation (or unwilling to organise itself) for modern import and export activity” (1990: 109). It is this justification of colonialism, on the grounds that it created the economic organisation necessary for modernisation, which is most disturbing. The assertion that non-Western populations were ‘incapable of self-organisation’ is an unashamedly colonial discourse, which occludes any understanding and appreciation of how such societies were previously structured and run, along with their local forms of knowledge. As Grosfoguel (2011: 13) contends, “Coloniality and modernity constitute two sides of a single coin”, in that the idea of modernity – and in turn modernisation – is a colonial concept, one that cannot be divorced from its Westerncentric origins. Thus, we see how modernisation discourse in the immediate post-War period gave primacy to Western understandings of progress and adhered to colonial rhetoric concerning the inability of non-Western people to develop their societies without external influence.

Although the 1960s was dominated by the ideas of Rostow and his ‘stages of growth’, there emerged somewhat of a crisis in development in the 1980s (Kothari, 2005; Booth, 1985). This was a result of rising and intensifying levels of inequality, poverty and exclusion (Schuurman, 1993; Keily, 1995), which led to dominant development theories and narratives being brought into question. It is in this context that neoliberalism emerged as an economic paradigm, which placed emphasis on individualism, rationality, economic liberalisation, institutional restructuring and modernisation of production (Harvey, 2007). James Scott shows how “today, global capitalism is perhaps the most powerful force for homogenization” (1998: 8) because of its ability to coerce societies into adopting Western, capitalist forms of economic organisation. Moreover, capitalism’s need for homogenised global demand has contributed to a process of ‘McDonaldisation’ (Ritzer, 1998) as Western fashions and tastes become more prominent and ubiquitous in non-Western societies.

In parallel to the ascendency of neoliberalism, the increasing recognition that international development had not succeeded in alleviating issues of poverty and inequality engendered the emergence of ‘alternative’ forms of development, such as participatory approaches, feminist critiques and post-development theory (Kothari, 2005). According to Kothari, however, these alternative approaches have been overshadowed and subsumed into a neoliberal agenda (2005: 429). Control over the construction of discourses of development was vital for colonial powers to maintain their authority and the practice has continued today under neoliberalism. Hence, we can observe how alternative approaches to development, often advanced by oppressed, non-Western groups, become incorporated into neoliberal, capitalist discourse and thus lose their potency in terms of offering potential for radical change. This demonstrates how the very idea of development, as a means to modernity, reproduces and valorises certain claims to the superiority of Western knowledge while maintaining its intellectual and epistemological dominance through the appropriation and subsuming of other knowledges. Thus, the only way to ‘modernise’, when assessed by standards of the capitalist West, is to Westernise.

Homogenising Development?

Post-development theory has been subject to several criticisms since its emergence within academia. I would like to touch on just one critique: its homogenising and universalising perspective. I examine this aspect of post-development thinking because it illustrates how the discipline often uses discursive framing to construct binary categories (a charge it accuses development of), which circumscribes the capacity of nation states to modernise while avoiding processes of ‘Westernisation’.

Ironically, post-development thinkers, such as Escobar, have tended to homogenise the idea of development, overlooking the many complexities and contestations within development approaches. As Pieterse argues, “Escobar plays games of rhetoric: in referring to development as ‘Development’ and thus suggesting its homogeneity and consistency, he essentialises ‘development’” (2000: 183). By homogenising the very idea of development, Escobar is not only constricting the potential for different, and perhaps subaltern, articulations of what development might mean, but also buys into the very dichotomous thinking he has critiqued in his work. Kiely suggests that “post-development theory is guilty of homogenising the idea of development, thereby conflating all theories of development with the outmoded (and long discredited) theory of modernisation” (1999: 30). The point here is that by relegating the words ‘development’ and ‘modernity’ to nothing more than a symbol of oppression and exploitation, one is restricting the potential for different expressions of what they could potentially mean. Thus, the dichotomous thinking of many post-development writers “is implicitly attempting to impose a new binary divide between First and Third Worlds” (Kiely, 1999: 38) and in doing so illustrates their political perspective: North-West bad, South good. Attempting to frame such complex histories and processes into such simple groupings is unwise and reproduces the same binary divisions that post-development abhors.

The ‘Asian Values’ System and Non-Western Modernisation

The purpose of this critique of is not to undermine post-development’s overall analysis of the cultural hegemony of development regimes, but to open up the possibilities for alternative forms of modernisation and theories of development to be imagined. By recognising the shortcomings of post-development theory, it becomes more plausible to view particular forms of modernisation within the context of society-specific goals, transcending these constricting totalities, which seek to modernise while also retaining their specific social values and cultural norms.

