Comparative Essay

Pdf download, what is a comparative essay .

A comparative essay usually requires you to complete these three tasks: 

  • Compare and contrast at least two items. 
  • Why does the comparison matter? 
  • What does the comparison suggest about the items? 
  • Sometimes your assignment guidelines will provide a basis for a comparison that sets the criteria. 

Even though your professor may call it a “comparison”, it is usually expected that you will discuss both the similarities and the differences between the items. 

How to Write a Comparative Essay 

1. pick a basis for your comparison.

You need a specific basis for your comparison. Without one, there will be too much information to research. 

Your assignment guidelines may already include a scope of focus for you to write about. If not, your basis should be an idea, category, or theme that applies to each of the items you are comparing. To get started, you may need to complete some preliminary research about your topics or speak with your professor to understand the assignment expectations.

2. Identify the Similarities and Differences. 

Gather information about the items that you will be comparing. You’ll need to identify the similarities and differences for each of the items. 

Remember, your end goal is NOT to list out the similarities and differences between the items. You need to move beyond basic identification to explaining the significance of the similarities and differences. 

Writing Tip: Use a graphic organizer to collect the similarities and differences. 

Try using a Venn diagram or a chart to organize your ideas. 

Venn diagram. Section a - points unique to a. Section AB - points unique to A & B. Section B - points unique to B.

3. Develop a Thesis Statement

Create a thesis statement based on the results of your comparison. Remember, your thesis needs to be arguable and appropriate for your course. 

Create an arguable thesis 

Go beyond the identification of similarities and differences by explaining their significance. Explain why this comparison matters. Your thesis will become arguable once you add in this portion. 

For instance, you might have compared two islands with similar goat overpopulation for a science course. It’s useful to set the context of these islands and the interventions that people used to deal with the goat overpopulation, but your thesis is not arguable if you only state facts. Adjust your thesis to explain why the similarities and differences matter. For instance, you might explain how the differences in the intervention impacted the ecosystem and the island populations. Depending on your assignment guidelines, you could make suggestions about a future intervention that could be effective in handling goat overpopulation on islands. 

Try these strategies for creating an arguable thesis: 

  • Cause and Effect : Identify how the differences and similarities lead to an outcome. For instance, you might discuss how the two different endings in Great Expectations affect how readers understand Pip’s relationship with Estella.  
  • Degree of Similarity or Difference : Are there more similarities or more differences between the items you’re comparing? You can create a thesis based on the degree of similarity or difference, but it can become descriptive if you don’t explain why the comparison matters. For example, you could write about the characteristics of Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort from the Harry Potter series. Both characters have similar challenges in their early lives, but the paths they choose lead to different outcomes. 

4. Structure your essay 

There are two basic structures that are typically used for comparative essays. 

Point-by-point method 

The point-by-point method alternates between the items. In this style, you pick a common point of comparison and describe the first item and then the second item. Here is an example of a point-by-point method essay outline.


Introductory material: Describe the wizarding world of Harry Potter and the key characters in the comparison. 

Thesis: Although Ron Weasley and Draco Malfoy are both pure-blood wizards, their interactions with other magical creatures reveal the different values in their socialization. 

Body 1: Discrimination towards House Elves 

  • Ron’s opinion of House Elves and their role in the wizarding world 
  • Draco’s opinion of House Elves and their role in the wizarding world 
  • Comment upon the origin in the differences in opinion and how the opinions changed through socialization 

Body 2: Discrimination towards Giants 

  • Ron’s perception of Hagrid 
  • Draco’s perception of Hagrid 


  • Summary 
  • Explain why this comparison between Ron and Draco matters 

Block Method 

The block method identifies themes to compare and describes all your items together. Here is an example of an essay method outline.

Introductory material : Describe the wizarding world of Harry Potter and the key characters in the comparison. 

Thesis : Although Ron Weasley and Draco Malfoy are both pure-blood wizards, their interactions with other magical creatures reveal the different values in their socialization. 

Block A: Ron Weasley – Discrimination towards magical creatures 

  • Ron’s social context and how he learns about the magical hierarchy 
  • How Ron discriminates against other magical creatures 

Block B: Draco Malfoy – Discrimination towards magical creatures 

  • Draco’s social context and how he learns about the magical hierarchy  
  • How Draco discriminates against other magical creatures 
  • Analysis – significance of the similarities and differences between Ron and Draco 
  • Why this comparison matters 

More resources for comparative essays 

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Comparative Policy Analysis and the Science of Conceptual Systems: A Candidate Pathway to a Common Variable

  • Published: 20 March 2021
  • Volume 27 , pages 287–304, ( 2022 )

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comparative perspective thesis

  • Guswin de Wee   ORCID: 1  

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In comparative policy analysis (CPA), a generally accepted historic problem that transcends time is that of identifying common variables. Coupled with this problem is the unanswered challenge of collaboration and interdisciplinary research. Additionally, there is the problem of the rare use of text-as-data in CPA and the fact it is rarely applied, despite the potential demonstrated in other subfields. CPA is multi-disciplinary in nature, and this article explores and proposes a common variable candidate that is found in almost (if not) all policies, using the science of conceptual systems (SOCS) as a pathway to investigate the structure found in policy as a lynchpin in CPA. Furthermore, the article proposes a new text-as-data approach that is less expensive, which could lead to a more accessible method for collaborative and interdisciplinary policy development. We find that the SOCS is uniquely positioned to serve in an alliance fashion in the larger qualitative comparative analysis that supports CPA. Because policies around the world are failing to reach their goals successfully, this article is expected to open a new path of inquiry in CPA, which could be used to support interdisciplinary research for knowledge of and knowledge in policy analysis.

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1 Introduction

In the 1990s, comparative policy analysis (CPA) and comparative analytical studies, as a modern research tradition, joined comparative politics and comparative public administration, using the comparative method (Geva-May et al. 2020 : 368). Peters and Fontaine ( 2020 : 29) contend that the comparative method, as outlined by Lijphart, provides various opportunities for scholars of public policy to enhance their collective understanding of policy and policy processes. Peters et al. ( 2018 : 137) argue that CPA is in fact precisely designed to explain policy outcomes.

Cairney and Heikkila ( 2014 : 383) suggest that, by building on established literatures, new lenses on public policy seek to improve upon rather than compete with or replace existing perspectives. Thus, the posture taken in this article is that there are challenges in the field as well as opportunities, and this article suggests an opportunity to advance comparative public policy (Wong 2018 : 963).

Research seems to suggest that a common issue in comparative research is the great difficulties in comparing policies across a variety of situations/contexts, which is referred to as the problems of identifying common variables (Wong 2013 , 2016 ; Haque 1996 ; Welch and Wong 1998 ). In identifying future challenges and opportunities of the development of comparative public policy, Wong ( 2018 ) recognises the efforts made by scholars calling for collaboration and interdisciplinary research in comparative public policy, which is a problem that has for decades not been fully addressed.

A second issue in comparative public policy, and in particular CPA, is the fact that text-as-data methods have been rarely applied widely, despite their potential, which has been demonstrated in other subfields (Guy Peters and Fontaine 2020 : 203). Additionally, according to Guy Peters and Fontaine, “[t]hey have not created new text-as-data approaches as such.”

Peters ( 2020 : 21) argues that there is a clearly a need to utilise other methods and techniques to make comparisons. According to Peters and Fontaine ( 2020 : 14), CPA is in itself multi-disciplinary and as such more akin to multi-methods than any social sciences area. As a candidate to remedy this gap in literature, this article suggests the science of conceptual systems (SOCS) and in particular the use of integrative propositional analysis (IPA) methodology to examine the structure/structural logic of policy models as a way to provide a ‘common variable’ in CPA.

The SOCS is aimed at the pursuit of knowledge and understanding of conceptual systems using rigorous methodologies (Wallis 2016 ). Conceptual systems are defined as any collection of interrelated concepts found in theories, models, policy models, axioms, laws, strategic plans, and so on, which have a set of interrelated propositions. Generally, all conceptual systems from social sciences to hard/natural sciences have one aspect in common: they have some level of structure, which makes them amenable to an IPA-based analysis or evaluation. We will delve into the IPA in detail below.

Part of the motivation for this study is the critique and necessity for the systems-based approach of the SOCS. This is the problem of linear and simple policymaking (Sabatier 1999 ), which causes a mismatch between how real-world systems work and how we think of them (Cabrera and Colosi 2008 ). The simplistic models used to make decisions in complex systems lead to “worse outcomes than the previous status quo” (Beaulieu-B and Dufort 2017 : 1) and shortsighted practices (Sterman 2012 : 24). As such, implicitly the article also uses the SOCS and IPA as a vehicle to carry out the impact of systems thinking and its benefits in policy analysis.

The contribution of this article is twofold. Firstly, it explores how the structure that is found in each policy model or conceptual system can serve as a common variable when comparing policy. Secondly, the article provides a text-as-data approach with rigour and greater accessibility, which can be easily acquired and applied by policy makers, practitioners, and scholars. The article will specifically illustrate this by explaining how policy as a unit of analysis can be used to integrate theory, policy and research based on a ‘common language’ of structure , which will potentially allow for comparative analysis across systems.

To achieve this, the article is structured in three sections. Firstly, there is a review of comparative public policy and comparative analysis. Secondly, the article provides a background of the SOCS. Thirdly, the article illustrates how and why policies (policy models) are amenable to evaluation based on their structure, which will be shown to generate novel insights into the ability of IPA to improve CPA across different systems.

2 Comparative Policy Analysis

Lasswell ( 1971 ) made a distinction between knowledge of and knowledge in the policy process. However, both are very important for the purpose of this article. With regard to knowledge in the policy process, Radin and Weimar ( 2018 : 8) state that this perspective looks at “how can analysis improve the content of public policy?” This was premised on how the political process affects policy content application and so on. This current article looks at the structure of policy implementation, and in turn examines how the data that underlie the structure of a policy influence the structure of the policy.

Policy analysis is defined as the use of reason and evidence to choose the best policy among a number of alternatives (MacRae and Wilde 1979 : 14). Dror ( 1983 : 79) defines policy analysis as a “profession-craft clustering on providing systematic, rational, and science-based help with decision-making”. Brans et al. ( 2017 ) argue that what is central to policy analysis has always been the principle that decision-making should be systematic, evidence-based, verifiable and evaluative (transparent and accountable). Geva-May et al. ( 2020 ) maintain that evidence-based policymaking also implies, by definition, the search for evidence ‘elsewhere’ for historical, international, disciplinary, or other comparisons of data, facts, and events. Policy analysis also refers to analysis for public policymaking, such as the activities, methodology and tools used to assist and advise in the policymaking context (Parsons 1996 ; Hogwood and Gunn 1984 ; Mayer et al. 2004 ; Dunn 1994 ; Fishcer et al. 2007 ). This is also referred to as the interventionist branch of the policy science tree (Enserink et al. 2012 ). As such, policy analysis, as interventionism, likened to other disciplines, needs to bridge the gap between science and action (Latour 1987 ).

Reviewing the literature above, two aspects of policy analysis become very evident. Firstly, policy analysis is a means to improve decision-making supported by evidence and secondly, evidence can also be found elsewhere as argued by Geva-May et al. ( 2020 )—it does not always have to involve conventional policy analysis methods. It is fundamental to note here that the approach and methodology suggested in this article will support other existing forms of analysis, allowing for greater understanding of policy outcomes or the development of better policies.

