This post originally appeared here on the EADI (European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes) blog.

By Rory Horner


Development is not something which the global North has achieved, and which only the global South still needs to work on. It requires changes and commitments in all countries.

The Sustainable Development Goals have given mainstream prominence to this argument. The intensifying impacts of climate change, overwhelmingly caused by high income populations, and the pervasive challenge of inequality cement the necessity of this universalistic understanding.

We can also see that many high-income populations, predominantly in the global North, benefit from the current international trading, financial and governance systems, amongst others. Prosperity for some is often linked to marginalisation for others. Problems of underdevelopment are not caused by the lack of integration of “poor people” in “poor places” into the global economy, finance, or technology – but often by adverse incorporation into political, economic and social systems which cut across global North and South.

We’re all developing countries now

If we’re serious about confronting the treat of climate change, setting economies and societies on a sustainable footing and confronting inequality, then we are “all developing countries now”.

The statement has been frequently iterated by Kate Raworth, proponent of Doughnut Economics. For her, this is a recognition that no country meets its people’s essential needs while falling within the Earth’s biophysical boundaries. The aim is to stimulate action on addressing the gap, especially in the global North, so that we live within the Earth’s biophysical boundaries. At the same time, major improvements are needed to achieve social thresholds, especially in the global South.

An increasingly widespread and mainstream group of actors have started to eschew using the terms developed and developing countries. These include The World Bank, the Overseas Development Institute and philanthropists such as Bill Gates. This shift is made with the goal of recognising shared challenges across all countries and avoiding macro-generalisations that obscure differences (e.g. between China and Chad as part of the global South).

Obscuring differences?

Yet there’s a flip side. Framing all countries as ‘developing’ can lead to some erroneously ignoring the vast inequalities that continue to exist in the world today, including between most parts of the global North and South, especially at a per capita level.

The suggestion that “we are all developing countries now” can lead to politics retreating inwards and excuses such as  “therefore, we’ll just focus on ourselves”. Think Angus Deaton’s op-ed in The New York Times, which argued that “the needs of poor Americans (or poor Europeans) have received little priority relative to the needs of Africans or Asians”. As we have seen with Donald Trump, a nationalist exploitation of this sense has led to the withdrawal of development assistance, trade preferences and perhaps most significantly, from climate change commitments.

The huge unevenness that continues to exist between global North and South, especially at a per capita level, could be lost sight of. As Björn Hettne said more than 20 years ago, even if we are all travelling in the same boat, “the passengers do not travel in the same class”.

Challenges which are particularly acute in the global South, such as state building, structural transformation or extreme poverty, must not be overlooked. While important opportunities are opened from framing development in relation to the whole world, we can’t take for granted that global development is interpreted and applied in a cooperative and egalitarian manner.

Global development with differentiated need and responsibilities

Of course, developing countries are not all the same and never have been. The category (like that of ‘developed’ countries) has always included highly heterogeneous groups of countries, from more typical examples of extreme variation of Chad and China or Mexico and Mali, to India and Nepal. While going beyond the idea that some are ‘developed’ and others are ‘developing’, we can recognise considerable variation amongst the ‘developing’.

The claim we’re “all developing countries now” doesn’t mean arguing for the abandonment of aid or development cooperation. “Developing countries” can help each other. In fact, much as some may associate such international assistance with a rich North helping a poor South, South-South cooperation or development assistance has a long tradition and is vibrant today. Lest it be suggested that richer countries should take care of their own before helping others, they already do. The current levels of domestic assistance to poor people in the North dwarfs that to the foreign poor, as Charles Kenny and Justin Sandefur rightly highlighted in response to Angus Deaton.

But let’s be clear, ‘development’ is about much more than aid, which international development is often associated with. Governments, firms, NGOs and people in North and South all shape the world we live in, for better or worse, through everyday policies, production, consumption, citizenship, activism and more. These systems and processes are both the causes of problems and can offer the solutions. While there might be different understandings of what we mean by development, and what the key priorities may be, as the recent Development and Change Forum issue highlights, those need to have relevance across North and South.