For example, the debate surrounding an ‘Asian value’ system, purported to be instrumental in Southeast Asia’s modernisation process, allow us to identify different, non-Western forms of modernisation. From the end of the 1970s the role of, and the debate surrounding, ‘Asian values’ gained prominence on the international stage. Previously, most social scientists adhered to the Weberian view that the ‘Protestant Ethic’ had led to the development of Western capitalism and that the Confucian values of East-Asian societies presented an obstacle to economic growth and development (Hill, 2000). This discourse, however, was brought into contention due to the dynamic growth of Asian economies and thus set the stage for a discussion of the role of societal values in modernisation programmes. The idea of Asian values gained traction with policy makers and politicians in East-Asian countries and became a key part of the construction of national identity. Berger (1997: 270) shows how Lee Kuan Yew, Prime Minister of Singapore and co-founder of the People’s Action Party (PAP), suggested how Singapore had been ‘infected by the West’ and that the solution was a ‘strong assertion of Asian values’ in order to counter the destructive individualism of the West. Deepak Lal, in his piece entitled Does Modernisation require Westernisation (2000), states, “as Lee Kwan Yew has noted, the family-based societies can still rely on the social safety nets of the family rather than having to create welfare states like those in the West” (2000: 21). This invocation of particular cultural values in relation to social services highlights how the development process in Singapore was seen as very separate from a Western model. Sinnathamby Rajaratnam, another founder and prominent politician within PAP, explicitly addressed a distinction between modernisation and Westernisation, disregarding the latter as glorified fashions and trends in society that lead to a misplaced sense of superiority (Hill, 2000: 183). Thus, we see how the processes of modernisation in Singapore were based on, or at least explained through, the idea of a specific set of Asian values that encouraged economic development. The promotion of these values was designed to counter the ‘infection’ of Western influences, which were blamed for the creation of social ills because of a ‘crisis of Westernisation’ (Hill, 2000: 184). The Singaporean nation-state consolidated around ideas of Asian values in the 1980s, which became a distinguishing feature of their modernisation programme.


The concept of modernity arose out of the colonial categorisation of societies as ‘modern’ and ‘pre-modern’ in order justify their subjugation and exploitation. By examining development theory in the post-WWII period I have demonstrated how modernisation approaches were very much processes of Westernisation, as it was believed this would instil in former colonies the capacities and expertise needed to reach modernity. The advent of the neoliberal project, however, saw the restructuring of societies and institutions to reflect elements of the modern, Western state. It witnessed the subsuming of alternative, critical voices under a Western project that limited the space for alternative meanings of development. However, with the rise of the East-Asian economies during the same period, which challenged and destabilised historic power relations, there became a somewhat alternative form of modernisation that drew on cultural values very different from those in the West and can thus be seen as a processes of modernisation devoid of cultural Westernisation.

Essentially, what this question comes down to, is what we understand by the term ‘modernisation’. If modernisation is simply a process of technological innovation and productive expansion, within particular social structures and institutions, then it is possible for countries to modernise without Westernising. But if, however, we consider the historical conceptualisation of modernity as a colonial construct used to exploit and dominate its subjects, then it is very hard to see any process of modernisation as separate from a process of Westernisation, even when Western imperatives have been hybridised, tweaked or even discarded.


Berger, M. T. (1997). The triumph of the East? The East Asian miracle and post-cold war capitalism. The rise of East Asia: Critical visions of the Pacific century, 260-287.

Bernstein, H. (1971). 'Modernization theory and the sociological study of development'. The Journal of Development Studies, 7(2), 141-160.

Booth, D. (1985) 'Marxism and Development Sociology: Interpreting the impasse'. World Development, Vol.13, pp.761-87

Cupples J (2013) Latin American Development. London: Routledge

Escobar, A. (2011). Encountering development: The making and unmaking of the Third World. Princeton University Press.

Grosfoguel, R. (2011) Decolonizing Post-Colonial Studies and Paradigms of Political Economy: Transmodernity, Decolonial Thinking, and Global Coloniality. Journal of Peripheral Cultural Production of the Luso-Hispanic World.

Harvey, D. (2007). A brief history of neoliberalism. Oxford University Press, USA.

Hill, M. (2000). ‘Asian values’ as reverse Orientalism: Singapore. Asia Pacific Viewpoint, 41(2), 177-190.

Kiely, R. (1999). The last refuge of the noble savage? A critical assessment of postdevelopment theory. The European Journal of Development Research, 11(1), 30-55.