Radin and Weimer ( 2018 : 8) support this idea by arguing that at the most general level, science in many disciplines produces policy-relevant research that can inform policy design. Guy-Peters et al. ( 2018 ) also concur with this idea, maintaining that in understanding the various alternatives for comparison, it provides interested researchers with flexibility in explaining policy outcomes, although this requires us to be thorough and to avoid bias. Additionally, Radin and Weimer ( 2018 : 2) note that researchers in many fields contribute to knowledge that is potentially relevant to public policy. Guy-Peters and Fontaine ( 2020 : 14) agree that because of the multidisciplinary nature of CPA, it is more akin to multi-methods than any other social sciences areas. It is clear that policy analysis, as an interdisciplinary field, always leaves the door open for alternative knowledge that would improve evidence supporting decision-making. In this article, we explore how the structure found in policies can add insight to our comparative studies.

Drawing on the reviewed literature for this current article, the perspective of ‘ other comparisons of data ’ or alternative knowledge will be taken, by using the emerging SOCS as a pathway to suggest the structure of policies as a common variable for CPA and by extension provide an alternative text-as-data method to policy analysis.

It is important to note that policy analysis methods are used to help analysts to design and assess policy alternatives systematically (Radin and Weimer 2018 : 8). Building on the idea that we can use other evidence to aid analysis, Guy-Peters et al. ( 2018 ) suggest that in comparative work, when focusing on the nature of policy itself, it is amenable to either quantitative or qualitative methods.

The next section conceptualises a public policy as a conceptual system and explains why and how it is amenable to the SOCS. Van de Ven ( 2007 : 278) holds that investigating and analysing the internal logics of policies can broadly be seen as a form of design science, policy science, or evaluation research.

2.1 Public Policy/Models/Theory as Conceptual Systems

Public policies can be viewed as policy design and the output of analysis (Kingdon 1997 ), which means that the documents representing the content of policies can be viewed as shared understanding. These generally include wordy or text-based design artefacts, such as legislation, guidelines, pronouncements, court rulings, programs, and constitutions (Ingram and Schneider 1997 ). These policy designs (their content) can be seen as abstract representations of physical world systems (Schwaninger 2015 , p. 572), which is intentional in approximating physical systems by building an artificial system (Simon 1969 )—this artificial system, can also be found in our conceptual systems.

Policy design as conceptual systems can be conceptualised in the following manner: A system can be seen as a set of elements or parts with interactions among the components of the pattern/structure (Meadows 2008 ). Policy designs as conceptual systems have a structural logic existing of elements (variables/concepts/boxes) and the patterns (causal relations/arrows in a diagram) in which the elements of the policy will occur (Mohr 1987 ). Now, as suggested by Schneider and Ingram ( 1988 ), because we can diagram a sentence linking together parts of speech, it is also possible to diagram the structural logic of a policy. A key assumption of this article is that more useful/effective policies will be more structured.

Wallis ( 2020b ), drawing on Warfield ( 2003 : 515), defines a system as “any portion of the material universe which we choose to separate in thought from the rest of the universe for the purpose of considering and discussing the various changes which may occur within it under various conditions”. He further makes the distinction between the ‘material’ universe as being separate from the ‘conceptual’ universe and emphasises the useful relationship between the two. The SOCS can thus be seen as an extension of systems thinking to describing, investigating, and understanding policy designs as conceptual systems (again extending systems thinking to policy analysis at the conceptual level).

This distinction and maybe more importantly the relationship between the two universes allow for a more holistic view to policies, thus not only studying the material universe “policy environment” systematically, but also making sure that we study our conceptual universe systematically. This is premised on Ashby’s law of Requisite Variety, building on the idea that the control mechanism (policy) must have greater or equal complexity with regard to the system it intends to control, or in this case the environment it intends to address (Ashby 1957 ). This premise suggests benefits of looking at policy models as conceptual systems.

One key benefit of viewing public policy models as conceptual systems is that, by building a policy map, it enables investigations into the likelihood of negative policy interactions (Siddiki 2018 ). Moreover, using the systemic mapping approach to facilitate more readily policies that are built on interdisciplinary theory as the study of policy design as conceptual systems allows us to investigate the policy (and perhaps why it failed) in its entirety, instead of a reductionist approach—as outlined in the introduction.

It was already briefly suggested earlier that the structure of our policies or our conceptual systems has an impact on the practical application or implementation of our policies. As such, drawing from the emerging SOCS, and remembering that policy analysis knowledge can be drawn from various types of evidence or scientific evidence, we now turn to the new science to explore how it can be a common variable in CPA.

2.2 The Importance of Causality for Structure

Causality in this sense can be understood as the relationship between the concepts in ae conceptual system. Additionally, it can be argued that these causal relationships create the structure by connecting different concepts. According to Sloman and Hagmayer ( 2006 : 408), who draw on Bayer’s nets theory, “studies of learning, attributes, explanation, reasoning, judgement and decision making suggest that people are highly sensitive to causal structure.” What is important here is the understanding that causality is essential, and Wallis ( 2016 ) suggests that we can improve the structure of policy by improving the causal relationships between concepts.

With regard to structure, we look at the relationships between the concepts (causal logic); even though in our map’s causal logic (concepts without any causal relation) forms part of the structure. However, the more relationships there are (arrows between boxes/circles) the more structured and the more useful diagram/conceptual system is. In this science, we look at usefulness. Wallis ( 2020c ) makes a good argument for this, drawing on Saltelli and Funtowicz ( 2014 ) for whom “all models are wrong, but some are useful”. This is evident because some policies/theories fail, and others are useful for their purpose. According to Wallis ( 2020c ), the structure of policies represents a kind of usefulness. This has been seen in over 30 years of science investigating structure.

2.3 The Science of Conceptual Systems: A Brief History

Briefly, Cabrera ( 2006 : 3) argues that concepts exist in a system made out of other concepts which has interconnected patterns and is a conceptual ecosystem. These concepts are bound by causal connections, which form propositions that are examples of “a declarative sentence expressing a relationship among some terms” (Van de Ven 2007 : 117) and that create a set of statements understandable to others by making predictions about empirical events (Baridam 2002 : 7). At the elemental level, policies like theories have concepts and causal relations with underlying data that create propositions as understandable statements, which implies that they are commutable and public (Baridam 2002 ). Like theories, we use policies to make predictions about empirical events, such as implementing COVID-19 regulations and measures (problems and solutions on paper) in the hope of stopping infections and eventually having a virus free country (empirical event), such as New Zealand and others.

According to Wallis ( 2016 ), the SOCS is aimed at the pursuit of knowledge and understanding of conceptual systems whilst using rigorous methodologies. At least three streams of research on structure suggest that structured knowledge is useful for changing the world positively and reaching desired goals. These streams are as follows:

In the field of education/human development, “Systematicity” is used to evaluate the structure of maps and evidence. This suggests that beginners create simplistic low structured maps compared with the more structured and complex maps of experts (Novak 2010 ).

In the field of political psychology, the measure of Integrative Complexity has been used for the past 30-years (Suedfeld et al. 1992 ; Wong et al. 2011 ).

The third stream of research on structure involves studies of formal theories and policy models within and between multiple disciplines (Wallis et al. 2016 ).

The third stream, which is of great significance for this current article is IPA.

2.4 The IPA Method

According to Wallis ( 2016 ), IPA is primarily used to analyse conceptual systems from text on paper to determine their structure (Wallis 2016 ). The IPA methodology uses the policy document’s text itself as data (Wallis 2016 : 585). This process includes the following six steps: (1) Identify propositions within one or more conceptual systems (models, etc.). (2) Diagram those propositions with one box for each concept and arrows indicating directions of causal effects. (3) Find linkages between causal concepts and resultant concepts between all propositions. (4) Identify the total number of concepts (to find the Complexity). (5) Identify concatenated concepts. (6) Divide the number of concatenated concepts by the total number of concepts in the model (to find the Systemicity).

For a very brief and abstract example, consider Fig.  1 . The figure has three variables/concepts (A, B, C), therefore, the Complexity is C = 3. There is one concatenated concept (C). So, the Systemicity is C = 0.33 (the result of one concatenated concept divided by three total concepts).

figure 1

Abstract example of a model for demonstrating IPA

Concepts (relating to variables) are enumerated to show the Complexity or explanatory breadth of the conceptual system. The causal interconnectedness of those concepts is evaluated for their Systemicity (structure, or explanatory depth). Systemicity is measured on a scale of zero to one with one being the highest (Wallis and Valentinov 2017 : 109). Using IPA, Complexity, on its own, is seen as a weak indicator of success for a conceptual system, building on the idea of the SOCS. The main concern for this measurement of structure is that those theories, policy models and general conceptual systems with a higher level of structure are more useful for practical application and implementation.

It can be argued that the external validity of the methodology has been established. Firstly, the findings suggest that theories in the natural sciences have high levels of structure (Systemicity) and are proved to be effective and useful in application, such as Ohm’s Law (Wallis 2016 , b ; Wallis 2010a , b ). In contrast, theories in the social sciences have a Systemicity generally of less than 0,25, including theories of conflict, psychology, and very important for this article, policies (Wallis 2010a , b , 2011 ; 2013 ; Shackleford 2014 ; Parmentola et al. 2018; Wallis et al. 2016 ; de Wee 2020 ; de Wee & Asmah-Andoh, in press). Correlating with these findings, Light ( 2016 ) found that policies in the United States of America only succeed 20% of the time. This is parallel to the 0, 25 Systemicity generally found in social sciences, which essentially translates to a 75–80% chance that most of our policies could fail.

2.5 The Conceptual System: A Basis for Comparison

Briefly, in SOCS, using IPA, we quantify and diagram the structural logic of the policy, and find links between the measure (percentage providing a predictor) of the policy structure and its usefulness in the real world. As a brief example, one could consider Figs.  2 and 3 that are maps of different theories, one from physical science and the other from social science. These propositions are mapped out to indicate how we can use the structure found in any policy as the basis of comparison.

Georg Ohm developed the propositions: An increase in resistance and an increase in voltage would result in an increase of current, which will cause a decrease in resistance. An increase in current causes an increase in voltage that would result in an increase in resistance, which will cause a decrease in current.

The democratic peace proposition has many possible empirical and theoretical forms. One of these holds that “the more democracies there are in a region or the international system, the more peaceful the region or international system will be” (Reiter 2012 )

figure 2

The structural logic of Ohm's law as a practical map (Wright and Wallis 2019 , p. 152)

figure 3

Source : Authors own compilation

The structural logic of the democratic peace proposition as a practical map.

The two brief examples were created using IPA steps 1–3 (to diagram) and the person reading these propositions from any country who reads the English language can see the causal relations between the concepts. This is the benefit and perhaps the most important contribution of the SOCS and IPA to CPA. Firstly, the examples indicate how IPA takes a “common denominator” approach by presenting theories graphically in an easily understandable format of concepts (in boxes/circles) and causal arrows (indicating the direction and causality) (Wallis 2020a , b , c ). The key contribution here is that with IPA we have an objective and rigorous method we can use to evaluate, analyse, and develop policies based on their structural logic, which was first suggested by Schneider and Ingram ( 1988 ); however, without a clear measure. Furthermore, it also provides a “common language” for interdisciplinary work, which is important for policies if they are to be successful, remembering of course that no problem in policy is ever addressed using only ‘one’ policy. As Siddiki ( 2018 ) found, policies that are used to address a problem often led to inter policy conflict that causes problems with “policy coherence”, which May et al. ( 2006 ) refer to in terms of how well policies with similar objectives fit or go together.

Additionally, IPA and the SOCS can be of great benefit for policy design and CPA. Applying the IPA’s steps 4–6 to Figs.  2 and 3 , their level of structure differs significantly. Ohm’s law has a structure/Systemicity of 1 (100% usefulness in application) and the democratic peace proposition, has a structure/Systemicity of 0. In the real world, Ohms law has been very successful, and the democratic peace theory has numerous shortcomings.