A new paradigm of global development

We need to shift beyond thinking of international development towards a new paradigm of global development, which better fits with the complex challenges facing our world today. We can recognise the different socio-economic statuses, capacities, and histories of people and places rather than being inhibited by rigid, outdated binaries and boundaries.

Many people involved in development studies and policy are committed to, the sometimes pejoratively invoked, ‘making the world a better place’. As this naturally relates to both global North and South, the separation of the two is an obstacle. Despite the North-South binary being critiqued for decades, taking seriously the challenge of the SDGs and the Paris Climate Agreement offers the challenge to move beyond that.

A geographic shift towards global development relating to the whole world offers constructive potential, as well as requiring critical attention. In many ways we are all developing countries now, but we need to be alive to the political risks of understanding development in these terms, as well as to the huge benefits from confronting the challenges we all face.

Read more open access research by Rory Horner around these issues:

Rory Horner is Senior Lecturer in Globalisation and Political Economy at the Global Development Institute, University of Manchester. His research focus is on the geographies of globalisation, global value chains, pharmaceuticals, South-South trade and their development implications.

This blog post originally appeared here on the Global Development Institute blog:

Rory Horner, Senior Lecturer in Globalisation and Political Economy and ESRC Future Research Leader, Global Development Institute

  • Often associated with a North-South binary, the term ‘international development’ seems increasingly inappropriate for encompassing the various actors, processes and major challenges with which our world currently engages. In a new paper in Progress in Human Geography, I argue that global development holds potential as an emerging paradigm better fitted to the early 21st century, but critical attention is required as to what that may involve.

    Beyond the limits of international development

    ‘International development’ is often loosely used as an umbrella term for development research and practice. The two words do not fully reflect all that is associated with their domain.

    The origins of the term ‘international’ are dated to Jeremy Bentham, famous philosopher and utilitarian. He coined the word in the late 18th century in relation to the law governing the relations between states. ‘International’ gained popularity in a 19th-century context of rising nation-states and cross-border transactions. Meanwhile, ‘development’ can be variously used to refer to an idea, objective and/or activity.

    The current use of international development is too often overly associated with aid, or development cooperation, overlooking a whole variety of other actors and processes in economic and social transformation. It doesn’t fit the 21stcentury either, for 3 key reasons:

    • The interconnectedness of 21st century globalisation:

    We can’t isolate the causes of underdevelopment in a residual global South. The causal processes, such as trade, investment, resource flows and political power, that shape prosperity and poverty are interlinked across global North and South. Relational rather than residual approaches are necessary to understand development.

    • The challenge of sustainable development, and especially climate change:

    This overshadows and renders meaningless the idea that rich countries have achieved development and a transformation is only required in the global South.

    • Blurring North-South boundaries:

    The pattern of global inequalities has shifted from “divergence, big time” with rising inequalities between counties to “converging divergence” with inequalities falling between North and South (in aggregate), yet rising within them.

    A new global development paradigm?

    Global development, involving a focus on the whole world and which includes but goes beyond an international development focused just on the global South, is more fitting to the 21st century. Most prominently, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) relate to all countries, while the Paris Climate Agreement requires commitments by countries in the global South as well as the global North.

    This is a major geographic shift, with considerable implications for what counts and is prioritised as a key development issue, for how we understand the causal processes shaping development, and for related strategic action.

    Overcoming the limitations of international development, a global development framing can better fit with the challenges of global public goods – climate change, finance, taxation, health etc. These are issues which no one country can effectively address individually, and require commitment by people and countries in the global North (as well as the global South).

    Opportunities also arise for learning around the shared challenges across global North and South, such as addressing relative poverty and inequality, precarious work, social protection etc.

    The time is now….

    We currently have a tendency to use ‘international’ and ‘global’ development interchangeably. From the Wikipedia definition that conflates the two terms, to the aid industry’s widespread use of the #GlobalDev hashtag on twitter, we risk underplaying or missing the real and rapid tectonic shifts the world is experiencing.