Kothari, U. (2005) ‘Authority and expertise: the professionalization of international development and the ordering of dissent’, Antipode, 37(3), pp. 425-446.

Lal, D. (2000). Does modernization require westernization?. The Independent Review, 5(1), 5-24.

Latour, B. (2012). We have never been modern. Harvard University Press.

Lerner, D. (1958). The Passing of Traditional Society: Modernizing the Middle East.

Mignolo, W. D. (2007). DELINKING: The rhetoric of modernity, the logic of coloniality and the grammar of de-coloniality 1. Cultural studies, 21(2-3), 449-514.

Payne, A., & Phillips, N. (2010). Development (Cambridge: Polity). pp.33-71.

Pieterse, J. N. (2000). After post-development. Third world quarterly, 21(2), 175-191.

Rist, G. (2008) The History of Development (Chapter 6, ‘Modernization, pp. 93-108).

Ritzer, G. (1998). The McDonaldization thesis: Explorations and extensions. Sage.

Rostow, W. W. (1990). The stages of economic growth: A non-communist manifesto. Cambridge University Press.

Said, E. (1978). Orientalism. New York: Vintage, 1994.

Schuurman F. J. (1993) Beyond the Impasse: New Directions in Development Theory. London: Zed Books

Scott, J. C. (1998). Seeing like a state: How certain schemes to improve the human condition have failed. Yale University Press.

Slater, D. (1993) “The Geo-Political Imagination & the Enframing of Development Theory” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 18(4):419-437”

Quijano, A. (2007) Coloniality and modernity/rationality. Cultural Studies 21(2-3): 168-178.

Weber, M. (2002). The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism: and other writings. Penguin.

March 10, 2017

Horizons of development in global value chains: an interview with Stephanie Barrientos

Interview by Sailja Jain and Anni Piiroinen

Professor Stephanie Barrientos has been a true pioneer in research on global value chains. Researching and teaching at the Global Development Institute in the University of Manchester, she has examined questions of gender, employment, global production and ethical trade. She coordinated Capturing the Gains, a research programme looking at the possibilities of upgrading within value chains, together with Professor Gary Gereffi in 2008-13 ( She has worked as an advisor for several companies, NGOs and international organisations, including ActionAid, Oxfam, Body Shop, Cadbury, International Labour Organisation and the World Bank. During her recent visit to the University of Warwick as part of a conference, 'Gendered Work in the Global Food Chain', Think Development had the wonderful opportunity to interview her about the role of global value chains in development.

Anni: What are global value chains and how can they contribute to our understanding of development?

Barrientos: Trade used to happen traditionally through free markets with price movements as the main determinants of exchange. Trade took place between countries, and different intermediaries didn’t necessarily know each other. But in a value chain, big, modern, international companies know their entire supply chain. They’ve tracked their supply chain, they know who the suppliers are, and they co-ordinate those supply chains instead of just leaving it to the free market.

Big companies will pre-program and coordinate production through a number of private standards that they operate to control the quality of production. For instance in food production, the co-ordination goes all the way back to the point of growing, determining what pesticides are put on, etc. Production still operates broadly within a global free market but within that you have quite large companies that play a dominant role in their supply chains. For suppliers and producers, the supply chains overlap with each other, and they could be supplying a number of those companies.

Developing countries have been very affected by globalisation and the growth of global value chains because the key component of it has been the outsourcing of production traditionally done in Europe and North-America. A lot of that production is now done in developing countries. Through outsourcing by multinational companies, many developing countries that in the past only produced primary goods have become more and more integrated into different aspects of industrial manufacturing, processing, or commercial agriculture. The reality is that global value chains have had quite an important role in shaping the way in which development has taken place in countries that are engaged in value chains.

Sailja: A lot of your work is focused on the idea of upgrading, including Capturing the Gains. Could you explain how upgrading can be used to pursue development?

Barrientos: Obviously multinational companies don’t promote upgrading in their chains in order to promote development in sourcing countries. That is not their motivation. What they want is better quality products at competitive prices. In order to get the better quality products, companies will help build the capabilities of some suppliers, or the suppliers themselves build their capabilities. In some countries, governments help suppliers build their capabilities. It varies a lot by country.

Some suppliers are able to move to higher value activities and there are clear examples where that’s happened. Samsung was a supplier to Apple, then acquired the necessary technology and knowledge, and started to produce its own products, and is now also a major competitor to Apple. That is a very clear example of a company that started as a supplier and upgraded, but there are also many suppliers, especially smaller ones, who really struggle. They struggle to meet the quality standards that are required by the lead firms in global value chains, and those that can’t meet the standards often get squeezed out of the supply chain.

