Evaluating the Marxist Perspective on Education

Marxists argue that the education system performs the following functions…

  1. It is the ideological state apparatus
  2. It creates a passive and subservient workforce
  3. It reproduces class inequality
  4. It legitimates (justifies) class inequality

You might like to review the Marxist Perspective on Education before reading this post. Once you’ve fully understood the key ideas of Marxism on education, you should be able to use the items below to evaluate each of the above claims…

Item A: Statistics on Educational Achievement by Social Class Background

The latest research study which suggests children from a lower social class background are disadvantated in education compared to their wealthy peers

Bright students from disadvantaged backgrounds are falling behind after their GCSEs and are almost half as likely to achieve three A-levels as their better-off peers, according to research published on Tuesday.

Poorer youngsters’ life chances are further compromised as they are considerably less likely to study the sort of A-levels that will help them get into leading universities.

The report by Oxford University’s department of education found that just 35% of disadvantaged students (distinguished by their being on free school meals) who were identified as highly able at the age of 11 went on to get three A-levels compared with 60% of their wealthier counterparts.

Only 33% of the disadvantaged group took one or more A-levels in the so-called “facilitating subjects” favoured by universities, such as maths, English, the sciences, humanities and modern languages, compared with 58% of their better-advantaged peers.

Item B: A recent Longitudinal Study found: ‘three years after graduation, those from more advantaged socio-economic backgrounds and those who attended private schools are more likely to be in the ‘top jobs’….

‘This research shows that even if we compare students from the same institution type, taking the same subjects and with the same degree class, socioeconomic status and private schooling still affects an individual’s chance of securing a top job,’ the report concluded.

‘An individual who has a parent who is a manager and who attended a private school is around 7 percentage points more likely to enter the highest status occupations. Male graduates from a managerial background who attended a private school are around 10 percentage points more likely to enter the highest status occupations.

But academics do not know whether the advantage given to private school pupils is simply the ‘old boys’ network’ or whether they learn better social skills so appear more confident in job interviews.

‘Our results indicate a persistent advantage from having attended a private school. This raises questions about whether the advantage that private school graduates have is because they are better socially or academically prepared, have better networks or make different occupational choices.’

Item C: The recent BBC documentary ‘Who Gets the Best Jobs’ uses interviews with graduates, employees and experts  and explores the reasons why wealthy and connected graduates get the best jobs and why poorer graduates lose out, suggesting our system is not meritocratic.

Item D: The growth of the creative industries in the UK

New figures published in 2015 reveal that the UK’s Creative Industries, which includes the film, television and music industries, are now worth £76.9 billion per year to the UK economy.

Key Statistics on the Creative Industries


  • Growth of almost ten per cent in 2013, three times that of wider UK economy
  • Accounted for 1.7 million jobs in 2013, 5.6 per cent of UK jobs
  • 2015 set to be another bumper year for UK creative outputSajid Javid, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said:The UK’s Creative Industries are recognised as world leaders around the globe and today’s figures show that they continue to grow from strength to strength. They are one of our most powerful tools in driving growth, outperforming all other sectors of industry and their contribution to the UK economy is evident to all. 

Related Posts 

Assess the Marxist Perspective on the Role of Education in Society – An essay which should easily get you full marks if this question comes up in the A level Sociology exam (assuming you refer to the relevant item!)

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The Prevent Agenda – Arguments For and Against

The Prevent Agenda is a recent social policy which requires schools (among other public bodies) to assist the government in preventing people from being drawn into terrorism, which is worth looking at because it’s relevant to several areas of the A level syllabus – education, crime and deviance, ethnicity, and social policy.

The Prevent duty: what it means for schools and childcare providers

From 1 July 2015 all schools are subject to a duty under section 26 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015,  to have “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”. This duty is known as the Prevent duty.

Below is a brief summary of some of the main points from the Government’s guidance to schools

It is essential that staff are able to identify children who may be vulnerable to radicalisation, and know what to do when they are identified.

Schools and childcare providers can also build pupils’ resilience to radicalisation by promoting fundamental British values and enabling them to challenge extremist views.

“Extremism” is vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.  We also include in our definition of extremism calls for the death of members of our armed forces, whether in this country or overseas.

Schools and childcare providers should be aware of the increased risk of online radicalisation, as terrorist organisations such as ISIL seek to radicalise young people through the use of social media and the internet.

