AAWH 5th Congress  

Asia and the Globe: Connecting the Past with the Present

12-13 October 2022
Jawaharlal Nehru university
New Delhi, India


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Political Economy of Development

The issue of Asian and African development has been inextricably linked with their colonial past. A rich historiography has emerged on this theme over more than a century. At one end it has been argued that the colonial connection led to development in these regions or at least it produced the initial conditions for development. At the other end it is argued that the colonial connection was the cause of the great divergence between the West and the rest, i.e., the rise of the West was predicated upon the decline of the rest, not on its development. A clear understanding of this phenomenon is critical in policy making today. Is development likely to occur through colonial or colonial type connections or is it likely to occur as a result of break from such connections?

Papers in this sub theme will bring in the actual historical experience of various colonial countries during their colonial past. A comparative study of different colonial situations under, e.g., British, French, Dutch, Portuguese, American or Japanese domination can be extremely fruitful. Papers may also analyse the experience of former colonial countries after independence. A special focus could be an effort to understand the extremely successful growth stories in Asia, particularly East and South East Asia, among former colonial countries and bring out what were the driving forces.

Keynote Speaker

B.R. (Tom) Tomlinson

Emeritus Professor of Economic History

SOAS, University of London

Message for AAWH Conference

from Prof B.R.(Tom) Tomlinson


Questions about the political economy of development – in the past, the present or the future – lie at the heart of many investigations into the economic history of all Asian countries.  Asian history from the eighteenth to the twenty-first centuries presents us with accounts of many different types of society and economy, subject to many different forms of imperial influence, by a wide variety of actors from Europe, and also from North America and from within Asia.  What are the particular lessons of these diverse experiences, and can we produce useful general conclusions from them?


Comparative history provides one important way forward.   We should look for comparisons between regions/ colonial territories/states, and within them too.  We should investigate the impact of common features such as external markets, capital investments, labour processes and migrations, institutional structures, and state revenue requirements, on different territories to identify what unites and what divides them. We also need to be aware of differences and changes over time within the broad category of imperialism and colonialism – the empires of the eighteenth century were not the same as those of the twentieth century; the contemporary world economy is very different from that into which decolonised states emerged in the 1950s.


Also, our papers need to interrogate the concept of ‘development’ thoroughly, and try to distinguish what outcomes have been achievable in the past or the future.  Is development just about economic growth, or does it relate to enhancing life-chances for large numbers of people?  Has this best been achieved by allowing global market forces to ‘develop’ Asian economies, or by managing markets to achieve goals of equality and equal opportunity across racial or caste groups, social classes and genders?  The story of Asian countries provides fascinating examples of different case-histories of the political economy of development, and of the market institutions and public policy-responses that have sought to secure growth and equity. India has been at the heart of debates about imperialism and the political economy of development for more than 200 years; these were both subjects with which Jawaharlal Nehru was fully engaged.  So I am looking forward to engaging with you all at the AAWH Conference at JNU to identify the most significant historical lessons and policy prescriptions that this large subject has to offer