I don’t think it’s a linear process. Some will survive and do well. The more orders they get, the more they’re able to build those capabilities, the more they’re able to meet the standards and the more they’re able to supply. But there’s also the threat of a downward spiral. In most sectors and most countries you’ll find a combination of both.

Capturing the Gains was a big research programme that I led with Gary Gereffi, with 40 researchers in 20 countries across a number of sectors, including agri-food, apparel, tourism and mobile phones. It was looking at whether the upgrading of suppliers would automatically lead to improvements for workers. I think that a fairly definitive answer is that when suppliers upgrade and move to higher value activities that can lead to improvements for workers but it does not necessarily do so. We define social upgrading as what we call ‘measurable standards’, including a better wage, better conditions of work, but also as what we call ‘enabling rights’, meaning freedom of association, no gender discrimination, the ability of workers to organise and to be empowered.

When companies upgrade sometimes that leads to improvements for workers but often it doesn’t. One of the triggers for the improvement of conditions for workers is a shortage of the supply of labour, forcing companies to improve conditions, or when workers organise into trade unions or when NGOs run big campaigns. But the piece that we think is needed is a more proactive role by governments in the supply countries. Without government support you’re not going to have long-term sustainable upgrading of workers, which would be the real development win.

If you think of the value chain in its fully extended form, it’s not only about the workers that are staying in the factory. It’s also about the smaller scale suppliers that will supply the inputs that will go into that factory. Moreover, there’s a sort of ripple effect affecting the street sellers outside the factory in local markets and local shops, since the wages that are earned in the factories then gets spent in those places. Where you have economic upgrading leading to social upgrading, you can see wider repercussions. There’s a lot of evidence that if women earn more money, they’re more likely than men to spend that money on their children’s education and health that has long-term development implications. Social upgrading of workers done correctly, with the right government policies in place to support it (because you’ve also got to have schools and clinics available), is not just the wages on its own, but you can get positive development outcomes.

A key point that Capturing the Gains and other research that I’ve been involved in has shown, is that this is not going to happen automatically. There has to be policies in place that ensure the positive outcomes and help to reduce negative ones. Governments have a critical role to play in terms of providing protection for workers who are casualised or in insecure work. The living wage, for instance, is a major campaign now among workers in both agriculture and in manufacturing production in many countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. In the end if these campaigns are not protected by governments and enforced through regulation, it’s very hard for workers to organise on their own in these very footloose value chains.

Sailja: What is the position of women in global value chains? Do global value chains promote emancipation or exploitation of women?

Barrientos: Waged labour is exploitative. We’re all exploited, everyone who works for a wage. I think the big difference in employment of women in global value chains is that they are seen to be skilled for social reasons. They’ve been trained over many generations to do a lot of labour-intensive fine work and they’re perceived to be cheap labour. In that sense their employment in global value chains is exploitative of those skills.

But at the same time employment in global value chains is allowing women to come out of the home, where they’ve often done that work unpaid. Some women would’ve been in supportive households, but others in very exploitative and sometimes violent households. It’s creating opportunities for women to choose, which they didn’t have before because, as Amartya Sen argued many years ago, it depends on your fall-back position. If you have a limited fall-back position, limited alternatives, no source of independent income, you can’t make those choices. If you’ve got an income of your own, you can make choices. You might not choose to make them, you might decide to stay in the situation you’re in, but you’ve got options that you didn’t have before. To that extent I think it is empowering to women.

Women workers also have greater ability to organise. So for example in the living wage campaigns in Asia, women are very involved and they’re organising together. That wouldn’t have been possible if they were all isolated in their separate homes. Overall it’s empowering in the sense that it opens up their freedom to make choices, whether or not that empowerment can be realised in terms of significant improvements, in terms of their working conditions and incomes. That remains to be seen.

Anni: Global value chain analysis originally developed from world-systems theory. Do you think global value chains analysis is still connected to world-systems theory or has it developed in a different direction? Do you view this as a positive or negative shift?

Barrientos: The reason why I use the value chain analysis is because a lot of the earlier theories, both the more conventional theories and some of the more radical theories, such as world systems approaches, are essentially based on economic and political relations between countries. World-systems theory is focused on uneven relations between North versus South, where it’s Northern/imperialist countries exploiting poor/developing countries (different people use different terms). The core countries are exploiting the peripheral countries. In my view, a value chains approach breaks down the country analysis and the analysis is now between firms. The supply networks that feed into firms can cross borders multiple times. It’s much more about transnational economic relations, rather than trade between countries.