There is no single way of identifying an individual who is likely to be susceptible to a terrorist ideology. Children at risk of radicalisation may display different signs or seek to hide their views.  The Prevent duty does not require teachers or childcare providers to carry out unnecessary intrusion into family life, but schools are expected to liase with social services where it seems appropriate

School staff and childcare providers should understand when it is appropriate to make a referral to the Channel programme. Channel is a programme which focuses on providing support at an early stage to people who are identified as being vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism.

Stats so Far….

There were 7500 referalls in 2015-16, about 20 a day, with 1/10 being deemed at risk of radicalisation with a referral to the ‘Channel’ programme.

What are the arguments for the Prevent agenda?

Leicestershire Chief Constable Simon Cole (also the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for Prevent), argues Prevent is essential to fighting terrorism and describes the scheme as “putting an arm around” people at risk of radicalisation.

“We try and divert, allow people the opportunity to help them make better decisions. It’s absolutely fundamental,” he said.

“It has enabled us to try and help stabilise communities and stop people getting us into a cycle of aggravation.”

He cited a case in which people referred a young man from the Midlands who had been considering travelling to fight in Syria. Prevent groups worked with the man and he decided not to go,

“The people he was travelling to meet, we believe, are dead. This is very real stuff,” he said.

Some of the arguements against Prevent

Click on link four below for lots of different types of criticism – to summarise just a few:

  • It alienates British Muslim communities – let’s face it, most of the focus is on Islamic radicalisation, especially when 9/10 people thought to be at risk aren’t
  • It doesn’t stop everyone from being radicalised, even though so many people who aren’t at risk are caught in its net, the very existence of the Prevent agenda could just make those people who are inclined to get radicalised to be more cautious.
  • It means an increased level of surveillance of some people (links to categorical suspicion nicely).
  • It’s something else teachers now have to do on top of teaching
  • Should schools be politicised in this way?


  1. Prevent – Advice for Schools (Department for Education)
  2. BBC News Article (December 2016) – Arguments for Prevent, and some problems
  3. Analysis – the Prevent strategy and its problems
  4. The Guardian – lots of articles criticizing Prevent
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Mobile Phones and Digital Nomadism

Mobile phones seem to be having a profound impact on the way we interact with each other and on how we understand ourselves and our relation to place. Their increased usage has mean that many of us have moved away from ‘chance socialness’ to ‘chosen socialness’; they encourage us to not be nostalgic about physical spaces, but rather to construct our identities in virtual spaces while being mobile in physical space; and they also make communication more democratic and open, as more people are connected than ever before and communication has become more visible rather than invisible (via land-lines).

Below is a summary of Leopoldina Fortunati’s theorising about how mobile phones are changing the way some of us think about our identities in relation to our sense of place. It’s a very positive take on the impact of mobile phones on these aspects of social life.

Fortunati uses the term “nomadic intimacy” to describe how people in public situations use their mobile phones to interact with people they already know (“chosen socialness”) rather than interacting with strangers who are physically present (“chance socialness”) (Fortunati, 2002: 515-516)


They’re not zombies, they’re just rejecting ‘chance socialness’ in favour of ‘chosen socialness’

Our sense of being part of social groups is no longer based on belonging to fixed
places but increasingly about belonging to communicative networks. As a consequence,
people tend to suffer less from nostalgia, the sense of loss of one’s own relationship with
‘sacred’ places like home, and familiar territory. “So, the use of the mobile phone ends up by reinforcing profane space, constructing a space without addresses, without precise
localizations, playing down the specifically geographical and anagraphical aspect….to the point that the mobile phone in itself becomes a true mobile home” (Fortunati, 2002: 520).

The mobile phone’s phatic function, that is being in touch rather than the actual content of the conversation or message, enables us to rapidly regain stability. “It is the possibility of contacting its own communicative network at any moment that has the powerful effect of reducing the uncertainty that mobility brings with it.” (Fortunati, 2002: 523).

Finally, she argues that the mobile phone favors the development of a democratic society, because “the mobile has granted the same communicative rights to nomadic persons and those that are sedentary or immobile” and in addition “it has extended individual access to mobile communication also to members of the family up to yesterday ‘invisible’ with the fixed phone” (Fortunati, 2002: 525, my addition in brackets).

For Fortunati, the digital nomad is no longer dependent on fixed places but feels at home anywhere and is always in control.


Michiel De Lange (2009) Draft of Dissertation


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The Millennium Development Goals – How Much Progress was Made?

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were adopted by 189 nations during the UN Millennium Summit in September 2000. Eight MDGs were developed which responded to the world’s main development challenges.


