Development Sociology: Actor Perspectives

Development Sociology: Actor Perspectives

Development Sociology: Actor Perspectives

Development Sociology: Actor Perspectives


In this exciting and challenging work, Norman Long brings together years of work and thought in development studies to provide a key text for guiding future development research and practice. Using case-studies and empirical material from Africa and Latin America, Development Sociology focuses on the theoretical and methodological foundations of an actor-oriented form of analysis. With an accessible mix of general debate, critical literature reviews and original case-study materials, this work covers a variety of key development issues.


Unlike other general works in the field of development studies, this book focuses on the theoretical and methodological foundations of an actor-oriented and social constructionist form of analysis as opposed to structural, institutional and political economy analyses. It also aims to show the usefulness of such an approach for providing new insights into critical areas of empirical enquiry. The latter cover a variety of key development issues: commoditisation and commodity values, small-scale enterprise and social capital, knowledge interfaces, networks and power, the interrelations of globalisation and localisation, as well as the dynamics of policy discourse and planned intervention. Wherever possible the arguments are elaborated and brought to life by reference to case studies and empirical materials collected during periods of fieldwork in parts of Africa and Latin America.

Following the so-called 'impasse' in development studies in the mid-1980s, considerable interest was directed towards resolving the theoretical and methodological shortcomings of existing structural and generic theories of development that espoused various forms of determinism, linearity and institutional hegemony. They were also, by and large, 'people-less' and obsessed with the conditions, contexts and 'driving forces' of social life rather than with the self-organising practices of those inhabiting, experiencing and transforming the contours and details of the social landscape. One way out of this impasse, I argued, was to adopt an actor-oriented perspective that explored how social actors (both 'local' and 'external' to particular arenas) are locked into a series of intertwined battles over resources, meanings and institutional legitimacy and control.

Much of the groundwork for this had already been laid down conceptually in a variety of interactionist and phenomenological studies undertaken by sociologists and anthropologists in the 1960s and 1970s, and ethnographic case-study methods had grown in popularity across a number of different areas of social research. It only required a little sociological imagination and a willingness to provoke, to make the next step: namely, to mount a number of strategic forays into the territory of development theory and practice, aimed at deconstructing the 'received wisdoms' of this specialised niche of knowledge production and prescription. While some of my early forays offered reasoned arguments for incorporating actor issues and analysis into existing frameworks, and thus tilting the balance towards the agency side of the structure/actor equation , others adopted a more combative stance, pitching a critique at the orthodoxies then prevalent within policy and planning circles.

In the early 1990s, in what was evidently a more postmodernist intellectual environment, several theoretical attempts to resolve the shortcomings of existing social theories of development were offered. Some were couched in terms of post-structural Marxism and

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