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uneven development

  A systematic process of economic and social development that is uneven in space and time, and endemic to capitalism. Uneven development is a basic geographical hallmark of the capitalist mode of production. It reflects far more than simply the lack of geographical evenness in capitalist growth; rather, it comprises an integral aspect of capitalist development, combining the opposed but connected processes of development and underdevelopment.

Marx argued that \'capital grows in one place to a huge mass in a single hand because it has in another place been lost by many\' (1987, p. 586). More broadly, this implies that underdevelopment is not simply the result of neglect but is actively produced (Frank, 1967), and that uneven development is closely bound up with the logic of capital accumulation. There is a geographical as much as an economic logic to capitalist development and underdevelopment and this is captured in theories of uneven development, which takes place at different geographical scales; indeed the same processes of centralization and development, and decentralization and underdevelopment that create geographically uneven development are also largely responsible for producing geographical scale in the first place (Smith, 1990).

In the classic case, capitalist development is concentrated in the so-called \'First World\' of Europe and North America, while the Third World has been underdeveloped. The former contains the majority of the world\'s industrial production and accounts for most of its consumption, while the latter has become a supplier of cheap raw materials and labour power. While the developed world enjoys a balanced, self-centred mode of accumulation, the Third World is continually dependent on the First World for markets, capital and technology (Amin, 1976). This same pattern of development and underdevelopment is repeated at other scales, as capital is agglomerated in one place in favour of another. Within Britain for example, the rapid development of the south-east in the post-war economy contrasted sharply with growth elsewhere. And at the urban scale, the disjuncture between inner city and suburb is equally a product of uneven development.

Uneven development is highly dynamic, however, and the patterns of unevenness are continually transformed as the mode of production itself evolves. At the global scale, the economies of Japan and the German-led EU threaten to supersede the power of the USA, much as the USA superseded the UK in the early decades of the twentieth century (cf. Kondratieff cycles). And a new international division of labour in the late twentieth century (NIDL; see Frobel et al., 1980) has led to the industrialization of the newly industrializing countries (NICs) such as Taiwan, South Korea and Malaysia, which were previously underdeveloped. Sub-Saharan Africa, by contrast, is virtually redlined in the global economy and is experiencing the most intensely debilitating effects of uneven development. At the regional scale, some previously developed regions, such as northern England or the upper Midwest of the USA, have experienced rapid deindustrialization, while other long deindustrialized regions have experienced significant economic redevelopment associated with a new regime of flexible accumulation (e.g. Central Scotland and New England). At the urban scale, the relative underdevelopment of the central and inner cities of the First World is partially offset by gentrification and restructuring, while the suburbs are experiencing the growth of integrated urban functions. At each of these scales, different political-economic variables, such as the price and productivity of labour, the availability and cost of infrastructure, political stability, and ground rent, mediate the geographical mobility of capital between different places.

From these empirical trends, as well as from Marx\'s general theory of capital accumulation, it is possible to derive a theory of uneven development which describes the geography of development and underdevelopment under capitalism. In the process of developing a particular place or region, capital creates some of the very conditions that can mitigate against future development: wages and ground rent levels rise, while the agglomeration of large numbers of labourers working under similar conditions encourages political organization in opposition to the social relations of capitalism. By contrast, underdevelopment produces the conditions that are likely to encourage development: lowered wage rates and ground rent levels, unemployment, and defeated working-class organizations. In so far as underdevelopment creates the conditions for its opposite, and vice versa, there is a tendency for capital to oscillate geographically from places of development to those of underdevelopment and back again (see convergence, regional; equilibrium). This see-saw movement can be observed in recent patterns of uneven development, especially at the sub-national scale, but can also be derived theoretically as the geography of capital accumulation (Smith, 1990).

Marx grasped only some of the importance of uneven development. He expected that the world market would largely homogenize global levels and conditions of development, a position furthered by Rosa Luxemburg (1968) who expected that when the capitalist system had expanded into every geographical corner of the Earth its expansion would necessarily end and socialism would follow. That geographical expansion of capital was effectively ended by the beginning of the twentieth century — the end of colonial expansion, the end of frontier — was recognized by geographers such as Alexander Supan in Germany, Halford Mackinder in Britain and Isaiah Bowman in the USA, as well as by Cecil Rhodes, the British imperialist, who argued the importance of the colonies as a safety valve for political discontent at home. It was Lenin, however, who most explicitly recognized the advent of uneven development proper when he argued that, henceforth, economic expansion would not take place in consort with territorial expansion (colonialism), but as an internal redifferentiation of an already conquered world (Lenin, 1975). The spatial constitution of global capitalism was definitively altered.

From the early part of the twentieth century, uneven development came to characterize the geography of capitalism. This dramatic shift in the spatial constitution of capitalism, from continued external expansion to internal uneven development, came at the same time that concepts of space and time were being revolutionised in art and physics (Kern, 1983). However, the recognition of the importance of uneven development was stunted. First, the Russian revolution of 1917 put more immediate political issues on the agenda, especially of course in Russia but also in Western nations like Italy and Germany whose radical factions watched the events in Russia with eager anticipation. Second, rather than deal with the radical implications of the recognition of uneven development, orthodox geographers veered away from such global issues and either focused on local and regional questions or took a technocratic approach to geographical problems. Orthodox geographers generally prescribed to the hopeful precepts of neo-classical economics which saw the uneven landscape as little more than a temporary phase in an ultimately equilibrating process. Nevertheless, in the 1920s Leon Trotsky proposed a \'law of uneven and combined development\', which explored the political possibilities and constraints of constructing socialism directly out of feudal society (Trotsky, 1969; Lowy, 1981). The rediscovery of uneven development in its geographical and economic as well as political guises took place in the 1970s in connection with a resurgence of interest in Marxist theory (see Marxist geography), but also as a result of the evident restructuring of the geography of capitalism at all spatial scales that began at the same time.

The contours of uneven development are again changing rapidly, as part of the protracted crisis of capital accumulation (and responses to it) that emerged after the late 1960s and more recently with volatility in global stock markets since the early 1990s recession. Despite having been \'global\' for several centuries, this latest phase of uneven development has been championed (and lamented) as \'globalization\' (Smith, 1997). Although the nation-state continues to function in several different guises, globalization has largely been described as a process wherein global capital has dissolved national boundaries, thereby eroding the level of national autonomy from the tentacles of the world economy — the ultimate expression of global uneven development. multinational corporations, on the other hand, appear to be pulling the strings of global capital with increasing autonomy from regulatory oversight. This has, not surprisingly, exacerbated uneven development at various scales. Several multi-nation territorial agglomerations have sprung up during this period (e.g. NAFT A) in order to regulate this market-driven uneven development. (NS)

References Amin, S. 1976: Unequal development. New York: Monthly Review Press. Frank, A. 1967: Capitalism and underdevelopment in Latin America. New York: Monthly Review Press. Frobel, F., Kreye, O. and Heinrichs, J. 1980: The new international division of labour. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Kern, S. 1983: The culture of time and space 1980-1918. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. Lenin, V. 1975: Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism. Beijing Foreign Languages Press. Lowy, M. 1981: The politics of combined and uneven development. London: Verso. Luxemburg, R. 1968: The accumulation of capital. New York: Monthly Review Press. Marx, K. 1987: Capital, volume 1. New York: International. Smith, N. 1990: Uneven development: nature, capital and the production of space, 2nd edn. Oxford: Blackwell. Smith, N. 1997: Satanic Geographies of globalization: uneven development in the 1990s. Public Culture 10 (1): 169-89. Trotsky, L. 1969: Permanent revolution and results and prospects. New York: Pathfinder .



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