The journey is almost done!

Because many of the readings this semester have addressed dependency theory and Antonio Gramsci’s concepts of hegemony (in addition to world systems theory, which we read earlier in the semester), this week’s readings to close out the semester went to the sources of these concepts themselves.

Books read

Cardoso, Fernando Henrique, and Enzo Faletto. Dependency and Development in Latin America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979.

In a seminal, vastly influential work, Cardoso (who later served two terms as president of Brazil) and Falleto lay out their reading of the history of economic, social, and political development in Latin America, looking at class formation in particular countries, arguing that the economic–and related social and political–options that each country faced was rooted in its place in the global economy. For them, this is the overarching–or underlying–scheme of Latin American history since independence: the deep story (the longue duree?). They specifically formulated this theory as a counterbalance to modernization theory, which suggested that countries passed through set stages of development, as if each country progresses in a vacuum and not tied to a broader global system.

Gramsci, Antonio, Quintin Hoare, and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith. Selections From the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci. New York: International Publishers, 1972.

Based on section 3 of this syllabus from a course on Gramsci, I read pages 206-76 of Selections from the Prison Notebooks. Additionally, I checked the index for references to hegemony, and read some of those portions as well. These selections covered a wide range of topics–some of them very specific in time and place, others very broad. This was definitely a reading through which I struggled–and which I’d like to unpack some more, particularly in light of the other readings for the course. Admittedly I’m having a hard time even summarizing this section! Largely, this section discusses the state and societies–not one and the same.

Bringing it all together: Discussion questions

Relationship of hegemony, dependency theory, and world systems theory

As I read both of these books, in relation to the others from the semester, I was thinking about the relationship among the concept of hegemony (can we call it a theory), dependency theory, and world systems theory. As I can discern so far (and will look forward to discussing on Thursday), here are some comparisons:

The obvious point: All three are based on a Marxian reading of history–that is, at its base, a view placing economic relations among classes at the base of history.

Dependency theory is based specifically in Latin American history–as the authors put it, intersecting political, social, and economic history. Both it and world systems theory come out of the same intellectual milieu–the left of the 1960s-1970s, seeking to understand global economic relations and counter modernization theory. In some ways, world systems theory seemed to me to be dependency theory writ large. Both suggest that a country’s course of development is, in part, determined by whether it is peripheral, semi-peripheral, or core to the world capitalist system. Cardoso and Falleto, however, break this down on a country by country level, and argue that while the options available to a country are in part determined by their place in the global economy, this is not all that determines their level of development. Indeed, the authors argue that political dynamics within each country–that is, actions by internal actors, not solely external forces–also helped to determine a country’s course of development, within a set of constraints typically coming from the outside world (particularly the United Kingdom in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the United States thereafter). Perhaps because they were looking at a more granular level, Cardoso and Falleto see more room for individual countries to maneuver than Wallerstein does.

I was happy to read the actual main work about dependency theory because I feel like I’ve seen it caricatured plenty. Yet, it was a lot more nuanced than I expected it to be–indeed, in their postscript, Cardoso and Falleto refer to what they see as caricatures of what they originally said. I also realized how much my understanding of modern Latin American history was informed by dependency theory because my undergraduate Modern Latin America professor structured his class around this understanding–each unit of the syllabus was based on the periods that Cardoso and Falleto use: export capitalism, national capitalism, cosmopolitan capitalism. At the same time, it is perhaps too overarching of a theory. I look forward to discussing critiques, particularly those raised by other authors we have read this semester.

Cardoso and Falleto, as well as Wallerstein, both refer to Gramsci’s theory of hegemony to explain their ideas of how the economic system is tied together(?). After reading the selected readings, I fully admit that I’m still struggling with this concept–I feel like I understand better how others have characterized the concept, rather than how Gramsci himself does. Perhaps part of this is the nature of the writings–these are short musings that are difficult to tie together. So I’d like to discuss these further, and specifically applications to Latin American history. Some of Gramsci’s understandings seemed very specific to their time and place. At the same time, I found myself writing marginalia with applications of these concepts to Latin American history. Where did the authors we read go to for their understandings–and critiques–of Gramscian hegemony? Over the next couple of days, I will look back to those other works, and look forward to discussing these in context–especially as we prepare the minor field exam questions!

Minor field exam

As we discussed last meeting, these concepts really seem to tie together the works we’ve read. So along those lines, here’s a possible minor field exam question: How do the works we have read use and critique the concepts of cultural hegemony, world systems theory, and dependency theory to explain the place of the region today called Latin America in the world, 1492 to present? How do these concepts help illuminate that relationship? What do they obscure in the process? What are the authors using as substitutes and/or complements for these concepts?

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