My old work: Third World development

Before my Korea career, I worked on Third World development in general – insofar as that’s possible, which I now doubt. Not that I was ever In The Field, or anything useful like that. Theory was my bag, the academy my pulpit. Yes, like too many of us then, I ignored Weber’s warning and used teaching to preach: hopefully doing no lasting harm.

To be exact – but vague was more my thing – I taught the sociology of development for a quarter of a century. First in Hull and Dar es Salaam, but mostly at Leeds; plus a too brief term in Santa Cruz, and a delightful decade of Open University summer schools in Norwich. I went to prison, too: four different ones, in fact. To teach, silly. A founding council member of the Development Studies Association in the 1970s, I was examiner for degrees at UEA and Sussex, and twice for theses in Holland. I got to travel a bit: guest lecturing in Turkey, Holland, the US, Singapore, even Beijing. That was nice.

Research? If you can call it that. Fired up by the then fashionable dependency school – Gunder Frank, Samir Amin, et al – I got interested in Marxist theories of development: the subject of my unfinished PhD at Hull, stimulated by the supervision of Ivar Oxaal and colleagues such as David Booth. My first published paper, a general overview of neo-Marxist approaches in this field, put me mildly on the map. It was translated into Italian and Turkish, and Peter Worsley excerpted it in a sociology reader for Penguin.

Half a dozen similar exercises followed over the next decade or so: an output rate that would never pass muster nowadays. I wrote on Marxism and conquest, paradigms (the Kuhn craze, remember?) in development theory, and – for <i>New Left Review</i>, even – on the articulation of modes of production, whatever that was. I penned an introduction to Samir Amin, and compiled a bibliography of his work. I defended dependency against its Marxist critics. Why one did any of this is now hard to recall. The times, I suppose.

My final foray in development was marginally more useful. Mike Haralambos, whose best-selling A-level sociology textbook had propelled him into publishing, chivvied me to write a short introductory text. The Sociology of Development, my first and only real book so far, came out in 1985. It was translated into Malay; there was talk of a Bengali version. Later I wrote four triennial updates in a series for Mike’s Causeway Press.

By 1996 development had given way to globalization. After that I called it a day, being no longer abreast of a subject in whose intellectual coherence I could no longer believe.

It’s no coincidence that, in the terms of the C19th German Methodenstreit debate, I’ve moved from nomothetic over-generalizing about development to an idiographic focus on the nitty-gritty of a single country, Korea. Some might think this narrow; but I’m far happier doing that, and much more confident that what I write is grounded and useful.

Still, I’m eternally grateful to Mike. Sometimes I wish someone had prodded me too to collect my papers as a book, as I never got around to doing. Yet they’ve not worn well, to be honest. Which is one reason why at this stage I shan’t even list the references.* You really don’t want to waste your time on that old stuff – and nor do I. But it was my life, and some day I may feel the urge to archive more fully. For now, Korea calls.

* Except for one that I still think is okay, but which sank without trace in terms of impact. My ex-Hull colleague John Clammer kindly commissioned this for a fine collection (even if its title sounds like Russ Meyer trying to go upmarket). My own title is merely ponderous: “Knowing What They Mean, Or: Why is There No Phenomenology in the Sociology of Development?” Ch 8 in John Clammer ed, Beyond the New Economic Anthropology (Macmillan, 1987).