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MSc International Relations of the Americas
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AMERG020: Political Economy and Social Change: A History of Latin America during the ‘long’ Twentieth Century

Course convenor: Prof Colin Lewis

Course outline

The course will explore the determinants of economic growth between the first phase of globalisation, which occurred during the latter part of the nineteenth century, and the current phase of global turbulence. Particular attention will be paid to the domestic political context and external economic environment, and how these factors inter-acted to shape the nature and pace of change. Well before the end of the nineteenth century, Latin America had become a major component of the international system. The continent was the principal supplier of various key commodities, an important market for goods and services, and a significant destination for migrants and capital – crucial drivers of economic internationalisation. Yet, by the middle of the twentieth century, a process of ‘disengagement’ may be observed. Latin America was becoming an increasingly peripheral element of the world economy and, within the continent, the international economy was no longer perceived as an engine of growth – rather as a source of instability and crisis. Nevertheless, by the final decades of the twentieth century, a process of international re-engagement was underway, once again characterised by massive capital movements and flows of migrant – though now the flow of migrants was from, not to, the continent, and a commodity boom. Since the late nineteenth century, Latin America has witnessed social progress reflected in improving indicators such as literacy and life expectancy at birth – indicators that have converged with those of advanced countries, and profound structural change – industrialisation and urbanisation.

The history of growth and development has triggered a number of debates. These include the role of the state and the market in determining change, the relative performance of the continent compared with other parts of the world, the ‘quality’ of growth – assessed in terms of relative economic stability and welfare outcomes, and the interplay between the economic and the political in facilitating progressing state social interventions . It is now a commonplace that for much of the twentieth century, Latin America was a region of acute political instability and inequality – arguably the most unequal, with the greatest disparities of wealth and income in the world. Yet, the continent has also witness periods of rapid growth and structural change, and of democratic opening and democratisation. A study of social progress, broadly defined in terms of welfare gains coupled with economic and political citizenship, facilitates an analysis of change. 

To what extent can the history of the long twentieth century be depicted as a narrative, involving retreats as well as advances, in terms of the construction of nation-states, the consolidation of the economically active state and the emergence of the socially responsive state? Answers to this question are sought in the principal themes of the course.

Principal Themes and Course Organisation

  • Latin America in comparative perspective: long-run growth, approaches and explanations
  • Politics and Economics: from the oligarchic state to democracy
  • Trade, Investment and the Global Economy: engagement and isolation
  • Industrial Growth, Industrialsation and De-industrialisation: determinants, process and policy.
  • Rural Economy and Society: peasants and proletarianisation, latifundia and agribusiness
  • Society and Social Change: population growth, migration and urbanisation
  • Social Progress and Social Policy: welfare, poverty and inequality
  • Ideas and Ideologies: from ‘liberalism’ to ‘social market economics’
  • Latin America: cycles, shocks and sustainability

Assessment and Examining

The course will be examined by means of an assessed paper written on one of the themes.

15 credits

Assessed by 4,000 word essay.

