The Origins of Commodity Dependence

Small Group Project 2024-25


Helena Pérez Niño, Victoria Stadheim, Sara Stevano & Sophie van Huellen
Small Group Project 2024-25

Dependence on the export of primary commodities is a persistent and ongoing problem, especially for Africa, Latin America, and parts of Asia (UNCTAD, 2023). Dependency scholarship theorised that the origins of commodity dependence are rooted in colonialism and the associated international division of labour (Amin, 1972). Contrary to the simplistic North-South dichotomy frequently attributed to dependency frameworks, Rodney (1972) argued that dependence was not only engendered and perpetuated by the bilateral relations between coloniser and colonised, but also through the nested hierarchies of empires, colonies, and the interplay between their different trajectories of development. Commodity dependence in former Portuguese colonies in Africa dramatically illustrates this point, by showing how the international subordination of Portugal itself fostered the porous character of the capital infrastructure set up in the colonies. Building on Rodney’s insights, this project seeks to explore how different metropoles’ ability and willingness to facilitate domestic capital accumulation in the colonies shaped the productive structures and social relations of production that were established during the colonial time and how these structures and relations are dynamically reproduced until today.

The proposed research uses a critical political economy and combines insights from economics, history, politics, international relations, development studies, business, and sociology to characterise continuities and ruptures in structures of production and exports in the former Portuguese colonies in Africa. The analysis is conducted through a mixed-method approach that explores i) historical time-series on trade and production and ii) selected commodity case studies through colonial and post-colonial times. We thereby aim to foster a better understanding of how colonial legacies condition contemporary structures of production and the processes through which these structures are dynamically reproduced, by going beyond the simplistic North-South dichotomy and by developing novel conceptualisations of ‘conditioned’ imperialism and typologies of commodity dependence.

Contacting Fellows

If you would like to contact any of our Fellows to discuss their ISRF-funded work, please contact Dr Lars Cornelissen (Academic Editor) in the first instance, at [email protected].