Batterbury, S.P.J 2004. Stuart Corbridge. In P.
Hubbard, R. Kitchin and G. Valentine (eds.) Key thinkers on space and place.
SIMON BATTERBURY, Environmental Studies,
An updated draft of the book chapter, archived at www.simonbatterbury.net/pubs
Stuart Corbridge was born
in 1957 and grew up in the West Midlands of
In Anglophone geography, aside
from his regional work in
The themes raised in Debt and Development were followed with further work on international debt and monetary policy. For example, Corbridge’s work on inflation follows a Keynesian argument about the need for economic pragmatism and “rigorous eclecticism” in monetary policy (1994:88), and he engages with the geopolitics of monetary transfer and regulation in Money Power and Space, which also traces the imbrications of money with social and cultural networks of power (Corbridge, Martin and Thrift, 1994). This collection was soon followed by a book with John Agnew, Mastering Space (1995), which is an overview of the global political economy of the past two hundred years. In a development of his earlier position, the authors argue that:
"Globalisation is not only a synonym of disempowerment: it creates certain conditions for democratization, de-centralization and empowerment as well as for centralization and standardization. Globalization opens as many doors as it shuts" (Agnew and Corbridge 1995: 219).
As Toal (1995) argues, the book demonstrated this by some deft applications of Henri Lefebvre's arguments, to distinguish between flows of goods and power, the discursive representations that sustain these flows, and the 'imagined geographies' that “inspire the future organization and articulation of spatial practices and representations of space.” [from his web, no pp]
This nuanced and critical approach to geopolitics suggests the existence of three “geopolitical orders” over time, each operating with distinct arrays of hegemonic authority. The period 1815-1975, termed the Concert of Europe, gave way to seventy years of Inter-Imperial Rivalry until 1945, followed by the Cold War from 1945-90. The book argues that, as of the mid 1990s, the world order was missing a dominant nation state; thus, “there is always hegemony, but there are not always hegemons" (Agnew and Corbridge, 1995: 17). The argument here is prophetic: hegemony, used in a Gramscian sense to describe structures that legitimate dominant practices and organize consent, is creating
“new conditions for 'ordered disorder' by ignoring, tidying away and/or disciplining a group of countries, regions and communities which are not party to a new regime of market-access economics or which threaten it is some way” (Agnew and Corbridge 1995: 193).
Anew and Corbridge argue that transnational liberalism has emerged as hegemonic, through the breakdown of Keynesian economic policy and the Bretton Woods agreements, as well as though the power of new transnational business and military networks. Consistent with Corbridge’s stand on globalisation more generally, Mastering Space also argues that opposition to hegemonic discourses and practices necessarily accompanies their growth and their increased spatial reach. The millennial anti-globalization movements and protests were anticipated in the book, but perhaps not the turns that some have taken, for example through Islamic militancy, nor the geopolitical repercussions of the post-9/11 events.
A second major
contribution is Corbridge’s detailed and sustained interrogation of Indian
development as an idea and practice, which reaches a different audience of
regional scholars. Particularly since the early 1990s, he has returned to studies of rural issues in the
eastern Indian States of Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and
Thirdly, Corbridge believes geographical research and teaching must draw upon, and contribute to, social sciences and international studies more broadly, and he has made significant contributions to this interface. But while he signals the importance of spatiality, geography, and the “power” of space in explanations of geopolitical change and development, he does not privilege them. “Development geography”, and concepts of space and place that it holds dear, must form part of ecumenical analysis and broader debate across a range of disciplines (and he recently transferred from Geography to Development Studies at the LSE). His conviction that geography forms part of a broader intellectual canvas has attracted him to interdisciplinary work in development studies, where his encyclopedic knowledge of the field is widely acknowledged to be without equal. Aside from the substantive contributions mentioned above, Corbridge has completed a substantial essay on the life and work of Amartya Sen (2002b), edited a Reader in Development Studies (1995), and published a six-volume reference collection of readings entitled Development: Critical Concepts (2000) that spans the entire range of historical and contemporary key works in the field.
Key advances and controversies
In the 1980s, Corbridge’s
work on global capitalism and the world economy came to attention at a time
when radical geographers like Richard Peet, Neil Smith, and David Harvey
dominated the field. Corbridge was uneasy with the core tenets and political
ramifications of the Marxist geography of the day, and countered with
post-Marxist critiques of determinism, some associated with regulation
theorists like Lipietz. As a result, Capitalist
World Development attracted several comradely but also vituperative
ripostes, notably from
With these debates now over a decade old, and with several of the protagonists occasionally now writing or working together (Corbridge, Thrift & Martin, 1994), Corbridge’s arguments have become broadly accepted in development geography, while he himself has moved between post-marxism and a critical stance on the style and substance of some mainstream development policies. Arguably (and unlike some of his protagonists), his work on the idea and the practice of “development” is based on many years of grounded field research projects, and this enables him to speak with some authority when questioning its core values and its outcomes in particular places, and when challenging others coming from different viewpoints (notably David Harvey; Corbridge 1998a).