The goals ranged from halving extreme poverty rates to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by the target date of 2015 – form a blueprint agreed to by all the world’s countries and all the world’s leading development institutions.

They have so far galvanized unprecedented efforts to meet the needs of the world’s poorest. The UN is also working with governments, civil society and other partners to build on the momentum generated by the MDGs and carry on with an ambitious post-2015 development agenda.

The MDGs aimed to measure development in eight categories, using 60 separate indicators. The final two goals were aimed more at developed countries, aiming to monitor things such as carbon dioxide emissions, development aid donations and fair trade rules.

Following the success of the eight MDGs, they have since ‘developed’ into seventeen global goals for sustainable development

The Global Goals for Sustainable Development

Sustainable Development Goals.jpg

The Millennium Development Goals – Progress to 2015 (selected)

The infographics below provide the headlines….


mdg 2 education.jpg

mdg3 gender equality.jpg


mdg 5 reproductive health.jpg

mdg 6 disease.jpg

MDG7 drinking water.jpg


And some further MDG achievements….

  • The proportion of undernourished people in developed regions  halved between 1990 and 2015.
  • In 1990, nearly half of the population in the developing regions lived on less than $1.25 a day. This rate dropped to 14 per cent in 2015.
  • The average proportion of women in parliament has doubled
  • The net loss of forests has reduced from an average of 8.3 million hectares annually in the 1990s to an average of 5.2 million hectares annually between 2000 and 2010.


Remaining Development Goals (selected)

  • At the global level more than 800 million people are still living in extreme poverty
  • Globally, an estimated 795 people are malnourished
  • Globally, 300 million workers lived below the $1.25 a day poverty line in 2015.
  • The proportion of the working-age population that is employed – has fallen from 62 per cent in 1991 to 60 per cent in 2015.
  • In countries affected by conflict, the proportion of out-of-school children increased from 30 per cent in 1999 to 36 per cent in 2012.
  • Globally, about three quarters of working-age men participate in the labour force, compared to half of working-age women.
  • Women continue to experience significant gaps in terms of poverty, labour market and wages, as well as participation in private and public decision-making
  • Between 1990 and 2012, global emissions of carbon dioxide increased by over 50 per cent.


The map below shows the regions where most and least progress was made over the 15 years of the Millennium Development Goals.


Sub-Saharan Africa remains the region where the most progress is to be made.

Some strengths of the MDGs as indicators of development

  • Much broader range of indicators (60) – more validity! – Good for professional development workers!
  • Includes the developed nations (these also have targets – 7 and 8 especially)
  • NB – These have now become the ‘sustainable development goals’.

Some limitations of the MDGs as indicators of development

  • Not very ambitious – halving poverty by 2015, given up on the idea of ‘economic growth’.
  • Problems with some indicators – e.g. ‘finishing primary school’ doesn’t tell us about quality of education or how many days actually spent in school.
  • Do the MDGs lack ambition?

Sources Used

The main source used to write this post was the United Nations ‘Millennium Development Goals Progress Page’.



Further Reading

United Nations: The Millennium Development Goals Report 2015



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Post-Development Perspectives

The Post-Development Perspective became popular in the 1990s. Theorists from within this perspective are critical of Western models of development, arguing that development was always unjust, that it never worked, and that developing countries should find their own pathways to development.

Post-Development as a Rejection of the West

Post-Development as a Rejection of the West

Escobar (2008) criticised modernisation theory for being ethnocentric. He argued that it was only ever interested in making poor countries like rich countries and was dismissive of many ancient philosophies and traditions which had worked in poorer countries for thousands of years. According to Escobar this is both arrogant and disrespectful, and created the potential for opposition and conflict.

Escobar argued that the Western model of development justified itself by claiming to be rational and scientific, and therefor neutral and objective. However, in reality, modernisation theory was a top-down approach which treated people and cultures as abstract concepts and statistical figures to be moved up and down in the name of progress. Modernisation theory effectively denied people within developing countries the opportunity to make their own choices and decisions.

Sahlins (1997) argues that Western Aid agencies often incorrectly assume that people who lack material possessions are in poverty and are unhappy. However, he argued that people in developing world may have few possessions, but this does not necessarily mean they are poor. They may actually be happy because they belong to a supportive community and they have the love of their family. This idea has been practically applied in Bhutan where development is measured in terms of Gross National Happiness, rather than Gross National Product.