    Development studies, research and practice in the 21st century are clearly situated in a different context compared to much of the second half of the 20th century. This does not mean abandoning what has been done under international development, but it requires a considerable expansion and readjustment to make it more relevant to the world we currently inhabit and the challenges we face.

    The recent Development and Change Forum issue involves varied and heated debate around the causes of, current patterns of and priorities for global development. A constructive and critical agenda awaits.

    International development has had its time. We’re part of the global development paradigm but we must guard against it being used to rebrand ‘business as usual’.

    Read more open access research by Rory Horner around these issues:

Dr Rory Horner and Professor David Hulme

Since 1990 the global map of development has shifted from one of “divergence, big time” to “converging divergence”. This involves some converging in development indicators between North and South in aggregate, alongside divergence or growing inequality within many countries. To better capture the nature of contemporary challenges, this means we need to go beyond the traditional notion of ‘international’ development to consider a different form of ‘global’ development in relation to the whole world.

In a nutshell, this was our argument in an article in Development and Change, prompting the editors to commission 8 critical commentaries by a variety of leading thinkers on development. The whole issue is open access, but here’s our summary of the key questions and issues that were raised.

Does “converging divergence” represent a new pattern of global inequality?

The extent of convergence from an income perspective has been overblown, according to many of the contributors to the debate. Economic growth in the global South has been hugely uneven, dominated by East Asia and, most of all, China.

Yet surprisingly little attention was devoted in the commentaries to the converging trends in relation to human development across global North and South – whether it be increased life expectancy, reduced maternal and under-5 mortality, or enrolment in schooling. An exception is Yusuf Bangura who explicitly suggested that:

“It is, perhaps, at this basic level of human development that real global convergence has occurred. Even Africa, which underperforms on income and carbon emission convergence, does fairly well on these basic human development indicators”.

More attention was devoted to contesting the “converging” trends than to engaging with the “divergence” part of “converging divergence”. There appears to be much more widespread agreement about the fact of divergence, with growing inequalities within countries. Özlem Onaran argues that the bargaining power of labour vis-à-vis capital has declined, while Cecilia Alemany, Claire Slatter and Corina Rodríguez Enríquez argue that a series of pro-rich policy choices have been made across both global North and South.

We maintain our argument for a “converging divergence” trend as a stylized fact regarding global inequalities. This trend goes beyond income to include human development indicators and carbon emissions.

What has caused “converging divergence”?

We did not adequately address this issue in our original paper, as a number of the commentaries rightly pointed out. Our paper started with naïve empiricism rather than with a proposed explanatory theory of 21st century global development – if there could be such a thing. It was a significant task to just cover some, but clearly not all, economic, social and environmental indicators and the suggested conceptual implications that flow from this.

Nevertheless, the causal processes, and their global character and effects, augment the case for thinking of (uneven) development in relation to the whole world. Jayati Ghosh notably argues that capitalism “has always been a global system, and one that has therefore always had implications for development (or the lack of it) across the globe”. Moreover, as Bram Büscher argues, climate change also has a global dynamic.

By pointing to some positive trends over the last quarter of a century, do we implicitly condone the neoliberal period, as Andrew Fischer suggests? We contest this idea. Rather than the era of globalisation being a straight-jacket locking all countries in the global South into underdevelopment, some countries have been able to manage their engagement with the global economy for effective development progress – China is a classic example. More widely, however, extreme poverty reduction has been achieved in a wider range of countries – including Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Vietnam which have not adopted the neoliberal prescription.

Should we shift to global development? If so, what is it?

Much more needs to be done to understand and explain how we may approach global development, as Yusuf Bangura highlights in his commentary. This is part of a wider project we are working on, with a new paper in Progress in Human Geography forthcoming very shortly.

Different understandings of ‘global’ development are present in this debate. One possible understanding of global development is as (vertical) scale, associated with particular actors and processes (e.g. those part of the UN system or a hypothetical global government). Based on this understanding Bangura questions whether a single-world, global approach should replace lower-scale geographic categories or binaries.