For years, it has been accepted that policy designs are “copied, borrowed or pinched” from similar policies in other locales (Schneider and Ingram 1988 : 62) which makes policy design less a matter of invention than of selection (Simon 1981 ) involving large stores of information and making comparisons. However, this led to suboptimal situations where policy layering and patching is done haphazardly (Van der Heijden 2011 ) leading to a palimpsest-like mixture of incoherent or inconsistent policy (Howlett and Rayner 2007 ; Carter 2012 ). Again, perhaps using IPA and viewing policies as conceptual systems allows one to create coherent policies more easily, which are argued to be more effective in application (Siddiki 2018 ).

Based on the case made earlier, this stream of research seems to provide policy analysis with policy-relevant research that can inform policy analysis (Geva-May et al. 2020 ; Guy-Peters et al. 2018 ; Radin and Weimer 2018 ). Hence, it provides this current article the basis for suggesting the evaluation of the structure of policy as a common variable to be used in CPA, additionally because this “on paper” analysis provides a new text-as-data approach. Although other aspects of policymaking and analysis, such as empirical data and the implementation process, are important, we suggest focussing on the structure of policy in comparative analysis. This article suggests the different but allied perspective that this stream of research provides, which will be explained later.

Extending on the above, pragmatically, inter-rater evaluation can be done, where scores of the analysis can be compared and the consensus of the raters measured through agreement or concordance (Bless et al. 2016 : 226). Prior studies indicate how a repeated study using the same data would have stable findings over repeated observations, which confirms its external validity, or generalisability (de Wee 2020 : 135).

In the followings section, we turn to IPA and the application of the method on conceptual systems including policy. The section not only demonstrates the methodology but also the use of the method on policy in previous research. Additionally, it indicates how less “financially demanding” the method is than the computational and statistical models. Based on using textual analysis (IPA) on policy, the article suggests that this is an alternative or new pathway to compare, analyse and evaluate policies. The next section discusses text-as-data and the SOCS compatibility with it.

2.6 A New Text-as-Data Approach: The Basis for Collaboration and Interdisciplinary Policy Development

Current research (Fisher et al. 2013 ; Leifeld 2013 ; Guy-Peters and Fontaine 2020 ; Leifeld and Haunss 2012 ) indicates the prevalence of qualitative text analysis methods in policy analysis, including the discourse networks that rely on text analysis to measure discourse coalitions quantitatively through network analysis. Guy-Peters and Fontaine ( 2020 : 204) argue that text-as-data-methods for CPA can include new theories and methods relevant to public policy and policy analysis.

Guy-Peters and Fontaine ( 2020 ) identify the different directions text-as-data application is currently developing. Firstly, there is causality, with Egami et al.’s ( 2018 ) framework of estimating causal effects in sequential experiments. Owing to limited space, this process will not be explained in full (see Egami et al. 2018 ). Secondly, there is computer science research on word embedding and on artificial neutral networks, which is what they call ‘deep learning’ (LeCun, Bengio & Hinton 2015 ). From the findings of Guy-Peters and Fontaine ( 2020 ), it becomes apparent that the use of statistical and computational analysis is a challenge in the discipline, especially because there are no globally best methods for retrieving certain information from text. Secondly, with manual approaches, this is practically impossible because of the prohibitive costs (Guy-Peters and Fontaine 2020 : 213).

This article suggests a key benefit of viewing the IPA method as part of the SOCS when doing CPA as a new “text-as-data” technique. IPA objectively evaluates structure, and it provides a way for comparison. Additionally, the text-as-data method outlined in the most current literature tends to have two key problems: firstly, it is difficult to use and secondly, it is expensive and practically impossible. To the field of CPA, IPA provides a method that can be used easily and with rigor, which is not mentally taxing or too expensive. To the text-as-data method, this article provides accessibility. The IPA method is more accessible and can be applied with ease by scholars and practitioners from various countries and various disciplines to improve the policies they design. This method also provides a basis from which interdisciplinary work on policy can branch out.

As such, when analysing policy, one can do a within-case analysis and thereafter a cross-case comparison, to generalise findings further, whilst considering the context. However, we will explore this further in the next section.

2.7 Collaboration and Interdisciplinary Perspectives Based on Policy Structure

In fact, the IPA methodology and the resources to assist in the application are readily available online at , where there are additional tools to enhance the analysis, which can introduce more collaboration. Collaboration can be achieved, through analysing a policy individually and outcomes. Or you can build or analyse the policy together using the six-steps of IPA on the free online social network analysis software KUMU ( ). This platform allows participants in policy analysis or policy making to organise complex information (concepts and causal relations of a policy based on IPA), to diagram graphically, to build and to analyse policies based on their structure. This platform is open for multiple participants globally who are given permission to participate. Potentially, all participants can have the same policy or empirical data/research and can build a policy or map on this platform; however, this article will present more on this topic in the section on future research areas and implications .

This article argues that when exploring integration studies and literature around interdisciplinary research or problem solving, it becomes apparent that we can use an interdisciplinary approach, which can clarify the observer’s standpoint, define and orient the observer to a problem. Moreover, this approach can be used to map the full social and decision-making context and apply multiple methods to generate, evaluate and implement solutions (Clark 2002 , 2011 ).

Ideas, concepts, and methods around interdisciplinary tools of the policy sciences to problem solving have been available for decades (Lasswell 1971 ; Brunner 1996 ); however, they have not been effectively used it seems. It has been recognised that the current complex problems cannot be resolved with just theories and policies but require contextual interdisciplinary understanding (Clark et al. 2011 ). One of the interdisciplinary questions to policy problems is “what is the common problem that underlies the increasingly apparent disconnect between real world problems and the knowledge and skills currently offered by policy makers?” For this article, the answer lies in the fact that we have policies that are developed but do not reflect our context enough, most of which are often imported from somewhere else and do not address the complexity of the environment.

For example, Wright and Wallis ( 2019 ) wrote a paper on poverty and the various explanations for poverty in the United States. These various “theories” on why there is poverty were then integrated using IPA, which led to a more coherent and interdisciplinary explanation as to why poverty exists. The benefit of the study suggests that by using IPA, one can synthesise various theoretical/data perspectives and create an interdisciplinary explanation to guide policy. A second and a more recent example is the study on responses to COVID-19 by Fink and Wallis ( 2020a , b , c ), where they looked at the models used to combat the disease. Two countries (Germany and New Zealand) handled the crisis the best, as their policies were built on a structured scientific model compared to that of the US and the UK, where the leadership generally rejected scientific results and responded with single values, which caused the US to have the largest number of infections. Here the simple single value approach coupled with a general denying of scientific data led to the US struggling in combating the virus. Again, this feeds back to the problem of having models that are not equal or at least the same as the complexity of the virus.

These two examples are used to indicate how interdisciplinary research can be used to improve CPA and policy development in general. Due to space, a complete case study is not possible. However, evidence seems to suggest that complex and structured plans/policies supported by good interdisciplinary data could lead to better action and decisions by our leaders in attempting to improve the human condition. Thus, the contribution of this article is to indicate that there is an accessible and rather easier method one can use to improve our society.

Echoing the words of Le´le´ and Norgaard ( 2005 ), this article suggests we identify the structure or lack thereof, of policies as a common variable. As demonstrated by Wallis ( 2019 ), “based on the structure of policies we can pull together what is known about a problem from academic and practical experience” (Bammer 2013 :6) and produce a more accurate and complete understanding for more effective action (Newell 2001 : 22). Theoretically this is sound, but pragmatically how can this be done in CPA?

2.8 A Few Practical Points for Collaboration and Interdisciplinary Work

The text-as-data approach of IPA, which is part of the larger SOCS, can be advanced as an answer to the call made by Wong ( 2018 ) for more interdisciplinary research.

Two policies can be comparatively analysed in two different (or multiple) states, for example, a drug policy in South Africa and another in the United States of America. The structure can be measured and compared. This allows us to trace how a design evolves over time.

Using IPA, you can design policies, map them out and see where there are concepts/variables (represented by circles/blocks) on your map that might have no arrows leading to any other box. Moreover, you can apply “gap analysis” by filling the gap with concepts (supported by data) and creating links with the other concepts.

Addressing “unknown unknowns”, Wallis ( 2020a ) argues that practically speaking, something that is unknowable for one person, or in one policy environment, system, or country, can be known by another. Thus, when we look at the systemic structure of policies comparatively, we can identify and determine when something is “missing” in our understanding (based on the diagram) and use different policies and policy empirical data to supplement our own map.

Finally, drawing from the discussion in this section, the idea of using IPA as a text-as-data methodology is supported by the assertion of Guy-Peters and Fontaine ( 2020 : 203) that like other inductive analysis procedures, IPA also makes it possible to discover new phenomena, concepts, and relations from the latent dimension of a text. This notion of new concepts and relationships is supported by Geva-may et al. ( 2020 :368) who state that the comparative perspective at micro- or macro-levels is paramount to effective and efficient policy development. Moreover, this novel idea based on the SOCS is one that can potentially advance effectiveness and efficiency. Using IPA in concert with other conventional CPA methods can improve policy analysis.

Next, the article places IPA as a potential method to be used in qualitative comparative analysis (QCA).

3 Qualitative Comparative Analysis and the CPA

QCA approaches focus on not only the independent variable and its necessity or sufficiency for an outcome of the dependent variable; it also focuses on how an outcome can be achieved by various configurations or combinations of independent variables (Schneider and Wagemann 2012; Guy-Peters and Fontaine 2020 : 43). Guy-Peters and Fontaine ( 2020 ) continue that based on this idea, QCA is similar to most-similar and most-different systems design, as they are also based on the concepts of necessity and sufficiency. QCA can produce empirically well-grounded, context-sensitive evidence about policy instruments (Pattyn et al. 2019 ), such as IPA when looking at policy models as conceptual systems. An advantage of QCA for public policy analysis is that it enhances analysists’ ability to capture the outcomes of decision-making, implementation and evaluation accurately.

Guy-Peters and Fontaine ( 2020 : 7) argue the following: “If we take political science, economics, and sociology as the “heartland” of CPA, then existing methodological discrepancies among scholars may not be too extreme”. However, these are not the only disciplines contributing to CPA. It is argued that many other new disciplines bring complementary approaches, hence new insights on causality and causation. Here they refer to various disciplines, such as anthropology, law and history with their techniques, which “…are other sources of evidence (that) contribute to the development of CPA” (Guy-Peters and Fontaine 2020 : 7). It is clear that CPA draws on various disciplines, and as such, it is sufficient to argue that with the insight of the emerging SOCS, IPA can also be used when analysing policy.

The suggestion is that this methodology of evaluating the structure of the policy against the implemented results can sit comfortably with the QCA method of which the “primary goal is to discover empirical relationships that can help theoretical proposals” (Anckar 2020 : 43). Of course, one has to remember that QCA is premised on the idea that an outcome (a certain value on the dependent variable) can be reached by several combinations of conditions (i.e., independent variables) (Anckar 2020 : 43). The contribution of this article is to propose a new dimension to the present methods, specifically focusing on analysing and evaluating policy documents (policy models or policy-like documents), based on their level of structure, which can be done across policy fields.

From the above, it is clear that for CPA and for the advancement of policy development itself, there is a need for the triangulation of methods and theory that can provide evidence to enhance effective decision-making. Thus, this article agrees with Guy-Peters and Fontaine (2020: 14, emphasis added) that future studies must ‘ think about triangulation and the use of multi-methods as a means of gaining a more complete picture of the policy issue under scrutiny”. Next, the article suggests potential future research areas in CPA.

