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stages of growth

  A five-stage sequence of economic and social development postulated by the American economic historian Walt W. Rostow (1971) through which, he argued, all societies may pass (see figure). The stages represent an attempt to generalize \'the sweep of modern history\'. Their elaboration in book form is described by its author as a noncommunist manifesto, written in deliberate opposition to what were perceived to be Karl Marx\'s views on the relationships between economic and non-economic behaviour (see historical materialism; Marxian economics) and, more immediately, to the perceived threat to capitalist hegemony posed by the Cold War.

{img src=show_image.php?name=bkhumgeofig70.gif }

stages of growth Rostow\'s stages theory of economic development (after Keeble, 1967, p. 250)

The first of the five stages — the traditional society — is characterized by \'primitive\' technology, hierarchical social structures (the precise nature of which is not specified) and behaviour conditioned more by custom and accepted practice than by what Rostow takes to be \'rational\' criteria. These characteristics combine to place a ceiling on production possibilities. Outside stimuli to change (including, for example, colonialism and the expansion of capitalism) are admitted in the transitional second stage — the preconditions for take-off. This stage emphasizes a rise in the rate of productive investment, a start on the provision of social and economic infrastructure, the emergence of a new, economically based elite and an effective centralized national state. Again, no specification of social relations is given. However, the opportunities for profitable investment presented by the preconditions for take-off are unlikely to be ignored by capital and they pave the way for the third stage: \'take-off\' into sustained growth. This is described by Rostow as \'the great watershed in the life of modern societies\'. It is a period of around 10-30 years, during which growth dominates society, the economy and the political agenda (although the social relations which facilitate this dominance are not described) and investment rises, especially in the leading sectors of manufacturing industry. Self-sustaining growth results in the drive to maturity (stage 4), characterized by diversification as most sectors grow, imports fall and productive investment ranges between 10 and 20 per cent of national income. The increasing importance of consumer goods and services and the rise of the welfare state indicate that the final stage of the age of high mass-consumption has been reached (see postindustrial society).

The insistence within the model upon placing growth in a wider historical and social context and upon a disaggregated approach which reflects the uneven nature of development marks a substantial advance upon abstracted and formal theories of economic growth. But at the same time these characteristics expose its socially universal and ahistoric features.

The model of economic development derived from the stages is teleological, mechanical, ahistorical and ethnocentric:

{img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } teleological in the sense that the end result (stage 5) is known at the outset (stage 1) and derived from the historical geography of \'developed\' societies which are then simply used to form the template for the \'underdeveloped\', which are thereby denied a historical geography; {img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } mechanical in that, despite the claim that the stages have an inner logic \'rooted in a dynamic theory of production\', the underlying motor of change is not explained, so that as a result the stages become little more than a classificatory system based on data for fifteen countries only, plus outline data for others; {img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } ahistorical, in that notions of path-dependency are ignored, so that it can be assumed that the historical geographies of the underdeveloped countries are unaffected by that of the dependent, and so the intervention of the latter into the former is simply an irrelevance — this position is also profoundly a-geographic as it is incapable of recognizing that geographical relationships are continuously formed and re-formed across the world economic and political geographies; and {img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } deliberately ethnocentric in espousing a future for the world based on American history and aspiring to American norms of high mass-consumption: the Other is to be made the Self, thereby making the world safe for the American dream.Thus the strategic implications are clear: history does not change but repeats itself across space and time. Capitalist society is, following Rostow\'s logic, a necessary consequence of development (see capitalism). All societies that are not currently capitalist in form will become so: there is no alternative. Such underlying implications are not made explicit. By concealing the specific social relations of production of the stages — and most especially of the first and second stages — capitalist societies may be reproduced and extended by apparently neutral policies advocating apparently universal processes of growth. This is the true meaning of Rostow\'s subtitle. If it were to read \'a capitalist manifesto\', its ideological objectives (see ideology) would be revealed and their achievement limited or subverted. (RL)

Reference Rostow, W.W. 1971: The stages of economic growth: a non-communist manifesto, 2nd edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Suggested Reading Baran, P.A. and Hobsbawm, E.J. 1961: The stages of economic growth. Kyklos 14: 324-42. Foster-Carter, A. 1985: The sociology of development. Ormskirk: Causeway. Keeble, D.E. 1967: Models of economic development. In R.J. Chorley and P. Haggett, eds, Models in geography. London and New York: Methuen, 248-54. Peet, R. 1991: Global capitalism: theories of societal development. London and New York: Routledge, ch. 3. Rostow (1971).



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