What is suggested here is that the development of development and the development of “underdevelopment may exist side by side in the same economic process?
British manufacturing industry declines in the new international division of labour, while high-level retail and service functions sustain their pre-eminence in a world city like London. New York and Tokyo.
Similarly, the combination of the ‘traditional’ and the ‘modern’ or the penetration of a peripheral economy by externally oriented capital, leads simultaneously to growth and breakdown as a result of the same set of processes.
Uneven development may occur and be generated in many ways: between modes of production or social formations; in the extent of penetration of particular social relations by other more expansionary social relations; between large and small capitals; in the scale and durability of forms of fixed capital; between consumer goods and capital goods industries; between sectors; between the productive forces; between classes; between geographical areas; or between combinations of these, as for example in the unevenness in the development of the productive forces between firms, industries or even whole sectors, regions or nations.
Furthermore, the uneven relationships between these elements may themselves be unevenly developed.
Thus, the uneven development of class relations, for example, may help to explain the diversity of national responses to the development of capitalism as a mode of production. Such diversity was demonstrated most dramatically during the year-long coalminers’ strike in Great Britain in 1984 and 1985.
Although neither necessary nor inevitable, in the sense of being an iron law of capitalist development, uneven development is inescapable and is bound up with the coercive competitive conditions of accumulation. Accumulation demands a constant attempt to achieve a competitive supremacy.
As a result, unevenness is continuously created and recreated. But unevenness is not simply the consequence of the conditions of the reproduction of capital; resistance on the part of the working class may force a particular form of development.
Geographers have been particularly interested in the production and effects of geographically uneven development. Harvey’s (1982: 373) description provides a vivid description of its causes and consequences under capitalism: “The historical geography of capitalism has been nothing short of remarkable.
Peoples possessed of the utmost diversity of historical experience, living in an incredible variety of physical circumstances, have been welded into a complex unity under the international division of labour.
This radical transformation of social relations has not progressed evenly. It has moved faster in some places than in others. It has been strongly resisted here and made more welcome there. It has penetrated peaceably in one place and with genocidal violence in another.”
“It has also been accompanied by physical transformations that are breathtaking in their scope and radical in their implications. New productive forces have been produced and distributed across the face of the earth.
Vast concentrations of capital and labour have come together in metropolitan areas of incredible complexity, whilst transport and communications systems, stretched in far-flung nets around the globe, permit information and ideas as well as material goods and even labour power to move around with relative ease.
Factories and fields, schools, churches, shopping centers and parks, roads and railways litter a landscape that has been indelibly and irreversibly carved out according to the dictates of capitalism.
Again, this physical transformation has not progressed evenly. Vast concentrations of productive power here contrast with relatively empty regions there.
Tight concentrations of activity in one place contrast with sprawling far-flung development in another. All of this adds up to what we call the ‘uneven geographical development’ of capitalism.”
It should not, however, be imagined that uneven development is unique to capitalism. The pursuit of different growth strategies under state socialism has resulted in the development of unevenness.
A particularly clear example is that between industries producing consumer goods and those producing capital goods; similarly, agriculture and industry have developed unevenly, with the former so seriously underdeveloped in the erstwhile USSR, for example, that massive grain deficits result year by year.
Equally, the emphasis upon heavy industry has been based upon geographically concentrated, territorial production complexes with a consequently uneven development between town and country.
However, a noticeable feature of production under state socialism, in a number of different countries, is the difference in productivity between state-run activities and those that remain in private control.
There is, clearly, much to explain here. But such uneven development also produces society-wide effects, ranging from the emergence of imperialism at a world scale to the micro politics of the city.
These effects offer a reminder that ‘geography matters’ and that explanations of geographically uneven development or their effects cannot rely solely upon either structural factors or upon the determinism of space.
In reality, space and society are inseparable and their analysis must recognize this interdependence.