In sociology, however, centre–periphery models are most likely to be encountered in studies of economic underdevelopment and dependency and tend to draw on the Marxist tradition of analysis. The use of the centre–periphery model in this context assumes that the world system of production and distribution is the unit of analysis. It also assumes that underdevelopment is not a simple descriptive term that refers to a backward, traditional economy, but rather a concept rooted in a general theory of imperialism.
According to the centre–periphery model, underdevelopment is not the result of tradition, but is produced as part of the process necessary for the development of capitalism in the central capitalist countries—and its continued reproduction on a world scale. The theory assumes a central core of capitalist countries, in which the economy is determined by market forces, there is a high organic composition of capital, and wage-levels are relatively high. In the peripheral countries, on the other hand, there is a low organic composition of capital and wage-levels do not meet the cost of reproduction of labour. Indeed, the cost of reproduction of the labour-force may be subsidized by non-capitalist economies, particularly rural subsistence production. Likewise, in peripheral economies, production and distribution may be determined largely by non-market forces such as kinship or patron-client relations.
The centre–periphery model thus suggests that the global economy is characterized by a structured relationship between economic centres which, by using military, political, and trade power, extract an economic surplus from the subordinate peripheral countries. One major factor in this is the inequality between wage-levels between core and periphery, which make it profitable for capitalist enterprises to locate part or all of their production in underdeveloped regions. The extraction of profit depends on that part of the cost of the reproduction of the labour-force that is not met by wages being met in the non-capitalist sector. Thus, according to proponents of the core–periphery model, the appearance that capitalism is developing traditional and backward societies by locating enterprises in underdeveloped regions masks the structural relationship by which capital develops and prospers at the expense (or progressive underdevelopment) of non-capitalist economies.
The centre–periphery model has led to two main debates. The first concerns the elaboration of a theory of modes of production, which attempts to conceptualize different economic forms in terms of the relationship between production and distribution in each mode. The other tries to tease out the exact links between particular areas of the centre and periphery through examining the articulation of different modes of production. Both debates may often appear to be excessively theoretical—or at least of little practical significance. The centre-periphery model is also implicated in various types of world-system theories (see, for example, A. G. Frank , Dependent Accumulation, 1978
, and S. Amin , Unequal Development, 1976
). See also ECONOMIC DUALISM; NEO-COLONIALISM.
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