Instead, we understand global development as (horizontal) scope in relation to the whole world, involving multi-scalar processes and actors. For example, cities around the world – in both North and South – face major development challenges in terms of their sustainability and inclusiveness. Although inclusive and sustainable cities are a global development challenge (in terms of scope), they are not primarily governed by actors, or found at, the global scale (despite some initiatives at the global scale such as UN Habitat).

What are the key development priorities for study and practice?

Very contrasting visions are present in the commentaries, which have tensions between them. Andrew Fischer and Andy Sumner maintain the geographic scope of the challenge of development, and consequently the focus for development studies and practice, is very much focused on the global South. Their suggested focus is a more classical take on economic development, through structural transformation.

Alternative visions are constructed with a potential relevance that is global in scope, but have very different emphases. For example, Bram Büscher points to the need for revolutionary development beyond capitalism. The initiatives he cites as already doing this — buen vivir, degrowth, doughnut economics and radical ecological democracy — have potential relevance for every country. Aram Ziai suggests a radical programme for (post-)development, involving reparations for colonialism, deglobalization, freedom of movement for people, and curbing C02 emissions and resource use – a view which is also relevant across both the global North and South.

The challenges, tensions and trade-offs around sustainable development are necessarily global, as the responses highlight in relation to capitalism and climate change. The visions offered above represent wider tensions regarding what constitutes progress, a long-standing characteristic of development studies and practice (as Aram Ziai argues).

Nevertheless, there are strongly competing challenges facing the world and we see a need to move beyond the binaries which have separated out international development issues from other major challenges including social justice in the North, climate change or the nature of contemporary globalization. Thinking in terms of global development can potentially offer a better platform for breaking down these divides.

Read the full, open access Development and Change Forum issue here.

This post originally appeared here on the Global Development Institute blog:

By Rory Horner and Matthew Alford, January 2019

In a new paper in the GDI Working Paper Series we argue that the state-GVC nexus is, and will continue to be, especially significant in shaping development outcomes.

Research on global value chains (GVCs) has broken with state-centric approaches to understanding development, providing a more contemporary perspective on trade, industrial organisation and development outcomes. Partly based on a belief that little else was possible in a liberal economic context, the key emphasis in research on GVCs (and related global production networks (GPNs)) has been on how states facilitate GVCs – including both domestic firms and global lead firms. Yet other roles of regulator, producer (state-owned enterprises) and buyer (public procurement) are significant, and are now attracting growing attention.

The new paper elaborates and outlines an agenda in relation to this four-fold typology (Table 1 below) of state roles in GVCs, initially introduced in a 2017 Geography Compass paper.

Table 1. Typology of state roles within global value chains

Role Definition Examples
Facilitator Assisting firms in GVCs in relation to the challenges of the global economy Tax incentives, subsidies, export processing zones, incentives for R&D, implementing and negotiating favourable trade policies, inter-state lobbying.
Regulator Measures restrict the activities of firms within GVCs. State marketing boards, price controls, restrictions on foreign investment, trade policy (tariffs, quotas), patent laws, labour regulation, quality controls, standards implementation.
Producer State-owned firms, which compete for market share with other firms within GVCs. State-owned companies e.g. in oil, mining. These constitute less visible supply chains which may be shaped by state political objectives.
Buyer State purchases output produced within GVCs. Public procurement e.g. of military equipment, pharmaceuticals. These distinct value chains may be shaped by particular economic, social or environmental requirements.

Source: Adapted from Horner (2017, 6).

The type of role the state takes vis a vis GVCs is of considerable empirical importance. The World Bank, World Trade Organisation, World Economic Forum, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development have all increasingly framed economic development policy recommendations around global value chains in recent years.  Some of these approaches have been critiqued for too much emphasis on “making markets work”.