4 Implications and Future Research

Although this is a preliminary exploration, conclusions can be drawn and taken from this article, as it is a starting point to a conversation about finding a common variable in CPA and introducing a new text-as-data approach.

The conceptual principles drawn and the introduction of a new potential field in CPA, using structure as a common variable, can be a starting point for future studies aiming to test the usefulness of applying IPA in CPA empirically. Scholars can analyse and evaluate policies from different environments, bearing in mind not to sample only a dependent variable based on successful (implementation) cases, which will take away the idea of an ‘inferential felony’ (Geddes 2003 ). IPA can be used in QCA, comparatively analysing policy outcomes with other analysis methods to test if the hypothesis of IPA holds, and potentially falsify it, which will advance the literature about IPA.

Two key deductions can be made. Firstly, comparing a policy based on its structure (coherence) can improve both the implementation success and understanding of a policy environment. Secondly, based on the ‘common denominator’ of IPA (applicable to all theories/policy models) we now have a ‘common language’ we can use for CPA when designing policies for policy relevant research, which in turn provides a good platform for interdisciplinary research.

Most studies of policy analysis compare concepts/elements (in policy) to the real world. However, such a reflective hermeneutic approach can only study selected chunks of policy situations comparatively. Using the text-as-data, or textual hermeneutic approach, analysists can use IPA to evaluate the policy, and identify potential gaps in the policy (where there are concepts with no causal relation to other concepts or where there is just a fuzzy implied causality). These gaps between concepts can be identified as potential reasons, which can pinpoint where analysis can be done. As such, future studies that aim to do comparative analysis can use the policy document (and its internal logic structure) itself as a lynchpin to determine or pinpoint potential areas that could have led to policy failures or success. A broader number of variables for comparative studies can be identified, which could require more interdisciplinary research to make for a more nuanced understanding of policy outcomes, which has for decades not been fully answered (Wong 2018 ). Thus, the article has interdisciplinary implications for scholars from various disciplines producing policy relevant evidence.

Because of limited time, space and resources, there are various aspects of CPA that were not covered in this attempt to introduce IPA to this relevant branch of research. However, because this is a preliminary exploration, future studies should cover more of the field. Additionally, the conversation through academic articles can be advanced to position the SOCS and IPA better in CPA.

5 Concluding Remarks and Limitations

Premised on the fact that it draws on the long history of the SOCS, attempts to answer longstanding calls for a common variable in CPA and suggests a new text-as-data method for CPA, this article is somewhat exploratory in nature. Moreover, this article is preliminary, in that it wants to locate the SOCS as a possible pathway to compare, analyse and evaluate policies based on their structure to improve both policy development and how we compare across systems. Depending on more extrapolation, this article presents CPA as a start to a new area for comparison.

The article explored avenues that could potentially contribute an answer to the calls for “a common variable” method that facilitates interdisciplinary and collaborative research and a new accessible text-as-data tool. In its exploration of the literature, the article established that the SOCS and the measurement of structure is a candidate for a common variable, as all policies in the world (dare we say) are written on paper. Additionally, the article provides an existing and developing method (IPA) as a tool to analyse policies and suggests the practical benefits of this tool to CPA (see future research areas and implications).

The use of the structure of the policy in CPA as a lynchpin in analysis or policymaking can bring various variables, concepts, and ideas into play. This approach enables policymakers, academics, practitioners, and other interested participants to find and manage potential “unknown unknowns” about a certain field of policy, such as health and the economy, because of the interdisciplinary, integrative and collaborative characteristic of the SOCS and IPA. Moreover, this could potentially improve our policy feedback, and policy learning in cross system comparative analyses.

What is important to take away here, which is in line with the findings of MacRae and Wilde ( 1979 ), Dror ( 1983 ), Brans et al., ( 2017 ) as well as Geva-May et al. ( 2020 ) is the fact that based on the structure of a policy as a variable, one can develop systemic and evidence-based policy. This is because IPA measures how structured a policy is and how well it reflects the real world. Furthermore, it is evidence based, as it identifies where possible shortcomings can be, where we can add information, collaborate and have interdisciplinary knowledge. Additionally, it is verifiable since interrater reliability can be used across systems, and it is evaluateable because it suggests measurable and actionable propositions in policies, which can be measured and as such keep government accountable. Moreover, using policy feedback, the evaluation of these propositions can improve policy through policy lessons that will advance its sustainability/longevity.

This article does not come without limitations. Firstly, IPA as a method does not consider the ‘off-the-page’ aspects of policy analysis such as data, the mood of analysts or if the implementation followed the policy to the letter. However, locating IPA within the larger QCA methods, the fact that CPA draws on various disciplines and the fact that the IPA provides CPA the means to use the policy structure as the lynchpin for policy analysis all mean that these conventional and existing methods can be used to fill that void. They will be building a stronger and more reliable alliance (to identify the gaps in policy structures and make sure they are measurable, as this will make evaluation and transparency easy).

This article also does not empirically test or compare policies; it is theoretical and grounded in a review of literature. Moreover, as proposed in the section above, an empirical approach would make findings more concrete and verify the strength of the ideas presented here.

Lastly, there is the problem of language, as it is clear that not all countries will have their policies written in English, which could serve as a limitation. However, the measuring of structure could be done using IPA in different languages. Additionally, most countries in the world use English in their academic institutions and publications, and thus translations could be done by language experts. This could help advance the IPA methodology and CPA.

In conclusion, echoing the words of Fuchs and Hofkirchner ( 2005 ), we have an ethical responsibility to develop new knowledge and new understandings to deal with issues. This exploration has opened a new pathway to improve how we develop policy and our ability to compare policies across systems, and essentially by extension improve the human condition.

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de Wee, G. Comparative Policy Analysis and the Science of Conceptual Systems: A Candidate Pathway to a Common Variable. Found Sci 27 , 287–304 (2022).

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By reconstructing the pioneering work of political economists and social theorists associated with the New World Group at the University of the West Indies and the Dar es Salaam School at the University of Dar es Salaam, this chapter recovers the theorization of the plantation as a modernizing institution that produced a distinctive colonial modernity. Between the 1960s and 1970s, George Beckford and Lloyd Best theorized the Caribbean as a pure plantation society in which the forms of economic exploitation and idioms of sociality that emerged in the context of plantation slavery continued to structure islands states like Jamaica. While primarily associated with slavery in the Americas, Walter Rodney conceptualized the colonial plantation as a form of economic and social organization that traveled to contexts like Tanzania and continued to structure postcolonial legacies. Through south/south comparison, the use of conceptual innovation and lateral extension, this cohort of social theorists offered a distinctive mode of thinking through modernity as a site of convergence and divergence. Their comparative historical, sociological, and economic studies of the plantation highlight the uneven and differentiated ways in which societies in the global south had been radically transformed by imperial imposition. In the jettisoning of north/south, West/non-West axes of comparison and in the effort to attend to the specificity of postcolonial political and economic forms, this episode of comparative theorizing can inform contemporary projects of globalizing political theory.

Just two decades into the twentieth-century anticolonial revolutions that swept away four centuries of European imperial expansion and hegemony, the project of postcolonial transformation centered on independent statehood, popular sovereignty, economic development, and an egalitarian international order already appeared to be in crisis. By the mid-1960s, the establishment of one-party states and a series of coups destabilized the anticolonial insistence that the right to self-determination and democratic government went hand in hand. Additionally, the declining terms of trade for Third World states, which were largely exporters of primary goods, hampered ambitious state-level development programs, while Cold War proxy wars and persistent international hierarchies challenged efforts at constituting a postimperial world order (Cooper 2002 , 91–133).

During this period, Third World social scientists sought to challenge the dominant view among modernization theorists and development economists that these crises were the result of the premodern/traditional configurations of postcolonial societies. 1 In this chapter, I examine a cohort of political economists based in Jamaica and Tanzania who reconsidered the relationship between modernity and the postcolonial world by highlighting the foundational role of the colonial plantation in the Caribbean and Africa. In Jamaica, the New World Group, formed under the leadership of Lloyd Best, studied the legacies of plantation production for the Caribbean. On the other side of the Atlantic, economic historians like Walter Rodney, who was part of the Dar es Salaam school, at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania similarly worked to map out the contradictory legacies of colonialism in southern Africa. This transatlantic intellectual and political project sought to create a Third World social science that could contribute to the aim of developing alternative visions of economic and political transformation.

For Lloyd Best, his New World Group colleague George Beckford, and Walter Rodney, the plantation was central to understanding the mechanisms by which colonized societies were integrated into a modern and global economy and the ways that integration simultaneously produced differentiated political and economic trajectories. This cohort of political economists understood the plantation as a modern and modernizing institution. It was “a unit of agricultural production” that was structured by “a large resident labor force of unskilled workers” with a very small supervisory staff. Plantations were often established in areas with lots of land and little labor. As a result, migrant labor was almost always constitutive of plantation economies, and “the terms on which such labor was incorporated into the new locations involved a high degree of coercion and control.” Although the plantation was primarily an economic institution, the movement of peoples, the structures of coercion, and the mechanisms of disciplining labor had reverberations beyond this site of production and “determined social and political relationships” (Beckford 1976 , 7–8).

By reconstructing a theory of the plantation in comparative perspective, I illustrate how this cohort of political economists reframed the modern/traditional divide and developed an account of the colonial modern in which indigenous social forms were remade and reconstituted. Often associated with a stage of history that was inaugurated and reached its culmination in Europe, the terms modern and modernity carry multiple meanings, including the emergence of Enlightenment reason, the mode of capitalist production, and the rise of the nation-state as a dominant political form, along with the global spread of nationalism. Here, both because the sources I draw on are situated within economic debates and because I take the unequal integration of colonies into an imperial global economy to be a central feature of the colonial experience, I will largely be concerned with the political economy of modernity, in particular with the institutionalization of new regimes of labor, as well as the emergence of the peasant as a subject of colonial formation.

For the political economists described here, the colonial modern was not a derivative of an already established European original. Instead, the New World Group and Dar es Salaam School theorized the colonial modern as a distinctive set of experiences with specific trajectories. The south/south axis of comparison they deployed disrupts the still-dominant divides of West/non-West or north/south as the primary site of difference and comparison. Through their south/south framing, the New World Group and Dar es Salaam School argued that the colonial modern of the plantation was not only distinct from the trajectories experienced in Europe, but also internally differentiated. While African and Caribbean societies converged around a general experience of what David Scott ( 2004 ) called conscription to modernity, the particular sequencing of the plantation’s emergence and institutionalization in these settings also created divergent trajectories within the postcolonial world.

In the following section, I turn to the work of George Beckford and Lloyd Best in the New World Group to explore their conceptualization of the Caribbean as a pure plantation , in which the plantation functions as a total institution that produced a simultaneously dependent and resistant peasantry. In the third section, I move to the Dar es Salaam School, where Walter Rodney translates and reconfigures the theory of the plantation in an effort to conceptualize the specific history of this colonial institution in Tanzania. Like his Jamaican counterparts, Rodney understood the plantation as a modern institution, but traced the ways that sequencing and the ongoing presence of indigenous social forms resulted in divergences from the Caribbean model. This example of south/south comparison, as well as the use of conceptual innovation and lateral extension as practices of comparison, offers new directions for the globalization of political theory.

Theorizing the Pure Plantation

By the time the New World Group was formed in the 1960s, decolonization was in its second decade and the early efforts of postcolonial states to usher in economic and political development were being assessed. Writing in 1966, George Beckford noted that, on the whole, postcolonial governments had failed to transform the colonial societies they inherited (Beckford [1966] 2000 ). The promises of agricultural development, land redistribution, and egalitarian postcolonial societies remained unrealized. Beckford dedicated his scholarly career to the study of development. Born in Jamaica in 1934, he received his BSc in agricultural economies from McGill University and his MA and PhD from Stanford University. After completing his studies in 1962, he returned to the West Indies, first as a lecturer at the St. Augustine, Trinidad, campus of the University of the West Indies and then in 1964 at the Mona campus in Jamaica.