Other post-development thinkers argue that modernist explanations of underdevelopment have rarely sought contributions from sociologists and economists who actually live in the developing world. McKay argued that development strategies are too often in in the hands of western experts who fail to take account of local knowledge or skills and that development often has little to do with the desires of the target population.

Post-Development sociologists further argue that Western models of development have created a diverse set of problems for the populations of developing societies. Indigenous peoples have been forcibly removed from their homelands, grave environmental damage is being done to the rainforests, children’s labour is being exploited and aggressive marketing of unhealthy products is taking place all over the developing world, all in the name of achieving economic growth and the name of progress.

Some post development sociologists conclude that development is a hoax in that it was never really designed to deal with humanitarian problems, rather it was about helping the industrial world, especially the United States to maintain its economic and cultural dominance of the world.

Consequently, post-development thinkers argue we need alternative models of development rather than the industrial-capitalist model promoted by western countries.

Post-Development Perspectives – How should developing countries develop?

Korten (1995) argued that development needs to be more ‘people centred’ – which means given people more of a say in how their communities (and countries) develop and getting them to play more of a role in the process of development.

Similarly Amartya Sen (1987) argues, development needs to be about giving people independence so they have real power and choice over their day to day situations, it shouldn’t be ‘top down’ coming from the west, via governments and then trickling down to the people.
People Centred Development theorists also have a much broader conception of what ‘development’ could actually mean. They don’t believe that development has to mean them becoming more like the West and development shouldn’t be seen in narrow terms such as industrialising and bringing about economic growth, development projects should be much smaller scale, much more diverse, and much more coming from the people living in developing countries.

Because of its support for diversity, there are many different paths to development within the Post Development/ People Centred Development perspective. Examples include:

  • Socialist models of development – where governments control most aspects of economic life – such as in Cuba
  •  The Islamic model of development – adopted by Iran – where ‘development’ means applying Islamic principles to as many aspects of social life as possible, rather than focussing on economic growth as the primary goal.
  • Indigenous peoples maintain traditional lifestyles, effectively rejecting most of what the west has to offer is also something post-development perspectives support, as in the example of Bhutan


Appropriate Development

Post-development perspectives aren’t against charities or western governments giving aid, but they want aid to be ‘appropriate’ to local communities where development is taking place. Thus this perspective generally supports the thousands of small scale fair trade and micro finance projects around the world are good examples of PCD style projects embedded in a global network.

Criticisms of Post-Development Perspectives

All the other theories argue that, eventually, if a poor country really wants to improve the lives of its people en masse in the long term, it needs money, this can only come from industrialisation and trade, is it really possible to improve standards of living through small scale projects?

Focussing solely on small scale development projects still leaves local communities in developing countries relatively poor compared to us in the West, is this really social justice?

In a globalising world it simply isn’t realistic to expect developing countries (such as Bhutan or groups living in the Rain Forest) to be able to tackle future problems if they remain underdeveloped – eventually population growth or climate change or refugees or drugs or loggers are going to infiltrate their boarders, and it is much easier to respond to these problems if a country has a lot of money a well functioning state and a high level of technology.

Post-Development perspectives are too relativistic – is it really the case that all cultures have equal value and diverse definitions and paths to development should be accepted? Do we really just accept that patriarchy and FGM are OK in places like Saudi Arabia and Somalia because that’s what their populations have ‘chosen’?

Related Posts

‘People Centred Development’ is closely related term to Post-Development – for the purposes of A level sociology, you can effectively treat them as the same thing!

Modernisation Theory was one of the main theories of development which Post-Development perspectives criticise:

Further Reading

Arturo Escobar – a post-development thinker to be reckoned with (Guardian Article)

This is a useful blog post on post-development perspectives


This post was mainly written using the following source:

Aiken D, and Moore, C (2016) AQA A Level Sociology Student Book 2, Collins.



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Feminist Theory: A Summary

Introduction – The Basics

  • Inequality between men and women is universal and the most significant form of inequality

  • Gender norms are socially constructed not determined by biology and can thus be changed.

  • Patriarchy is the main cause of gender inequality – women are subordinate because men have more power.

  • Feminism is a political movement; it exists to rectify sexual inequalities, although strategies for social change vary enormously.

  • There are four types of Feminism – Radical, Marxist, Liberal, and Difference.


Radical Feminism

  • Blames the exploitation of women on men. It is primarily men who have benefitted from the subordination of women. Women are ‘an oppressed group.

  • Society is patriarchal – it is dominated and ruled by men – men are the ruling class, and women the subject class.