Corbridge’s work has been taken up most
directly by several geographers and former students who have worked on
Reinventing India (2001) shares some theories and
concepts with Mastering Space, but
advances an innovative thesis when it suggests that a new India is being “invented”
through elite interests that serve the ends of particular classes (Corbridge
also made this argument in his account of the politics of India’s nuclear bomb
– 1999), particularly since economic liberalization after 1991 and the rise of
Hindu nationalism. While Singh (2001) uncharitably accuses the authors of undue
attachment to concepts of class based politics, and
In conclusion, Corbridge’s work to date rests on several major contributions. His work on post-Marxist development theory, debt, and the transitions experienced in rural India has anticipated some of the current thinking on globalization made by eminent international relations theorists and sociologists like Tony Giddens, David Held and Fred Halliday, as well as contributing to rethinking these areas in geography. The links between the Indian state and its citizens has been re-conceived, and fleshed out with twenty years of detailed study. The notion of “hegemony without hegemons”, has contributed to the emerging field of critical geopolitics (Dodds 2001), although in the conflict-ridden 2000s we are now hearing strident calls from the new hegemon (the USA) to aggressively assert the ‘rightness’ of democracy across the boundaries of the nation state. However as Corbridge and Harriss (2000) rightly note, the neoliberal world economy has encountered resistance, for example from the subaltern spaces and resistance to “elite revolts”, eloquently described in Reinventing India. Such movements always accompany these hegemonic forces, even if they sometimes lack power. Corbridge shares with Castells, Watts and Escobar an interest in the promotion of alternatives to mainstream development, but some of these alternatives have unfortunately emerged as aggressively fundamentalist or nationalist in their own right (and thus are unpleasant to the sensibilities of Western activists and scholars), and not all have been able to challenge the state or the market with sufficient force. As other biographies in this volume show, development geography will have to remain attentive to the nuances of globalization, and resistance to it.
Corbridge’ s major works
Corbridge, S.E. 1986. Capitalist world development: a critique of radical development geography.
Corbridge, S.E. 1988b. The ideology of tribal economy and society: politics in Jharkhand, 1950-1980 Modern Asian Studies 22 (1) 1-41
Corbridge, S.E. 1990 Post-Marxism and development studies: beyond the impasse. World Development 18 (5) 623-639
Corbridge, S.E. 1993. Debt and development.
Corbridge, S.E. (ed.)
1993a. World Economy.
Corbridge, S.E. 1993b. Marxisms, modernities and moralities: development praxis and the claims of distant strangers Environment and Planning D Society and Space 11: 449-472
Corbridge, S.E. 1994.
Plausible worlds: Friedman, Keynes and the geography of inflation. In
Corbridge, S.E., N. Thrift and R. Martin (eds.). 1994. Money, Power and Space.
Corbridge, S.E., N.Thrift
and R.Martin (eds.). 1994. Money, Power
Corbridge, S.E. 1994a. Bretton Woods revisited: hegemony, stability and territory. Environment and Planning A 26 (12) 1829-1859
Agnew, J. and S.E.
Corbridge. 1995. Mastering space:
hegemony, territory and international political economy.
Corbridge, S.E. (ed.)
1995. Development Studies: a reader.
Corbridge, S.E. 1998a Reading David Harvey: entries, voices, loyalties Antipode 30: 43-55
Corbridge, S.E. 1998b. “Beneath the pavement only soil”. The poverty of post-development Journal of Development Studies 34: 138-48
Corbridge, S.E. 1999 ‘The militarization of all Hindudom’? The Bharatiya Janata Party, the bomb and the political spaces of Hindu nationalism. Economy and Society 28: 222-255
Corbridge, S.E. (ed.) 2000. Development; critical concepts in the social
Corbridge, S.E. 2000a. Competing
inequalities: the Scheduled Tribes and the reservations system in
Corbridge, S.E. and
Harriss, J. 2000 (2001). Reinventing
Kumar, S. and Corbridge, S.E. 2002a. Programmed to fail? Development projects and the politics of participation. Journal of Development Studies 39 (2): 73-103
Corbridge, S.E. and Kumar, S. 2002b. Community, corruption, landscape: tales from the tree trade. Political Geography 21; 765-88
Corbridge S.E 2002b. Development as freedom: the spaces of Amaryta Sen. Progress in Development Studies 2: 183-217.
Corbridge S.E., S. Jewitt
and S. Kumar. 2004. Jharkhand:
environment, development, politics.
Corbridge S.E., G. Williams,
M. Srivastava and R.Veron. 2005. Seeing
the State: how poor people experience
governance and democracy in rural
S, M. S. Kumar and S.E. Corbridge (eds.). 2006. Colonial
and Post-Colonial Geographies of
Secondary sources and references
Chari, S. 2002 Review of
Dodds, K. 2001. Political geography III: critical geopolitics after ten years. Progress in Human Geography 25(3): 469-484.
J. 2002. Review of Reinventing
Robbins, P. 2005. review of Jharkhand: Environment, Development, Ethnicity. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 95 (4), 902–903.
Johns, M. 1990. Review of Capitalist World Development. Antipode, 22(2): 168-174.
Singh G. 2001 Review of
Toal, G. 1995 Political Geography I: Theorizing history, gender and world order amidst crises of global governance. Progress in Human Geography 19, 260-272.
Muralidharan, S. 2001.
Review of Reinventing
Sidaway, J.D. 1997. Review of Mastering Space. Trans. IBG NS 22: 130-132.
Toye, J. 1993. Dilemmas
of Development: Reflections on the Counter-Revolution in Development Theory and
Policy. Second edition.