At Mona, where he joined Lloyd Best, the founder of the New World Group, Beckford traced part of the failure of postcolonial transformation to an inadequate social theory, arguing that “economists have in most instances overgeneralized rather than particularized approaches and … relied too heavily on assumptions made on the basis of what is in the modern advanced countries” (Beckford [1966] 2000 , 137). This diagnosis of a failed social theory was directed at development economists, of whom the Saint Lucian economist and Nobel Prize winner Sir Arthur Lewis loomed large for Beckford and his colleagues in the New World Group (Best 1992 , 10–11). In his role as Kwame Nkrumah’s first economic advisor in Ghana and in his support for a centralized West Indian Federation between 1958 and 1962, Lewis explained the problem of underdevelopment by reference to the absence of an agricultural revolution that could jumpstart industrialization. Modeling his analysis on the first industrial revolution in England, Lewis argued the economies of underdeveloped countries needed “a prior or simultaneous revolution” in agriculture to initiate and accompany industrialization (Lewis 1978 , 10).

The New World Group rejected Lewis’s central assumptions that the experience of England and other industrialized countries was replicable in the postcolonial world (Best 1992 , 14). Echoing dependency and world systems theorists, they argued that underdevelopment and inequality had to be explained as historical developments that emerged from colonial exploitation within an imperial global economy. 2 But if they shared these basic premises with the dependency school, they also sought to rethink dependency through the institution of the plantation. The plantation was a paradigmatically New World institution, one that had dominated Caribbean societies. With the destruction of indigenous societies in the Caribbean, the plantation and chattel slavery had reshaped the economic, political, and social life of the island colonies. Developing a social theory of the Caribbean adequate to the task of postcolonial transformation thus required beginning with the emergence and historical development of this institution.

In the 1960s and 1970s, several Caribbean thinkers beyond the New World Group emphasized and theorized the centrality of the plantation in the island states. The 1963 edition of C.L.R. James’s Black Jacobins included an appendix titled “From Toussaint to Castro” that linked the two revolutionaries through the structuring experience of the sugar plantation (James [1963] 1989 ). In texts such as Michael Manley’s The Politics of Change ( [1974] 1990 ) and Eric Williams’s From Columbus to Castro ( [1970] 1984 ), the plantation was similarly constituted as a distinctively Caribbean formation and one that directly affected the postcolonial context. The New World Group helped to usher in this renewed interest in the plantation and constituted the most sustained effort to theorize the political economy of the colonial plantation and its afterlives. The New World Group also explicitly formulated the study of plantations within a comparative postcolonial or Third World framework. Best, Beckford, and others thus attempted to both trace the distinctiveness of plantation society in the Caribbean and highlight the ways that the plantation structured postcolonial societies elsewhere. As we shall see, the concern with the singularity of the Caribbean experience sometimes cut against this more comparative impulse.

In an effort to capture the distinctive dimensions of plantation dependency in the Caribbean, Lloyd Best coined the term pure plantation economy (Best 1968 ). A Trinidadian born in 1934, Best completed his studies at Cambridge and Oxford. In 1958, he accepted a position as a junior research fellow at the Institute of Social and Economic Research in Mona and helped to found the New World Group and its journal, New World Quarterly , in the early 1960s. The pure plantation was for Best one of many forms of peripheral economic structures that existed in the colonized world. Central to the pure plantation was its external orientation (Best 1968 , 288). The plantation was “derived from external stimulus and enterprise [and] depended on external markets and external finance.” These global linkages facilitated the transfer of certain crops to the Americas and helped to transform luxuries like sugar into mass commodities (Greaves 1959 , 14, 18). If it made these transformations of the global economy possible, the pure plantation economy was, as a result, completely dependent on the external fluctuations that dictated domestic decisions (Best 1968 , 294).

To capture the pervasiveness of the plantation in the West Indies, Best described it as a total institution (Best 1968 , 288). Total institution referred to two dimensions of the plantation economy. First, its totalizing character was visible in the ways that the plantation fully structured the Caribbean. When the pure plantation reached its maturity, it determined all political and economic policies of the island colonies, as plantation owners and other key stakeholders were the dominant political powers (Best 1968 , 296). And as we shall see, even when alternatives to plantations appeared in the form of peasant social formations, the legacies of the plantation’s dominance and its external orientation continued to structure these new social forms.

Best and Beckford also used the term total institution to describe the ways in which the plantation reconstituted the enslaved. The plantation was an enclosed system that functioned as a miniature polity with a civil government of its own (Best 1968 , 288). This sense of total institution was borrowed from Erving Goffman’s Asylums and introduced into studies of plantation societies by the anthropologist Raymond Smith in an essay on Guyana. For Smith, the turn to Goffman’s concept was an effort to explain how a small class of colonial settlers could exercise power over more numerous slaves. Arguing that coercion was not a sufficient explanation, Smith suggested that the plantation was “a bureaucratically organized system” that was “designed to effect a clean break with that past and a destruction of the [slave’s] old self such that a new ‘identity’ can be imposed” (R. Smith 1967 , 230). While Smith acknowledged the possibility of cultural retentions, he argued that the total institution of the plantation meant that slaves “cannot live that old life anymore” (231n.10). The plantation was “a peculiar kind of instrument for the re-socialization of those who fell within its sphere of influence” (232).

Best and Beckford took up this account of total institution from Smith’s analysis (Best 1968 , 287; Beckford 1976 , 12). In their usage, however, the totalizing nature of the plantation had less to do with questions of the system’s relative stability and was more indicative of its modernity. According to Beckford, the plantation was a “modernizing institution” (Beckford 1972 , xxv). Unlike the feudal manor to which it was frequently compared, it was heavily capitalized, had a corporate structure, and was one of the first industrial organizations (Beckford 1972 , 32–33). The plantation was “omnipotent and omnipresent in the lives of those living within its confines” and it reformed and reconstituted the enslaved, creating new subjectivities (Beckford 1976 , 8). Citing Smith once again, Beckford pointed to the modernity of plantation work as an instance of this newly formed subjectivity. The enslaved were, on this view, industrial workers, “separated from the means of production and subjected to something like factory discipline” (R. Smith 1967 , 231; Beckford 1972 , 40n.15).

This interpretation of the plantation as a total institution that resocialized the enslaved and created new subjectivities anticipates David Scott’s theorization of conscripts of modernity . Rereading C.L.R. James’s 1963 appendix to Black Jacobins and drawing on the work of Talal Asad, Scott argued that James was outlining the modernity of the plantation in the Caribbean (2004). James’s appendix linked the two Caribbean revolutionaries—Toussaint L’Ouverture and Fidel Castro—by pointing to the “distinctive civilizational predicament” of the region’s colonial experience (Scott 2004 , 125). Unlike colonial encounters in Asia and Africa, colonial power in the Caribbean did not have to accommodate itself to existing political and social formations. As a result, the Caribbean was “shaped almost entirely by that founding experience” of colonial encounter and the institution of plantation slavery that it inaugurated (125–126).

Colonial modernity in the Caribbean is thus produced through the political, economic, and social formations that the plantation engendered. It was for this reason that James called the sugar plantation “the most civilizing as well as the most demoralizing influence in West Indian development” ([1963] 1989, 392). Scott read the civilizing dimensions of the plantation in the following terms: “The slave plantation might be characterized as establishing the relations and the material and epistemic apparatuses through which new subjects were constituted: new desires instilled, new aptitudes molded, new dispositions acquired” (2004, 128). African slaves, as well as the Chinese and Indian indentured laborers that followed the beginning of British emancipation in 1838, experienced the demoralizing and civilizing dimensions of the plantation.

Both Scott’s formulation and the New World Group’s framework of a total institution capture the dual-sided nature of colonial modernity. On the one hand, the plantation is a coercive and violent imposition bound up with chattel slavery. On the other hand, it inaugurates a productive form of power that engendered new forms of subjectivity and social relations. But while Scott, in his emphasis on Toussaint L’Ouverture, frames the terms of the colonized’s relationship to an imposed modernity largely through the ways that Enlightenment reason shapes the political possibilities on offer for the colonized subject, the New World Group attended closely to the economic dimensions of this conscription. Best and Beckford emphasized the relations of production and consumption as well as the mechanisms of labor discipline that the plantation imposed on colonized subjects.

In moving beyond the merely destructive elements of the plantation, the New World Group refuses to cast the Caribbean, and the colonial context more broadly, as only or primarily the site of primitive accumulation that makes possible capitalist modernity in Europe. While Marx’s view that “the extirpation, enslavement, entombment in the mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the hunting of black skins, signalized the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production” (Marx [1867] 1976 , 915) radically recast the relationship between colony and metropole and inspired the work of anti-imperial thinkers like James ( [1963] 1989 ) and Eric Williams ( [1944] 1994 ), this story of primitive accumulation fixes the colony as an antecedent of metropolitan development (Marx [1867] 1976 ; Mitchell 2000 , 10). As Timothy Mitchell argued, reducing original accumulation to “a question of force” offers “no analysis of the social organization, the method of discipline, of the techniques of production that characterize the slave plantation” (2000, 11).

By attending to the conditions of plantation labor, the New World Group argued that the plantation was the first institution in which a modern workforce emerged (Beckford 1972 , 32, 40). In this argument, the New World Group also foreshadowed more recent theorists and historians of the plantation who illustrated that important institutional forms associated with European modernity, such as the factory and the bureaucratic control of labor, had their origins in the colonial plantation (Mintz 1985 ; Stinchcombe 1995 ; Blackburn 1997 ; Eley 2007 ). However, what is striking and significant about the New World Group is the ways in which they set aside the question of directionality to consider, instead, the problem of specificity. In other words, they were less interested in demonstrating that European modernity had its origins in the colony than in thinking through the particular ways in which the colonial modern was instituted and experienced. The New World Group thus decentered Europe to consider the specificity of the Caribbean.

According to Beckford and Best, the near total destruction of indigenous forms and the location of the Caribbean at the center of what Lisa Lowe recently called the intimacies of four continents made the Caribbean’s experience of the colonial modern distinctive (Lowe 2015 ). The category of the pure plantation and their self-designation as the New World Group were efforts to capture what they took to be a distinctive economic and political formation within the Caribbean.

However, at times, this effort to capture what was specific about the Caribbean cut against or papered over their more comparative impulses. For instance, in trying to capture political and social forms that emerged from the migration of Africans, Asians, and Europeans into the Caribbean, Beckford and others used the term plural society to name the racial and caste segmentation, as well as the social conflict that characterized plantation societies. Rather than having intrinsic processes of social integration, these societies were organized for the purposes of production and had limited cohesion outside the economic sphere (Beckford 1972 , 81–83). This account of pluralism, while meant to capture something specific about Caribbean societies, was adapted to the Caribbean through the work of the anthropologist M.G. Smith, who had, in turn, borrowed the term from studies of Java—another plantation society (Beckford 1972 , 62–63; M. G. Smith 1956 ). If Java, with its very different history, was also a plural society, then the extent to which the pure plantation was a distinctive formation remained unclear.