Global value chains are also the focus of the 2020 World Development Report, due to be released in autumn 2019. Central questions posed are: Which state roles will be advocated for today’s global economy? Will they go beyond facilitator?

Yet regulatory roles have not completely disappeared and show signs of growing importance. Tariff regimes continue to play a role, even in more liberalised trade contexts, in shaping market access in an era of global value chains. While various private governance initiatives have been established with the aim of seeking to improve labour and environmental standards in global value chains, the role of public governance is increasingly manifest here. For example, private governance initiatives in palm oil in Indonesia and in timber in Indonesia and China require compliance with public governance.

Whilst a widely reported backlash against economic globalisation has emerged in recent years, especially in the global North, the prospects for greater prominence of the state’s regulatory role appear considerable. In the US, Donald Trump’s threat to repatriate parts of global value chains to the US moved beyond discourse with the announcement in 2018 of various tariffs on products imported into the US from China. Considerable uncertainty surrounds how the UK’s planned exit from the European Union may shape global value chains as the trade regime changes.

Despite perceptions of state-owned enterprises being a thing of the past, they hold considerable contemporary relevance, accounting for approximately 10% of global economic activity. Some of the largest firms in the world are state-owned, including 15 of the top-100 non-financial multinational enterprises. SOEs are especially prominent in China and India. Yet we still know relatively little about how SOEs organise their value chains, and with what development implications.

Public procurement is of huge economic significance in shaping global value chains, yet the role of the state as a buyer has been underexplored in relation to GVCs. Public procurement has often been used to promote domestic industries and firms, such as the example of the influence of the long-standing “Buy American Act” in the United States. Despite receiving less attention than GVCs where private firms are buyers, ethical public procurement is a growing focus of attention by policymakers and researchers. Recent research has shown that ethical sourcing is less advanced in the public sector than in the private sector. Nevertheless, social responsibility dimensions have gained some presence in legislation such as the United States Federal Acquisitions Regulation and through the European Union Directives on Public Procurement. The NGO Electronics Watch assists public buyers to incorporate clauses on working conditions for lead firms sourcing electronic products manufactured in the global South as part of GVCs.

As this working paper emphasises, a growing body of research is thus focusing not just on showing that the state matters in GVCs, but how it matters. This is a research field with a very exciting and important agenda for better understanding of possibilities and limitations of public attempts to shape more socially-just distributive outcomes.

The working paper will be published as a chapter in the forthcoming Handbook of Global Value Chains (Edited by Gary Gereffi, Stefano Ponte and Gale Raj-Reichert) – one of 40 chapters by leading researchers in the field.


Image credit: Garment worker Bangaldesh by Solidarity Center Bangladesh

Along with Khalid Nadvi and Pritish Behuria, I am organising sessions on “Global value  chains, the state and the political economy of development” for the Development Studies Association 2019 Annual Conference (Milton Keynes, UK, 19th – 21st June).

This is a research agenda with growing momentum and one we are looking forward to pushing further.

Abstracts are due by 16th January 2019 and can be submitted here.

Cross-border flows of goods and services are increasingly organised through global value chains (GVCs) and global production networks (GPNs). Consequently, economic, social (e.g. for labour) and/or environmental development outcomes have been analysed through forms of participation within GVCs/GPNs and the prospects for greater value capture within such chains/networks.

Yet, relatively little attention has been devoted to the role and influence of national state policies in shaping GVCs/GPNs and their developmental outcomes. At the same time, more state-centric approaches, such as political settlements analysis, have generated insights into the political economy of development, including around globally-traded goods. However, such approaches often lack a transnational dimension.

This panel invites papers focused on a long-standing issue in the political economy of development – the bridge between multi-scalar analytical approaches, in this case global VC/PN frameworks and national state-centric approaches. With a potential retreat from a more open international economic environment, and the partial return of the state, this nexus is more pertinent than ever. Abstract submissions are invited on topics including, but not limited to:

• How do different forms of state-business relations and political settlements shape engagement with value chains?

• What forms of industrial/productive sector policy are possible in an era of GVCs?

