Richard E. Lee, Binghamton University
In 2008, Patrick Manning, Barry K. Gills, Salvatore Babones, John Beverley, Thomas Rawski and Robert M. Fagley organized a conference at the University of Pittsburgh on “Andre Gunder Frank’s Legacy of Critical Social Science.”The book herein reviewed is a collection of papers from that conference.Following a “Foreword” by Immanuel Wallerstein, it is divided into an introductory chapter, “The World Economy in Theory and Practice: The Contributions of Andre Gunder Frank in the Era of Underdevelopment and ‘Globalization’” and three parts: “Andre Gunder Frank’s critical vision,”“Continuing debates,” and “Multidisciplinary developments”.
Andre Gunder Frank had been a “founding figure” and, until his death in 2005, a “leading analyst of political economy at the global level” (p. i). The initial chapter, by the two editors, presents a useful overview of the trajectory of Frank’s career; at the same time they present selected biographical details and the developments in both the scholarly and material world fundamental to Frank’s life and thought. They offer the following periodization.From 1945 to 1960 (a period of economic growth and growth theory), Frank completed his education and “developed his central insight that ‘social change […] seemed the key to both social and economic development’” (p. 5).From 1960 to 1975 (marked by reactions to Keynesianism, New Left thinking, and responses to modernization theory), building on his experiences in Latin America Frank demonstrated the centrality of Latin America in the global economy and argued its connectedness. From 1975 to 1990 (difficult times on every front), Frank not only became interested in global crisis, but his new interest in “cross disciplinary, historically long-term and geographically wide-ranging studies” led him to ask “whether the world-system might go back in history before 1600 or even before ‘1492’” (p. 10).The authors highlight the way in which Frank’s multidisciplinarity underlines the value of the social science disciplines, pointed to the positive aspects of a break from Eurocentric premises, and “provides us with secure protection against the uncritical reflex of treating the latest global development as a completely new phase” (p. 18).
For this reviewer, one of the most important aspects of the individual contributions to this book is the way they offer evidence of the vitality and dynamism of work in long-term, large-scale social change—and especially a relational or systems approach to such change—of which Frank was an important early exponent. Particular examples of this approach can be cited. Albert Bergeson discusses “Frankian Triangles”: “The systemness of a world system lies in its multilateral trade and balance of payments triangles”; Frank is concerned with these in the “nineteenth-century world economy and the importance of being at the apex of two or more such triangles, as was the case with Britain” (p. 25) suggesting that “such exchange relations precede and determine production relations” (p. 26). Jan-Frederik Abbeloos focuses explicitly on connections in a look at the Atlantic copper market in the long twentieth century by emphasizing Frank’s point of the importance of location in systemic relations. This leads him to advocate for analyses based on large-scale commodity chains—or of value chains—in which states, firms, and classes “shift from units of analysis to different agents that influence the connections under study” (p. 190).In Kevan Harris’s chapter on “ReOrienting Iran,” the author takes seriously Frank’s insight that much of the dependent development thesis implied a mythical opposite, the possibility of independent development. The cogent conclusion is that “Iran’s experience since the Revolution, although it may have made certain social scientists and activists uncomfortable, does not radically diverge from the general experience of portions of the global South during the last three decades, a period that humbled most anti-systemic movements and forced rethinking of long-held orthodoxies on the political left” (p. 208). In another well-argued contribution with a national focus, Hae-Yung Song addresses the limits of prevailing approaches to development in Korea and the Korean developmental state concluding that all positions, including those that challenge mainstream approaches, “take national development for granted and thus prevent an appropriate understanding of development and neoliberalism.” As an alternative she suggests a “perspective that looks at development as a global process in which class struggle and imperialist forces interplay” and that learns from world system theory, which“posits capitalism as a global system and thereby denies ‘national’ development” (p. 226). In her study of watershed management in Honduras, Carylanna Taylor also makes the systemic point about how “seemingly unbound processes stretching across transnational spaces share very real consequences in specific places” (p. 242).
Several of the articles will prompt detailed critical examination from scholars in the field(e.g., Gills and Frank’s “The Modern World-System under Asian Hegemony” and Robert A. Denemark’s presentation of Frank’s unpublished ReOrient the Nineteenth Century), but in a broad way, two points can be usefully raised here that concern the collection as a whole. The first issue concerns the general absence of the cultural arena in both the theoretical presentations and practical analyses. Few today really believe that one can understand what is happening economically without including a political dimension or vice versa what the politics of a situation are without a clear view of what interests are at stake. But both political and economic decisions are based on value sets, which vary over space and time. These large-scale value considerations are what we need to consider as “culture”—relativistic and humanistic modes of creating consensus that shape, quite fundamentally,the political economy of the world in which we live. John Beverley does seem to recognize the problem, e.g.: “issues of cultural ‘difference’ and ‘identity’ move from the status of what was called in classical Marxism a secondary contradiction to become the, or at lease a main contradiction in the contemporary world” (p. 145). The cultural realm is most difficult to conceptualize in terms that will correlate with our materialist visions of politics and economics, but ignoring cultural considerations can seriously weaken our understanding of the processes of the world-economy.
The second issue that this collection brings into sharp focus is the difference between two modes of system thinking. On the one hand, we may conceive of a system as a set of communicating—linked—units, the provenance of which becomes very vague. Indeed, has China or India always been the same “China” or “India”? This is what we find most often in this collection. The alternative is to view the world as a system of relations in which the units are historically formed by the processes through which the relations are reproduced over time. These relations then become the unit of analysis and the units the observables. In this way capitalism as a system achieves a historical specificity, here treated as problematic.
In all, this book represents a fine appreciation of the work of Andre Gunder Frank and the many directions that scholars have taken in benefiting from his insights. More importantly, the debates in which Frank appeared as such a committed protagonist and that shine through in these articles are still important; indeed, they are part of the struggle for a more equitable world, a more egalitarian society, or the “left vision of the world” that Wallerstein (p. xix) attributed to this remarkable scholar and human being.