Similarly, while the account of a total institution that displaces existing social forms captures the unprecedented nature and scale of the violence that accompanied European colonization in the Caribbean, it also participates in the erasure of indigenous people and their ways of life. As Shona Jackson has argued, this erasure not only was part and parcel of colonization, but also was reproduced in postcolonial nationalist projects that centered on black identity and a history of slavery and indenture (Jackson 2012 , 2). Reiterating an account in which African slaves were introduced because there was no indigenous presence in the Caribbean made it appear as if this was somehow inevitable and confirmed the long-standing view that indigenous people in the New World were destined for extinction (Jackson 2012 , 15). Thus, while Beckford and others sought to reorient the postcolonial nationalist project, they retained a central origins story of West Indian nationalism.

In pointing to these limits, I do not mean to suggest that the New World Group efforts to highlight Caribbean specificity were misdirected. Instead, I take the ways they hold specificity and comparison together to be central to their formulation of the colonial modern as a site of both convergence and divergence. Situated within a comparative framework, Beckford drew attention to the distinctive sequencing of the plantation and its afterlives in the Caribbean, which was especially clear in the relationship between plantations and peasant formations. While in other contexts, such as the case of Tanzania explored next, a peasantry existed prior to and was slowly absorbed into the plantation, this sequence was reversed in the Caribbean. The West Indian peasantry first emerged in the form of marronage—the practice of fugitivity among the enslaved that sometimes resulted in the formation of independent communities—and then in a more large-scale fashion after emancipation. 3 This sequence was distinctive and “modified the character of the original plantation economy and society” (Brathwaite 1968 , 264; Marshall 1968 , 262). Peasants were innovators who helped to diversify the economy by introducing crops like coffee and banana (Beckford [1972] 2000 , 98). Moreover, the peasant economy contained the possibility of displacing the plantation because it produced both food and cash crops (Beckford 1972 , 47; Marshall 1968 , 260).

During the mid-twentieth century, in anthropology specifically and in the social sciences more broadly, the figures of the peasant and the village had become an abstract stand-in for the traditional/premodern character of postcolonial societies (Mitchell 2002 ). Peasant studies in this moment offered an ahistorical picture in which the peasant remained untouched by colonial rule and was divorced entirely from the networks of encounter, trade, production, and consumption that were the legacies of empire (Mitchell 2002 , 142–144). In this construction, the peasant was always the object of developmental intervention. According to Beckford, both the colonial and the postcolonial state had deployed the view that the plantation was modern, while peasant production was traditional, to compel the transfer of resources, especially land and labor, from peasant formations to plantations (Beckford 1972 , 49). For instance, after emancipation, the colonial state argued that only wage labor on plantations would prevent “a relapse into barbarism and the savage state” among former slaves (Marshall 1968 , 262). And while the postcolonial state did not use this language, it retained a development model that cast peasant social formations as backward.

Against this dominant account, Beckford and others argued that the West Indian peasant did not represent vestiges of a traditional economy and society. Instead, a West Indian peasantry emerged from the plantation and in resistance to its dominant logics. Moreover, Caribbean peasants were not entirely outside the plantation as a total institution. They “did not depend exclusively on the cultivation of the soil for [their] income and subsistence” and intermittently participated in wage labor on plantations or in industrial areas to supplement their income (Marshall 1968 , 253–257; Trouillot 1984 , 47). Although peasant formations emerged in resistance to the plantation, the peasant was also a conscript of modernity whose choices (to engage in labor, to participate in export trade, etc.) were structured by the colonial modernity that the plantation introduced.

In highlighting the distinctive sequence of peasant social formations that follows the formation of the plantation, the New World Group contributed to theorizing the “logic of self-differentiation in modernity” (Kaviraj 2005 , 504). The source of this differentiation is not outside of the logics of modern institutions like the plantation. In other words, difference and divergence here are not formulated in the disjuncture between what Dipesh Chakrabarty calls History 1 and History 2 of capital. For Chakrabarty, while History 1 represents the universal logic of capital, History 2 refers to relations or institutions that are not subsumed by the former’s logic. According to Chakrabarty, “These relations could be central to capital’s self-reproduction and yet it is also possible for them to be oriented to structures that do not contribute to such reproduction. History 2s ‘inhere in’ and at times ‘interrupt’ the logic of History 1” (Chakrabarty 2000 , 64). Alternatively, an account of internal differentiation suggests that it is the very logic of History 1 that produces divergence. As Manu Goswami argued, “History 2 represents an internal dimension of History 1, not an absolute outside that episodically interrupts the supposedly homogenous, linear progression of an abstract logic of capital as such.” History 1 should itself be understood as “a global, differentiated and hierarchical space-time” (Goswami 2004 , 40).

The New World Group’s account of the ways in which the plantation engendered peasant formations highlights how modernity produces what is then retrospectively viewed as its opposite. If the traditional/modern binary was mobilized by development economics and modernization theory to disaggregate and cordon off the difference of the Third World as a historical holdover to be overcome, the New World Group situated difference as an effect of the Caribbean’s conscripted modernity. In identifying the plantation as a New World institution that was modern and modernizing, Best and Beckford highlighted the colonial origins of modernity in the Caribbean. By tracing the colonial plantation’s legacies and, in particular, the ways it engendered a distinctive peasant social formation, they pointed to the ways that the sequencing and trajectory of the colonial modern were specific and would not conform to a European model.

The Plantation in Comparative Perspective

The New World Group sought to theorize the distinctive role of the plantation in the history of the Caribbean and offer an account of the plantation as a Third World institution that should be at the center of broader discussions about development and dependence. According to Beckford, “Plantation agriculture has been one of the chief means by which numerous countries of the world have been brought into the tributaries of the modern world economy” (Beckford 1972 , xxiii). As was the case in the Caribbean, Latin America, and the United States south, the introduction of plantation agriculture had also dominated places like Indonesia, Ceylon, and Malaysia. In South Asia and parts of eastern and southern Africa, the plantation was not dominant or total, but had played an important role in the reconstitution of land ownership and economic relations (Beckford 1972 , 14–15).

Within the Dar es Salaam School, Walter Rodney focused on the plantation’s role in Tanzania and the southeastern region of Africa, where its introduction was belated. After the gradual nineteenth-century abolition of chattel slavery across the Americas, European empires and plantation economies increasingly turned toward the east (Manjapra 2018 ). By the mid to late nineteenth century, European states and trading companies began expanding into the interior of the African continent. This “Scramble for Africa” resulted in the territorial settlement negotiated during the 1884–1885 Berlin Conference, where European states framed their imperial projects as a sacred trust of civilization in which the preservation of the welfare of native peoples was a central objective. The aim of abolishing slavery on the African continent was part of the treaty signed at the conference. However, this abolitionist commitment did not prevent colonial powers from reconstituting the plantation and its racialized regimes of labor as a mechanism for integrating new colonies into the global economy (Zimmerman 2010 ). From rubber in Liberia to sisal in Tanzania, plantation economies were central to colonial projects that sought to discipline African workers and produce raw materials for the global economy. Along with mines, they served as key nodes of an imperial global economy and were differentiated from other African colonial spaces that served as sources of labor for these sectors (Amin 1972 ).

This bifurcated character of the colonial economy in Africa preoccupied dependency theorists and was particularly central to the cohort of economists and economic historians at the University of Dar es Salaam between the mid-1960s and 1970s. During this period, Dar es Salaam had taken Accra’s place as the focal point of pan-African politics. The city hosted Black Power activists from the United States and freedom fighters from southern Africa, including the African National Congress. It was also home to scholars such as world systems theorists Giovanni Arrighi and John Saul. After the president of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere, inaugurated his program of African socialism in the Arusha Declaration of 1967, the faculty at the University of Dar es Salaam where Arrighi and Saul were based began an effort to rethink the research and pedagogical program of the African university (Campbell 1991 ).

It was in this context that Guyanese economic historian Walter Rodney joined the Dar es Salaam School. Rodney had been an undergraduate student at the University of the West Indies–Mona, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history with first-class honors in 1963. He then completed his doctoral work at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London with a dissertation on the history of European contact and trade in the Guinea region. Later published as A History for the Upper Guinea Coast, 1545–1800 , Rodney’s dissertation rejected accounts that linked the transatlantic slave trade to precolonial practices of slavery. Instead, he detailed the ways that the transatlantic trade marked a sharp break that reconstituted political and commercial relations in West Africa (Rodney [1970] 1980 ). According to Rodney, the slave trade set the foundations for European domination and African dependence, an argument that would form the thesis of his best-known book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (Rodney 1972 ). When he completed his dissertation, Rodney briefly returned to the University of the West Indies between 1967 and 1968, where he was colleagues with Best and Beckford, but did not formally join the New World Group. In 1968, after being refused reentry to Jamaica for his role in the growing Black Power movement, Rodney accepted a position at the University of Dar es Salaam, where he remained until 1974.

Like Beckford, Rodney’s reconsideration of African political economy emerged at a moment of deep dissatisfaction with the postcolonial trajectories of African states. Development strategies, such as industrialization through import substitution and further investment in cash crop production, either produced limited results or led to further economic dependence. According to Rodney, these strategies were generic models that failed to take seriously the specificity of the colonial legacy in the African context. Addressing underdevelopment would thus require understanding how colonialism had restructured African societies, and central to this project was a reexamination of the role of the plantation in colonial expansion (Rodney 1983a , 1).

Rodney argued that the plantation was “the first major institution” established once Germany had systematically colonized Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi. If sugar had been king in the Caribbean, “plantation production of sisal, rubber and cotton constituted the earliest and most important of the colonial economic activities of German East Africa” (Rodney 1983a , 1). Moreover, this institution continued to dominate the colonial economy when the British took over as the mandatory power after World War I (Rodney 1983b , 7). As in the Caribbean, the modernizing dimensions of the new colonial economy were both “negative and disruptive” of existing social forms and productive and generative of new subjectivities (Rodney 1983b , 18).

Although indigenous social forms were not entirely displaced, the violent imposition of the plantation in Tanzania shared important features with the Caribbean experience. For instance, the forms of coercion the colonial state deployed to recruit labor produced a condition akin to slavery even while chattel slavery itself was abolished. The areas in which the plantations were located were never able to supply all the necessary labor, which created continued reliance on the forced migration of laborers. To ensure a steady labor supply, the colonial state and private companies worked collaboratively to institute a region-wide system of labor extraction. Through conquest, taxation, and compulsory labor requirements, the colonial state transformed German East Africa into “a vast labor pool” (Rodney 1983b , 9). According to Rodney, the practices of labor recruitment “verged on slave raiding” as “recruiting agents scoured the country to advance the interest of plantation owners” and incorporated laborers from as far as northern Mozambique (Rodney 1983b , 20; 1976 , 5).

The blurring of public and private agents in labor recruitment enhanced the reach of recruitment and gave it a distinctive accent. By the interwar period, the system of labor recruitment was so extensive that “very few African societies in Tanganyika [modern-day Tanzania] escaped completely from the labor nets which spread out from the plantation cores” (Rodney 1983b , 9). During World War II, military conscription was mobilized to facilitate labor recruitment for sisal plantation (Rodney 1976 , 12–13). According to one eyewitness, “People were caught in 1938 when war broke out; they were told that they were going to fight but it seems that they were going to fight against sisal. They were given military uniform and went to cut sisal” (Sago 1983 , 73).

The invocation of slave raiding to describe labor recruitment in east and southern Africa recalled and reiterated a long-standing anticolonial critique that, despite emancipation in the Americas and the imperial commitments to abolition, colonial subjects in Africa were transformed into slaves. Beginning in the interwar period, black anticolonial critics illustrated the ways in which chattel slavery had given way to extreme forms of wage slavery. This anticolonial critique highlighted the hypocritical character of imperial antislavery, broadened the meaning of slavery beyond chattel slavery to include indentured labor and other forms of forced labor, and framed the linkages between Africa and the Americas around this shared experience of colonial enslavement (Du Bois [1920] 1999 ; Nkrumah 1963 ; Padmore 1936 ).

