Part III – Political Development and Change


We move now from the evolution of political economy (Polanyi) to discussion of the development of the state (Bobbitt).  From our consideration of frameworks for analysis, particularly the world systems perspective, we saw the close interconnection of the structures of the state system, capital accumulation, and the core periphery division of labour.


In week five, we saw these connections in the relationships between political institutions and the forms of production and extraction of value from the economy.  Theorizing has drawn extensively on a narrow range of cases, particularly Great Britain from its civil wars to the Industrial revolution (Karl Polanyi, Barrington Moore, Acemoglu and Robinson), augmented by studies of other European states.  As we move into the twentieth century, the cases broaden to include the United States, Asian and Latin American countries, but the paradigms we use to understand economic growth and development have been fundamentally shaped by the political context of European states in general, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in particular.  This history, in turn, was one of internal colonization and core-periphery division of labour, in which Irish farms provided food for British workers; Welsh minors provide coal and iron; Scottish lairds grew wool, and exported people, as colonists, soldiers and administrators for empire. (Arguably, the Scots colonized London by dint of education and work ethic after the Scottish enlightenment. Herman, 2007).


All these works, and particularly Bobbitt, use comparative history for macrosocial enquiry.  Political scientist Theda Skocpol and historian Margaret Somers (Skocpol and Somers, 1980) provide a excellent overview of how this method works and the three major logics that drive it.


  • macro-causal analysis resembles multivariate hypothesis testing
  • parallel demonstration of theory considers several historical trajectories, and demonstrates that the theory in question can convincingly order the evidence in each case.
  • contrast of contexts is the reverse of parallel demonstration, because it focuses on the unique features of cases rather than the universal theory.


Skocpol and Somers argue that although these three logics are often intertwined in major macrosocial enquiries, many of which had been produced in the post-war period, most are dominated by a single logic.


We can now compare Polanyi’s macrosocial historical enquiry (with frequent reference to the human and community impact of markets) to the logic we will encounter in Bobbitt, and the microsocial enquiry that we will find as we read Putnam, tied back to the macropolitical level.

Key terms

Macrosocial enquiry – three logics

princely state

kingly state

territorial state



market state


Herman, A. (2007). How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe’s Poorest Nation Created Our World and Ever ything in It. Random House LLC.


Moore, B. (1993). Social origins of dictatorship and democracy: Lord and peasant in the making of the modern world (Vol. 268). Beacon Press.


Skocpol, T., & Somers, M. (1980). The uses of comparative history in macrosocial inquiry. Comparative studies in society and history22(02), 174-197

David Last, updated September 2014, lastdav@gmail.com