The uses and misuses of uneven and combined development: An anatomy of a concept

Jamie C. Allinson, Alexander Anievas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

A central concern of much contemporary Marxist scholarship in international relations (IR) is to internally relate global capitalism and the state system without reducing one of these systems to an epiphenomenon of the other. A recent attempt at this is Justin Rosenberg's reformulation of Leon Trotsky's idea of uneven and combined development (U&CD). This article examines the internal relations of ‘unevenness’ and ‘combination’ as presented by Trotsky and reworked by Rosenberg. From this anatomization of the concept, we focus on the problematic status of U&CD as a transhistorical general abstraction arising from the exchange between Callinicos and Rosenberg (Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 22:1 2008, 77–112) and suggest our own possible solution. We argue that while the uneven and combined nature of historical development represents a truly transhistorical phenomenon, its distinct causal determinations, articulated and expressed through inter-societal competition, are only fully activated under the specific socio-historical conditions of generalized commodity production. These theoretical points are illuminated through three specific historical examples (the Meiji Restoration, the ‘Eastern Question’ and the origins of the two World Wars). Finally, we illustrate some of the dangers of analytical overextension found in Rosenberg's own ambiguous use of U&CD.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-67
Number of pages21
JournalCambridge Review of International Affairs
Issue number1
Early online date31 Mar 2009
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2009


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