If the coercive practices of labor recruitment exposed once again the imposed and violent character of the colonial modern, it also created the conditions for the emergence of new subjects and relations of production. Rodney locates the key transformation in the introduction of wage labor. According to Rodney, labor alienation and incorporation into a money economy were limited or nonexistent in most parts of Tanzania before colonization. The introduction of the plantation transformed this landscape, fashioning former peasants into a modern proletariat akin to factory workers and incorporating them into global commercial circuits. This making of a modern working class also shifted the terms of political resistance. The forms of resistance, which ranged from absenteeism and desertion to later boycotts and strikes, as well as the demands for better pay and more leisure, operated within rather than outside the idioms of the plantation economy (Tambila 1983 , 47–53).

On the one hand, this account of the emergence of modern laborers follows a standard Marxist account in which the expropriation of peasants sets the conditions for the introduction of wage labor and the making of a proletariat (Marx [1867] 1976 , 927–928, 931). On the other hand, Rodney and his colleagues argued that this sequence took a distinctive form in Tanzania and other colonial contexts. First, the extraeconomic coercion associated with a “precapitalist” mode of production and the initial phase of dispossession persisted in the colonial sphere. 4 The coercion and violence that Rodney likened to slave raiding was concomitant with rather than simply prior to the institutionalization of wage labor (Rodney 1983b , 20; Sago 1983 , 63). According to Rodney, “plantations remained attached to forms of legal coercion to a degree unrealizable in the colonizing nations” (Rodney 1983b , 9). This account echoes more recent studies of primitive accumulation in the colonial context, which argue that while extraeconomic force “retreats to the background in the metropole … it remains constantly visible in the colonies” (Ince 2014 , 119; Araghi 2009 ; Singh 2016 ).

A second distinguishing feature of the emergence of wage labor in Tanzania was that this process of making modern wage laborers was structured to remain incomplete. The colonial economy, according to Giovanni Arrighi, only required a partial proletarianization of the possible workforce. The maintenance of peasant production subsidized and stabilized the plantation sector by providing the subsistence needs of African laborers and thus keeping wages relatively low (Arrighi 1966 , 1973 , 2009 , 63–64). While colonial officials bemoaned the persistence of “traditional” agriculture as unproductive and backward, they carefully monitored food production to avoid shortages that would affect the plantation sector (Rodney 1976 , 21–22).

To return to Chakrabarty’s “Two Histories of Capital,” the persistence of indigenous social relations (History 2) belied the universal and homogenizing assumptions and aspirations of History 1. History 1 would not fully subsume History 2, and moreover, elements of History 1, such as the introduction of wage labor, depended and relied on social formations that did not fully conform to its logics. Rather than the assimilation of peasant social relations to the regime of wage labor, the “articulation” of these two forms of production, that is, their co-constitution and codependence, highlights the differentiation central to the colonial modern (Ince 2014 , 116–117). From this perspective, what awaited the colony and postcolony was not a future in which proletarianization would be completed. Instead, the colonial modern reveals the heterogeneous relations of production in which wage labor is but one form (Ince 2014 , 117).

However, in Rodney’s account, the peasant sector did not remain an external supplement of the colonial economy. While peasant formations helped to subsidize the colonial economy, peasants were also transformed by the colonial encounter as they began to participate in the production of cash crops. In 1906, just two decades after German colonization, colonial authorities recommended that peasant production, alongside plantations, could enhance Tanzania’s raw material exports. Subsequently, the colonial state began to distribute cotton seeds to peasant farmers. Officials also mobilized similar coercive measures deployed to extract plantation labor in order to redirect peasant production toward cash crops. Taxes provided peasants with a choice between either joining the labor force on plantations or “growing the tax” though cash crop production (Rodney 1983b , 17–18). Within this set of conditions, peasant social relations were conscripted to the colonial economy. Although the colonial state conceived of the peasantry as a sign of underdevelopment, peasant production was endogenous to the colonial economy and again highlighted the distinctive trajectory of capitalism in the colonized world (Ince 2014 , 117–118).

Peasants were thus not exempt from the imposition of the colonial modern. Instead, like plantation laborers on both sides of the Atlantic, they were subject to its negative and productive dimensions. On the one hand, subsistence farming and small-scale ownership were disrupted and peasants were incorporated into global patterns of dependence as more of the economy focused on the production of export crops. On the other hand, the choice of earning the head tax through wage labor or growing it by producing cotton and coffee resulted in the formation of a new class of entrepreneurial peasants—what Rodney called “independent small capitalist farmers” (Rodney 1983b , 17). This class in turn restructured the politics of the colony as the peasant sector challenged the plantation’s hegemony. While the colonial state encouraged peasant production of cash crops to supplement the plantation, plantation owners “decried ‘peasantisation’ as a threat to their labor supplies” (Rodney 1983b , 17). Against this view, peasants themselves constructed cash crop production as the more dignified choice in the new colonial economy (Rodney 1983b , 18). Far from constituting an external and traditional economy, peasants, now located within the dictates of the colonial economy, attempted to harness the forms of autonomy that could be found in this context. 5

In conceiving of the colonial economy as constituted by nodes of plantation production with nets of labor recruitment radiating outward, as well as a peasant sector that was restructured to serve the demand for cash crops, Rodney sought to capture the full extent of the transformations unleashed by the emergence of the plantation. While he did not use the concept of total institution, he argued that the plantation in Africa had created a “new organic whole.” Processes of articulation and interpenetration had blurred the boundaries between modern and traditional and had restructured the latter according to the terms of the former. The consequences of this interpenetration were such that “social phenomena seemingly reminiscent of pre-colonial Africa acquired an entirely new meaning in a colonial context” (Rodney 1983b , 5).

It is for this reason that Scott’s conscripts of modernity is a theoretically generative concept for capturing the negative and productive dimensions of colonial power. Writing against invocations of alternative and multiple modernities in which subaltern actors are positioned as creative agents that resist modernity’s impositions, Scott argued that we should “inquire into the modern concepts and institutions upon which these resisting projects themselves depended” (2004, 115). This requires understanding modern conditions not only as forms of constraint, but also as enabling insofar as they make available new choices and new modes of self-fashioning (Scott 2004 , 117). Though Scott does not dwell on this, such an approach to the colonial modern also depends on attending to the ways that the modern conditions and institutions of the colony had distinctive trajectories. In the colony, the introduction of modern economic relations (as one site of conscription to modernity) depended on specific institutional forms such as the colonial plantation and encountered social systems and conditions that differed from those that characterized the European context. These features contributed to the distinctive experience of the colonial modern. But far from being a derivative experience of modernity, the colonial context revealed in an unfiltered form both the coercion and the differentiation that were constitutive of modernity.

Comparison and the Globalization of Political Theory

In reconstructing the transatlantic theorization of the plantation in the 1960s and 1970s, I hope to highlight how comparison and comparative theorizing can be mobilized to globalize political theory. Though formulated differently, Beckford, Best, and Rodney share the concerns of comparative political theorists that political theorizing, which has the North Atlantic as its geographical referent, is both hegemonic and inadequate to conceptualizing political trajectories in the non-Western world (Dallmayr 1997 ; Jenco 2007 ). But if they share this broad premise, they also offer us a way of expanding the aims and objects of comparison.

In their hands, comparative political theorizing is a mechanism for conceptualizing the distinctive but modern political trajectories of societies beyond the West. It is an effort to attend to the specificity of institutional forms and political practices in the non-Western world and to develop social and political theory capable of naming and capturing their coordinates. Specificity here does not refer to discrete traditions, institutions, and practices that stand outside imposed Western categories. Instead, the work of the New World Group and the Dar es Salaam School attends to the global dislocations and transformations European imperialism wrought, while highlighting the uneven and differentiated character of colonial conscription. Specificity and difference, then, are produced by and internal to the colonial experience.

If the starting point of comparative political theory is that inherited concepts do not adequately capture the specificity of non-Western politics, developing new conceptual tools for theorizing the institutional forms and political practices that have emerged outside the West must be a central task. Best’s coinage of the term pure plantation model took up this task and was an attempt to capture the distinctive nature of Caribbean modernity. Best begins his essay on the pure plantation model by noting, “We have taken the view that economic theory in the underdeveloped region at any rate, can profit by relaxing its unwitting pre-occupation with the special case of the North Atlantic countries” (Best 1968 , 283). While theory generated with reference to the North Atlantic is understood as generalizable and universal, he argues that it is in fact a special case that should have little claim on theorists whose primary concern remains the non-Western world. Viewed from this perspective, the pure plantation model and the New World Group’s broader effort to theorize plantation society were an effort to develop “theory derived specifically from and relevant to the Caribbean experience” (Beckford 1968, 232).

The provincializing of the North Atlantic not only makes space to develop social theory specific to the Caribbean, but also shifts the objects of comparison away from north/south and West/non-West. The development economists to whom Best and Beckford were responding persistently relied on these axes of comparison to position the non-Western world as deviant from norms of political and economic development already achieved in the West. The positing of the special case of the North Atlantic as the norm to which all other political form must conform elides the history of its formation in empire (Chatterjee 2011 , 22). It also conceives of social theory and political practice in the non-Western world as a project of normalization and can only account for difference as deviation (Chatterjee 2011 , 11).

Against this dominant orientation, Beckford recast the primary axis of a comparative theory as a south/south project. In positioning the plantation within a Third World framework, Beckford suggested that theorizing the plantation in the Caribbean also lends itself to the development of a generalizable account of colonial modernity. This was not because the pure plantation model could subsume other instances of plantation economies or because the plantation was the only institutional mechanism of conscription to modernity. Instead, the model provided an outline of a set of dynamics, such as the global orientation of the plantation, its capacity to create new subjectivities, and its relationship to peasant societies that could be investigated and theorized in other contexts.

When Rodney began his study of plantations in Tanzania, he acknowledged the foundational role of the plantation in the Caribbean and drew on these orienting questions. But far from transferring the pure plantation model onto Tanzania wholesale, he engaged in processes of translation and transposition. Thus, while he was also interested in the modernity of the plantation economy, he traced both instances of convergence and divergence with the Caribbean model. The plantation in this account appears itself as an institutional form that is remade and reconstituted as it travels to different colonial contexts. Reusing and redeploying institutions developed in one historical context and colonial space involves “an inevitable process of displacement and reformulation” that generates distinctive trajectories (Mitchell 2000 , 7).

Rodney’s theory of plantation societies in Tanzania sought to capture the consequences of this reformulation. Following Sudipta Kaviraj, we might call these practices of translation and transposition “lateral extensions of social theory.” Kaviraj names this practice in light of his rereading of Marx and, in particular, in his effort to account for the emergence of the category of an “Asiatic mode of production” in Marx’s thinking. According to Kaviraj, lateral extension requires a double move of first shifting to a geographically adjacent area and, second, developing an empirically grounded theory of “patterns and causalities peculiar to this [new] field” (2018, 13) The lateral development of a new theory entails a comparative orientation insofar as it is articulated by reference to the ways in which these patterns are distinctive from earlier or adjacent formations.

Rodney did not name the specific form of the plantation in Africa and thus did not leave behind a direct conceptual counterpoint to Best’s pure plantation. However, he engaged in a lateral extension by shifting the study of the plantation to the African context and cataloging the ways in which the plantation’s modernizing logics took a distinctive form there. Rodney achieved this by attending to the precise historical sequence of the plantation’s emergence and development. That the plantation developed as a total institution that fully displaced existing indigenous forms in the Caribbean stood in contrast to the east African context, where indigenous forms persisted but were reconstituted. The different ways in which the plantation emerged would in turn structure further developments such as the belated emergence of a peasantry in the Caribbean and the simultaneous and complementary development of plantation and peasant economies in Tanzania.

