Peter Klarén and Thomas Bossert bring together in this edited volume a collection of theoretical statements about the process of uneven development in Latin America. The book includes an introduction and a conclusion written by the authors, plus four sections of reprinted texts, each devoted to a different school of thought. Part one presents seminal contributions to the “modernization” framework. It includes articles by Seymour Martin Lipset, Kalman H. Silvert, John J. Johnson, and Jacques Lambert. The second section is devoted to dependency and Marxism as revealed in the writings of André Gunder Frank, Celso Furtado, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Enzo Faletto, and Ernesto Laclau. Parts three and four deal with corporatism (Howard J. Wiarda, Ronald C. Newton) and bureaucratic authoritarianism (two articles by Guillermo O’Donnell).
The purpose of the volume, the authors say (p. xi), is to provide “a single source for Latin Americanists who hope to interest and instruct their students in the rich theoretical traditions and debates in Latin American studies.” On the basis of my own classroom experience with this text, I can say that it largely, but not entirely, achieves its goal.
The introduction to the book, called “Lost Promise; Explaining Latin American Underdevelopment,” offers the reader a useful summary of what is to come. The authors successfully place each theoretical tradition in comparative perspective, summarizing the theoretical antecedents and the subsequent critiques of the various schools of thought. Summary statements also introduce the four major themes, noting the significance of the selected articles and their relationship to the other topics in the volume. The first chapter, and the introductions to each section, are clearly written in a nontechnical style accessible to an undergraduate audience.
Whether or not Promise of Development provides a “single source” for those of us who teach Latin American studies depends on each instructor’s intellectual interests and the objectives of his or her particular course. I, for one, found that the selection of articles provided a satisfactory treatment of the political questions but could have given more attention to economic theory (as in the work by Arthur Lewis, Walt Rostow, and Raúl Prebisch) and related topics (e. g., the modes of production analysis). A curious omission is any mention of the world-systems perspective. A number of questions, relevant to the book’s goals, quickly come to mind. Is the world-systems approach really new? Does it offer innovative insights about Latin America? How does it relate to the other schools of thought presented in the book? Since the text intends to assess past and present theoretical debates, some attention to these issues is in order.
The authors strike an optimistic note in the preface and the concluding chapter. Theoretical model building has reached a “momentary plateau” (p. xi), they tell us in the first pages. Toward the end, Thomas Bossert claims that “some trends of theoretical debate suggest a convergence of thought that might encourage the synthetic merging of the perspectives we see evolving in Latin American development theory” (p. 319). To sustain this conclusion, Bossert asserts, first, that “quantifiers” are becoming more aware of the need to include historical context; historical-structuralists, on the other hand, are increasingly turning to empirical verification. The second point of convergence is that between Marxist and non-Marxist scholars—the former becoming more eclectic, the latter discovering the usefulness of a political economy perspective.
This happy conclusion is suspect if for no other reason than the fact that the theoretical and methodological matters at stake are deeply rooted in epistemological issues that go far beyond the study of Latin America and of development and social change. But if I am more pessimistic than the authors on this point, it only confirms the need to assess and monitor the state of development theory, which is, after all, the purpose of this volume.