Development and Underdevelopment in the History of Economic Thought

The ECLAC school and political ecology: contributions from the global south to decolonizing development studies

Costa de Andrade Rodrigo, CEDEPLAR/UFMG

For the most part of the HET, the nonwestern countries would have only provided empirical material to development studies or attempts to emulate the research being made by the western economists. Nonetheless, we acknowledge two original contributions brought by the global south: the ECLAC school and political ecology. ECLAC is the Santiago based UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean which held debates and studies on underdevelopment during the 1950’s and 60’s. The most relevant contribution of the ECLAC school was on how inequality between the center and periphery of the system is created and reproduced. Also originated in the global south, political ecology comes from the postcolonialist movement which have brought the awareness to ontological and epistemological issues concerning the differences between the West and the rest of the world. Colonization can be seen as a set of phenomena that imposed structurally a new world labor division and, parallelly, new ways of reasoning and conceiving reality. Political ecology claim that those historical structures, besides the critique of commodity production, are the core issues when dealing with inequalities among people, gender, races, ethnies, and so on, even because most of these categories were brought about by the colonial encounter. This paper addresses a critical analysis of the two theories and a comparison between them. While ECLAC is an original set of theories, it cannot be considered a disruption from Eurocentrism, regarding epistemological aspects and its strategies to overcome underdevelopment. Meanwhile, political ecology can – it breaks from European tradition and encourages other epistemological backgrounds to theory. Contrary to most theories made in the West, these two perspectives bring the underdeveloped and colonized dimensions to the debate and, most importantly, the forgotten voices of the peoples who continually suffer from the reproduction of inequalities globally.

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Keywords: (Under)Development studies; ECLAT; Political Economy; Decolonial studies