Methods of south/south comparison, conceptual innovation, and lateral extension highlighted the shared experience of the colonial modern by attending to the central role the plantation played in several colonial contexts. At the same time, tracing how the plantation encounters different social contexts and conditions and highlighting the sequencing of its institutionalization, the colonial modern was also theorized as a site of divergence. Even if the plantation has certain logics, such as the constitution of a modern proletariat, these logics took on different forms in different historical conjunctures and spaces. As a result, their legacies for the postcolonial world were varied. Theorizing the colonial modern was thus not only an effort to differentiate the postcolonial world from the North Atlantic, but also an attempt to theorize the experience of the postcolonial world as one of convergence and divergence.

Beyond the New World Group and the Dar Es Salaam School’s immediate preoccupations with questions of postcolonial development, their practice of comparison opens new directions for the globalization of political theory. Following a central anticolonial argument developed by critics like Eric Williams ( [1944] 1994 ) and C. L. R. James ( [1963] 1989 ), historians and theorists have illustrated the myriad ways in which what we take to be European modernity had its origins in the colony or was otherwise only possible through colonial domination. 6 These important interventions have disrupted the self-referential and parochial story of modernity by illustrating its global and imperial conditions of possibility. But this can only be one side of the project of globalizing political theory. Another equally important and urgently needed aim must be an effort to develop social and political theory that adequately addresses the distinctive histories and trajectories of non-Western politics—what Partha Chatterjee ( 2004 ) calls “popular politics in most of the world” (3). In their examination of the plantation in comparative perspective, the New World Group and the Dar es Salaam School orient us toward this task of conceptualizing the character as well as the political and theoretical implications of these divergent trajectories.

Dominant accounts of these crises framed the limits of postcolonial statehood as deviations from Western norms. Commentators who had celebrated decolonization as an extension and universalization of Western ideals and institutions worried that the postcolonial nation-state was either a premature imitation of the Euro-American original or entirely out of sync with formerly colonized societies (Kedourie 1960 ; Plamenatz 1960 ). For modernization theorists and development economists, postcolonial crises were the birth pangs of transition (Rostow [1960] 1990 ).

For an overview of the central figures and debates in dependency and world systems theory, see Larrain ( 1989 ). Several key texts of these schools of thought emerged at the same time that the New World Group and the Dar es Salaam School were engaged in studies of the plantation. See, for example, Frank ( 1966 ), Amin ( 1976 ), and Wallerstein ( [1974] 2011 ).

On the emergence of smallholding in Jamaica, see Holt ( 1991 ), especially Chapter 5 .

By extraeconomic force, I mean forms of direct political domination and violence associated with slavery and serfdom that are to be distinguished from the “silent compulsion” of wage labor (Marx [1867] 1976 , 899).

The efforts of East African peasants to stake out spaces of autonomy within cash crop production resembles the practices of vernacular Lockeanism that Sartori ( 2014 ) has detailed in the context of colonial South Asia.

For a survey of literature that highlights the colonial origins of key markers of modernity such as the factory, the emergence of institutions like Bentham’s Panopticon, and the creation of the category of population, see Mitchell ( 2000 , 2–5). In the case of plantation studies especially concerned with the Caribbean, I have noted the work of Mintz ( 1985 ), Stinchcombe ( 1995 ), and Blackburn ( 1997 ) that highlights the ways that the plantation inaugurated forms of labor discipline, financial instruments, etc., that would later be incorporated in the metropolitan context. As Mitchell suggests, while this mode of globalizing political theory has contributed to the rethinking of the origins of European Modernity, “there is a danger that instead of decentering the categories and certainties of modernity, one might produce a more expansive, inclusive, and inevitably homogenous account of the genealogy of modernity” (2000, 6–7).

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This is an anthropological study of ethical dilemma situations in contemporary American medicine. The medical setting is of special importance for studying ethical dilemmas because of its increasing complexity, its technological achievements and limitations, and its intense human encounters. Too often complex dilemma situations are reduced to single issues. The objective of this study was to understand and characterize ethical dilemma situations as they occurred in the clinical setting from the perspectives of the staff, patients and families involved in them. Participant-observation fieldwork and interviewing were carried out on an intensive care nursery and an adult hemodialysis unit in a medical center hospital. Data were collected and analyzed using a grounded theory approach and a research guide inspired by the work of Arthur Kleinman. Twenty-one cases were examined in detail, 15 from the nursery and six from the dialysis unit. From the participants' viewpoint, an ethical dilemma was (1) a specific situation characterized by uncertainty, (2) involving normative and existential issues, (3) interpersonal and/or intrapersonal conflict about how to handle these issues, and (4) the need to make an action decision regarding them. This is a broader definition than is usually found in discussions of ethical dilemmas. It specifically includes concerns about staff-patient-family problems. In the clinical setting action was needed to resolve the dilemmas, and these concerns could influence the action that was taken. The participants identified 26 dilemmas in the 21 cases that could be classified broadly under three types: how far to go in using medical technology (16 cases), family problems (6 cases), and intra-staff conflict about patient care (4 cases). Analysis revealed five significant features of the ethical dilemma situations in these cases. They were unpredictable and had to be dealt with after they had developed. They were felt to be "long and draining" regardless of how long they lasted. They were shaped by the clinical context in which they occurred: the structure of pediatric medicine could lead to different dilemma experiences than those found in adult medicine. They involved problems in decision making and communication. They both reflected and were influenced by values and social factors in the larger society. The study identified characteristics of ethical dilemma situations that contributed to the difficulty of their resolution in ways not generally recognized in medical practice. It also points to the need for a broader view of ethical dilemmas than has been traditional among ethicists.

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  8. PDF Social Inequalities in Access to Child Healthcare Services

    In summary, using an international comparative perspective and combining a systematic review with empirical registry studies, the thesis shows persisting inequalities in the uptake of child healthcare services. Furthermore, the magnitude of social inequalities vary between countries with different structure and

  9. PDF The United States Healthcare System From a Comparative Perspective: the

    throughout this thesis make healthcare affordable and accessible for their residents. These healthcare systems consistently earn better ratings than the United States' current healthcare system. The contents of Chapter Two targets some of the more outstanding problems in the

  10. Researching Enduring Gaps in Comparative Research: The Data ...

    Tracing the historical timeline in a comparative perspective allows the examination of institutions created at the formative years of each state. At state building, institutions were formed by elites who saw their policies as more or less compatible with public will. The purpose of process tracing is to illustrate just how public will drift ...

  11. Politics and Inequality in Comparative Perspective: A Research Agenda

    Another way of conceptualizing democracy is through a procedural definition (see Coppedge et al., 2011; Dahl, 1973).From a strict procedural perspective, there is a core difference between a democratic and a nondemocratic regime: In a democratic regime, the general public can vote and stand for office in free elections on equal formal grounds, and those who are elected get to rule.


    criteria which a comparative perspective makes available for consideration. Similarly, in relation to (3), a philosophical critical evaluation of educational practices, principles and the like, a comparative dimension is an important resource in the enrichment of the range of possibilities and justifi catory arguments open to view.

  13. Comparative Philosophy

    Comparative philosophy—sometimes called "cross-cultural philosophy"—is a subfield of philosophy in which philosophers work on problems by intentionally setting into dialogue various sources from across cultural, linguistic, and philosophical streams. The ambition and challenge of comparative philosophy is to include all the philosophies ...

  14. Comparative Perspectives on The State

    The last few years have seen a tremendous boom in the study of the state. within the fields of sociology and political science. Scholars ranging from comparative historical sociologists to specialists in the economics of develop- ment have begun to pay attention to the role of the state, primarily in the. 0360-0572/91/08 15-0523$02.00.

  15. Comparative Essay

    There are two basic structures that are typically used for comparative essays. Point-by-point method . The point-by-point method alternates between the items. In this style, you pick a common point of comparison and describe the first item and then the second item. Here is an example of a point-by-point method essay outline.

  16. The Comparative Perspective on Literature: Approaches to Theory and

    The Foundering of Aesthetics:: Thoughts on the Current State of Comparative Literature Download; XML; The Japanese Werther of the Twentieth Century Download; XML; A Room Not Their Own:: Renaissance Women as Readers and Writers Download; XML; William Styron's Fiction and Essays:: A Franco-American Perspective Download; XML


    978--521-19060-2 - Judiciaries in Comparative Perspective Edited by H. P. Lee Frontmatter More information Understanding South Africa's Transitional Bill of Rights (1994, with L. du Plessis); editor of Essays on Law and Social Practice in South Africa (1988); Democracy and the Judiciary (1989); Controlling Public Power (1995, with

  18. The competition state thesis in a comparative perspective: the

    The competition state thesis describes a product of globalisation and as such has not remained static since its conception some 25 years ago. The core ideals have held, although the emphasis placed by the authors on certain aspects of the competition state thesis has strengthened over time while other aspects have become comparatively muted.

  19. Comparative Policy Analysis and the Science of Conceptual ...

    In comparative policy analysis (CPA), a generally accepted historic problem that transcends time is that of identifying common variables. Coupled with this problem is the unanswered challenge of collaboration and interdisciplinary research. Additionally, there is the problem of the rare use of text-as-data in CPA and the fact it is rarely applied, despite the potential demonstrated in other ...

  20. The Plantation's Colonial Modernity in Comparative Perspective

    Abstract. By reconstructing the pioneering work of political economists and social theorists associated with the New World Group at the University of the West Indies and the Dar es Salaam School at the University of Dar es Salaam, this chapter recovers the theorization of the plantation as a modernizing institution that produced a distinctive colonial modernity.

  21. Chinese Foreign Policy Making: A Comparative Perspective

    The article aims to understand Chinese foreign policy making from a comparative perspective. By using the neoclassical realist approach, key features of Chinese foreign policy as well as possible future alternatives for its implementation are outlined. The essay concludes that significant changes in Chinese foreign policy in recent years are ...

  22. The Comparative Perspective on Literature

    Few would deny that comparative literature is rapidly moving from the periphery toward the center of literary studies in North America, but many are still unsure just what it is. The Comparative Perspective on Literature shows by means of twenty-two exemplary essays by many of the most distinguished scholars in the field how comparative literature as a discipline is conceived of and practiced ...

  23. (PDF) Effects of Customer Relationship Management on ...

    PreprintPDF Available. Effects of Customer Relationship Management on Market Performance: A Comparative Perspective. February 2014. Authors: Gebeyehu Jalu Negassa. Mekelle University. References ...

  24. A Comparative Analysis of Product Attributes and Consumer Response in

    The thesis applies statistical methods like point biserial correlation and ANOVA to validate the influence of sustainability on consumer purchasing decisions and satisfaction. Results indicate that products with eco-friendly attributes tend to receive slightly higher ratings and more reviews, suggesting a positive consumer response to ...

  25. Student reactions to college: A comparative study of samples of Black

    Two general research questions were postulated for this study: (1) what are the differences, if any, between the reactions of a sample of 150 Black and a sample of 234 White students enrolled in a multicampus community college with regard to the individual items comprising the local option section and each of the nineteen content areas in the Student Reactions to College (SRC) questionnaire ...

  26. Ethical Dilemmas in Medicine: an Anthropological Perspective (Intensive

    This is an anthropological study of ethical dilemma situations in contemporary American medicine. The medical setting is of special importance for studying ethical dilemmas because of its increasing complexity, its technological achievements and limitations, and its intense human encounters. Too often complex dilemma situations are reduced to single issues. The objective of this study was to ...