• When and how can states regulate engagements with GVCs?

• How do state-owned enterprises shape value chains?

• How does the role of the state as a buyer, through public procurement, shape value chains?

• How does positioning within value chains in turn shape state policy scope and choice?

This post originally appeared here on the Geographical Society of Ireland blog.


The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) highlight the need to rethink the dominant imaginary of the global map of development.

Through much of the 20th century, a classic macro-geographic division of the world into two, and according to standard of living, has prevailed. While the nomenclature has changed from First and Third World, to developed and developing, to global North and South lines, the territorial categorisation of the world into two has continued.

Under such an understanding, from the perspective of many in the global North, development was largely a challenge for far away countries in the global South. Aid was provided by rich countries to poor countries under a moral geography of charity, often justified by the aim of helping developing countries become more like developed countries.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which preceded the SDGs, reflected just such a geography. The MDGs were largely designed by rich countries. Their focus was almost exclusively on targets for poor countries. The SDGs, which apply to all countries in the world and present universal development goals, challenge this dominant map.

Of course, the SDGs highlight continuing major development challenges in lower-income countries. These include poverty (SDG 1), hunger (SDG 2), health care (SDG 3), education (SDG 4), water and sanitation (SDG 6), energy services (SDG 7), decent jobs (SDG 8) and infrastructure (SDG 9).

Yet, rather than just relating to lower-income countries, the SDGs highlight major development challenges that are present in high-income countries too. Initial indicators of progress towards the SDGs point to sustainable consumption and production (SDG 12), climate change (SDG 13) and ecosystem conservation (SDG 14 and 15) as high priorities for countries such as Ireland in the global North. Other major challenges in such countries include agricultural systems and malnutrition (related to obesity) (SDG 2), malnutrition (related to obesity), jobs and unemployment (SDG 8), and gender equality (SDG 5).

Although major development challenges, including those highlighted by the SDGs are present in all countries in the world, considerable geographic variation is present in the nature and severity of those challenges. It is not a flat world, but one characterised by vast inequalities.

As well as applying to all countries, the SDGs also had a very different process of formation from the MDGs. Brazil, in particular, as well as the G77 (a collective of the UN’s 130 ‘developing countries’), played prominent roles in converting the ‘post-2015 Development Agenda’ into the United Nations General Assembly-agreed Sustainable Development Goals.

The SDGs have been made within a very different context from the MDGs. New geographies of wealth, middle classes, poverty, health and environment have been observed this century. Patterns of global inequality have changed, with some fall in between-country inequality across a number of different indicators, while inequalities within many countries have risen. The Paris Agreement of 2015 requires climate commitments by all countries, not just ‘developed’ or ‘Annex 1’ countries. We are also living in a world of multi-directional development cooperation, justified by a morality of solidarity, rather than just aid from North to South justified by a morality of charity.

The SDGs also provide a challenge to dominant understandings of development trajectories. Rather than seeking to become like developed countries under a developmentalist logic, the SDGs seek to put forward a goal for all countries of transformation towards sustainable development.

Considerable debate revolves around the SDGs as to what effect, if any, they have in practice. Fascinating research has suggested that rather than setting development agendas, national and local governments in Ecuador engage with global goals which reinforce or serve their own interests.

While much more evidence is needed as to implementation, the SDGs do help point to a very different geography of contemporary development challenges facing our planet and global society. Instead of an earlier era of international development, we are now operating in an era of global development.

This blogpost draws on research on the changing geographies of global development, published in Development and Change:

This post originally appeared here on the Global Development Institute blog.


Global Development Institute academics, Khalid Nadvi and Rory Horner discuss the growing body of research which points to the ‘Rise of the South’ and the growth of South–South trade. Rory and Khalid consider the implications of the shifting dynamics of global trade and the greater prominence of Southern actors for the conceptualization of global value chains and global production networks.

Khalid Nadi and Rory Horner recently guest edited a special issue of Global Networks which looked at ‘global production networks and the new contours of development in the global south’.