Structuralism and individualism in economic analysis: The "contractionary devaluation debate" in development economics
This dissertation argues that the debates about the appropriate economic policies to follow in the developing world within the field of development economics are at heart debates about the appropriate ontology to ascribe to agents within the developing world. In particular, the field of development economics has been split by analytical debates between two distinct ontological traditions: structuralism and individualism. This struggle between structuralist and individualists operates within the boundaries set by a commitment (shared by both ontological traditions) to two overlapping maps: (i) Cartesianism as the only acceptable mode of undertaking economic analysis, and (ii) deviance from the Western world as the defining characteristic of the developing world.
The consequence of the struggle between structuralist and individualist traditions, carried out within the ontological contours set by Cartesianism and deviance, has been to create a set of unresolvable debates within the field, and a proclivity for intellectual swings within the field from one pole of the structure-agent dichotomy to the other. This continual swinging shapes policy shifts which affect the lives of millions within the developing world.
The dissertation demonstrates the operation of the ontological struggles and limits described above by examining the shift within the field of development economics from the paradigm of import substituting industrialization to the paradigm of neoliberal pro-market reforms. It also demonstrates the concrete effects of this struggle between ontological paradigms on the lives of those living in the developing world by examining one specific policy debate within the field in detail--the contractionary devaluation debate about the effect of exchange rate devaluations on developing countries.
The dissertation ends by providing an alternative theoretical framework, Marxian Overdetermination, which uses a different set of ontological assumptions and eschews the limits set by Cartesianism and deviance. This framework is used to provide a very different assessment of the impact of exchange rate devaluations on the lives of those in the developing world, and to propose a different set of strategies to follow for improving the living conditions of poor and exploited members of the developing world.