The big shift now, which we have to analyse and be able to explain - which is why a core-periphery, North-South analysis isn’t sufficient for me analytically - is the rise of lead firms within developing countries. Many of the expanding lead firms are within Africa, Asia and Latin America. In global value chain analysis for many years it was global firms in the Global North sourcing from developing countries in the Global South. What we’re seeing now, particularly since the crisis in 2008, is the rise of regional value chains, where lead firms in Africa, Asia and Latin America play coordinating roles.

It’s a much more complex situation and it’s challenging many of the large northern lead firms because they now have to compete against firms that are regional lead players. It’s also affecting supplier relations because ten years ago, if you were a supplier and you were going to sell into a value chain, you had no option but to sell to a European or a North American retailer. Now you’ve got options. You could sell to a European or a North American retailer, or you could sell to an African or a Latin American one, and their requirements can vary. I don’t know what the outcome of this shifting power dynamic between suppliers and buyers is, but it is much more complex than simply a global North-South dynamic.

Anni: There are a lot of private governance mechanisms in value chains, such as corporate environmental standards. What are the benefits and limitations of private governance?

Barrientos: The benefits of standards is that they’ve improved the quality of products, even lower price products, bought by low income households. And don’t forget, if you go through the whole extended value chain, it’s not just what you buy as a new product, but what is recycled. A lot of the mobile phones in Africa in the villages are not brand new but recycled giving low income households access to consumer goods previously denied them. Standards improve product quality. Certainly food is a lot safer now than it used to be. The likelihood of the clothing you wear catching fire is less than it used to be.

The disadvantage, though, of standards is that the smaller suppliers really struggle to meet them. It has led to much less diversity and much less small scale production. The smaller suppliers are often then forced to become wage labourers in the larger firms that are able to meet the standards and sell into the supply chains.

So there are pros and cons. In a highly globalised world where you have these very complex supply chains that cross borders multiple times, it’s only through the standards that you get the necessary harmonisation to get those kinds of complex supply chains functioning and producing goods that in the end are affordable. A lot more people at lower incomes can buy goods now than 20 or 40 years ago. It’s not all good or bad. In my view it’s just the reality of how production trade takes place, whether we like it or not. We have to live with it and then work out the leverage to make improvements for suppliers and for workers, and especially for women who constitute the majority of workers in much labour intensive production.

You can find out more about the work of Stephanie Barrientos through here:

November 07, 2016

Manifestos for Brazil

By Aistė Jotautytė, manifestos by students in Theories and Issues in International Development

The students of the Theories and Issues in International Development module had a group task to create party manifestos. We were all 'participating' in elections in Brazil, and each group had to adhere to a certain theory of international development: modernization theory, dependency theory or structuralism.

Modernization theory

Some of the most influential works in this theory were produced by Arthur Lewis and Walt W. Rostow. The theory offers the view that economic growth is the focal defining characteristic of economic development and it can only be achieved through industrialization. The theory entails a linear transformation of a traditional society into a dynamic, capitalist economy and argues that it is possible to identify universally applying dominant characteristics of this process. An essential element of modernization here is the emergence of an entrepreneurial capitalist class.


Dependency theory

Associated with Paul A. Baran and Andre Gunder Frank, dependency theory suggests that the prospects of the development are determined by a country’s position in the international economy. Industrially advanced countries have been able to use today’s underdeveloped countries as sources of cheap raw material and as markets for their goods, which has led to patterns of unequal exchange. Resources flow from the 'periphery' (underdeveloped states) to the 'core' (wealthy states), which increases the accumulation of capital in the developed countries and in turn perpetuates the underdevelopment of the poorer states. This situation is very much historically determined, since the unique characteristics of the periphery and the core states result from colonization in the past. Therefore, it is difficult to escape the dynamics of the periphery unless a state cuts its links with the world market.




Founded by Raoul Prebisch, the theory focuses on the structural aspects impeding states’ economic growth. The theory rejects conventional trade theory and argues that the way forward is through transformation of domestic economic structures. This can be done through a major government intervention in the economy to fuel the industrial sector. Developing countries should aim at inward-oriented development, decreasing the reliance on the export of raw materials, at the same time reducing their dependency on the trade with already industrialized countries.


Who would you vote for? Comment below!

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  • Thanks for the article. Very interesting insight to value chains and how they work today. Keen to se… by Juha Piiroinen on this entry
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