Select Bibliography and Background Reading

  • Abel, Christopher & Colin M. Lewis ‘Exclusion and Engagement: a diagnosis of social policy in the long-run’ in Christopher Abel & Colin M. Lewis (eds.) Exclusion and Engagement: social policy in Latin America (London: Institute for Latin American Studies 2002) pp. 3-53.
  • Acemoglu, Daron, Simon Johnson & James Robinson ‘The Colonial origins of Comparative Development: an empirical investigation’ American Economic Review LXXXXI 5 (2001) pp.1369-1401.
  • Acemoglu, Daron, ‘Oligarchic versus Democratic Societies’ Journal of the European Economic Association VI 1 (2008) pp.1-44.
  • Astorga, Pablo, Ame R. Bergés & Valpy FitzGerald ‘The Standard of Living in Latin America during the Twentieth Century’ Economic History Review LXIII 4 (2005) pp.765-96.
  • Bauer, Arnold ‘Rural Spanish America, 1870-1930’ in Leslie Bethell (ed) Cambridge History of Latin America Vol. IV c.1870-1930 (Cambridge: CUP 1986) pp.153-86
  • Bielschowsky, Ricardo ‘Sixty Years of ECLAC: structuralism and neostructuralism’ CEPAL Review LXXXXVII (2009) pp.171-89.
  • Bértola, Luis, María Camou, Silvana Maubrigades & Natalia Melgar ‘Human Development and Inequality in the Twentieth Century: the MERCOSUR countries in comparative perspective’ in John Coatsworth, Ricardo Salvatore & Amilcar Challu (eds.) Living Standards in Latin American History: height, welfare and development, 1770-2000 (Harvard: HUP 2010)
  • Coatsworth, John ‘Structures, Endowments and Institutions in the Economic History of Latin America’ Latin American Research Review XXXX 3 (2005) pp.126-44.
  • Dornbusch, Rudiger & Sebastian Edwards ‘The Macroeconomics of Populism’ in Rudiger Dornbusch & Sebastian Edwards (eds) The Macroeconomis of Populism in Latin America (Chicago: Chicago University Press 1991).
  • Dye, Alan ‘The Institutional Framework’ in Victor Bulmer-Thomas, John H. Coatsworth & Roberto Cortés Conde (eds.) The Cambridge History of Latin America: Vol II: the long twentieth century (2006) pp169-207.
  • Engerman, Stanley I. & Kenneth I. Sokoloff ‘History Lessons: institutions, factor endowments and paths of development in the New World’ Journal of Economic Perspectives XIV 3 (2000) pp.93-134.
  • Foxley, Alejandro ‘Markets versus States: post-crisis economics in Latin America’ Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Working Paper (2010).
  • Gasparini, Leonardo & Nora Lustig ‘The Rise and Fall of Income Inequality in Latin America’ ECINE Working Paper 2011-213 (2011).
  • Glade, William P. ‘Latin America and the International Economy, 1870-1914’ in Leslie Bethell (ed) Cambridge History of Latin America Vol. IV c.1870-1930 (Cambridge: CUP 1986) pp.1-57.
  • Grindle, Merilee ‘The State and Agrarian Change’ in Merilee Grindle State and Countryside: development policy and agrarian politics in Latin America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press 1986) pp.11-24.
  • Haber, Stephen ‘The Political Economy of Industrialisation’ in Victor Bulmer-Thomas, John H. Coatsworth & Roberto Cortés Conde (eds.) The Cambridge History of Latin America: Vol II: the long twentieth century (Cambridge: CUP 2006) pp.537-83.
  • Hale, Charles A. ‘Political Ideas and Ideologies in Latin America, 1870-1930’ in Leslie Bethell (ed.) Ideas and Ideologies in Twentieth Century Latin America (1996) pp.133-206.
  • Lewis, Colin M. ‘Las economías de exportación’ in Eduardo Posada Carbó (ed.) Historia General de América Latina: Tomo VII: Los proyectos nacionales – sus instrumentos y articulación (Paris: UNESCO 2009) pp.79-110.
  • Lewis, Colin M. ‘Mercados y estados’ in Marco Palacios Rozo & Gregorio Weinberg (eds.) Historia General de América Latina: Tomo VIII: América Latina desde 1930 (Paris: UNESCO, 2008) pp.253-91.
  • Lewis, Colin M. ‘Modernisation and Industrialisation’ in Thomas H. Holloway (ed.) History of Latin America (Oxford: Blackwell, 2008) pp.285-306.
  • Love, Joseph L. ‘Economic Ideas and Ideologies in Latin America since 1930’ in Leslie Bethell (ed.) Ideas and Ideologies in Twentieth Century Latin America (1996) pp.207-73.
  • Oszlak, Oscar ‘The Historical Formation of the State in Latin America’ Latin American Research Review XVI 2 (1981) pp.3-32.
  • Prados de Escosura, Leandro ‘Growth, Inequality and Poverty in Latin America: historical evidence and controlled conjecture’ Universidad Carlos III (Madrid) Dept. de Hist. Ec. e Instituciones (2005) wp054104.
  • Salvucci, Richard ‘Export-led Industrialisation’ in Victor Bulmer-Thomas, John H. Coatsworth & Roberto Cortés Conde (eds.) The Cambridge History of Latin America: Vol II: the long twentieth century (Cambridge: CUP 2006) pp.249-92.
  • Sánchez Alonso, Blanco ‘Labour and Immigration’ in Victor Bulmer-Thomas, John H. Coatsworth & Roberto Cortés Conde (eds.) The Cambridge History of Latin America: Vol II: the long twentieth century (Cambridge: CUP 2006) pp.377-426.
  • Solbrig, Otto T. ‘Structure, Performance and Policy in Aggriculture’ in Victor Bulmer-Thomas, John H. Coatsworth & Roberto Cortés Conde (eds.) The Cambridge History of Latin America: Vol II: the long twentieth century (Cambridge: CUP 2006) pp.483-536
  • Smith, Peter H. ‘The Rise and Fall of the Developmental State in Latin America’ in Menno. Vellinga (ed.) The Changing Role of the State in Latin America (Boulder: Westview Press 1998) pp.51-73.
  • Smith, Peter H. & Melissa R. Ziegler ‘Liberal and Illiberal Democracy in Latin America’ Latin American Politics & Society L, 1 (2008) pp.31-57.
  • Taylor, Alan M. ‘Foreign Capital Flows’ in Victor Bulmer-Thomas, John H. Coatsworth & Roberto Cortés Conde (eds.) The Cambridge History of Latin America: Vol II: the long twentieth century (Cambridge: CUP 2006) pp.57-100.
  • Topik, Steven, Carlos Marichal & Zephyr Frank ‘Commodity Chains in Theory and in Latin American History’ in Steven Topik & Zephyr Frank (eds.) From Silver to Cocaine: Latin American commodity chains and the building of the world economy, 1500-2000 (Durham NC: Duke University Press 2006) pp.1-24.

Background Texts

  • Túlio Halperín Donghi Contemporary History of Latin America (Durham NC: Duke, various editions)
  • Peter H. Smith & Thomas E. Skidmore Modern Latin America (New York: OUP 2005).
  • Rosemary Thorp Progress, Poverty and Exclusion: an economic history of Latin America in the Twentieth Century (New York: Johns Hopkins/IDB 1998).
  • John Ward Latin America: development and conflict since 1946 (London: Questia/Gale 2004).