  • Rape, violence and pornography are methods through which men have secured and maintained their power over women. Andrea Dworkin (1981)

  • Radical feminists have often been actively involved in setting up and running refuges for women who are the victims of male violence.

  • Rosemarie Tong (1998) distinguishes between two groups of radical feminist:

  • Radical-libertarian feminists believe that it is both possible and desirable for gender differences to be eradicated, or at least greatly reduced, and aim for a state of androgyny in which men and women are not significantly different.

  • Radical-cultural feminists believe in the superiority of the feminine. According to Tong radical cultural feminists celebrate characteristics associated with femininity such as emotion, and are hostile to those characteristics associated with masculinity such as hierarchy.

  • The various alternatives suggested by Radical Feminists include separatism – women only communes, and Matrifocal households. Some also practise political Lesbianism and political celibacy as they view heterosexual relationships as “sleeping with the enemy.”

Marxist Feminism

  • Capitalism rather than patriarchy is the principal source of women’s oppression, and capitalists as the main beneficiaries.

  • Women’s subordination plays a number of important functions for capitalism:

  • Women reproduce the labour force for free (socialisation is done for free)

  • Women absorb anger – women keep the husbands going.

  • Because the husband has to support his wife and children, he is more dependent on his job and less likely to demand wage increases.

  • The traditional nuclear also performs the function of ‘ideological conditioning’ – it teaches the ideas that the Capitalist class require for their future workers to be passive.

  • The disadvantaged position of women is seen to be a consequence of the emergence of private property and their lack of ownership of the means of production

  • They are more sensitive to differences between women who belong to the ruling class and proletarian families. Marxist Feminists believe that there is considerable scope for co-operation between working class women and men and that both can work together

  • In Communist society, Marxist feminists believe that gender inequalities will disappear.

Liberal Feminism

  • Nobody benefits from existing inequalities: both men and women are harmed

  • The explanation for gender inequality lies not so much in structures and institutions of society but in its culture and values.

  • Socialisation into gender roles has the consequence of producing rigid, inflexible expectations of men and women

  • Discrimination prevents women from having equal opportunities

  • Liberal Feminists do not seek revolutionary changes: they want changes to take place within the existing structure.

  • The creation of equal opportunities is the main aim of liberal feminists – e.g. the Sex Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act.

  • Liberal feminists try to eradicate sexism from the children’s books and the media.

  • Liberal Feminist ideas have probably had the most impact on women’s lives – e.g. mainstreaming has taken place.

Difference Feminism/ Postmodern Feminism

  • Do not see women as a single homogenous group. MC/WC ,

  • Criticised preceding feminist theory for claiming a ‘false universality’ (white, western heterosexual, middle class)

  • Criticised preceding Feminists theory of being essentialist

  • Critiqued preceding Feminist theory as being part of the masculinist Enlightenment Project

  • Postmodern Feminism – concerned with language (discourses) and the relationship between power and knowledge rather than ‘politics and opportunities’

  • Helene Cixoux – An example of a postmodern/ destabilising theorist

Criticisms of Feminist Theories


1. Radical Feminists – ignores other sources of inequality such as sexual violence.

2. Patriarchal systems existed before capitalism, in tribal societies for example.

3. The experience of women has not been particularly happy under communism.


1. Based upon male assumptions and norms such as individualism and competition, and encourages women to be more like men and therefor deny the ‘value of qualities traditionally associated with women such as empathy.

2. Liberalism is accused of emphasising public life at the expense of private life.

3. Radical and Marxist Feminists – it fails to take account of deeper structural inequalities

4. Difference Feminists argue it is an ethnocentric perspective – based mostly on the experiences of middle class, educated women.


1. The concept of patriarchy has been criticised for ignoring variations in the experience of oppression.

2. Some critics argue that it focuses too much on the negative experiences of women, failing to recognise that some women can have happy marriages for example.

3. It tends to portray women as universally good and men as universally bad, It has been accused of man hating, not trusting all men.


  1. Walby, women are still oppressed by objective social structures – namely Patriarchy

  2. Dividing women sub-groups weakens the movement for change.

Related Posts 

Feminist Perspectives on the Family

Sources Used to Write this Post 

  • Haralambos and Holborn (2013) – Sociology Themes and Perspectives, Eighth Edition, Collins. ISBN-10: 0007597479
  • Chapman et al (2016) – A Level Sociology Student Book Two [Fourth Edition] Collins. ISBN-10: 0007597495
  • Robb Webb et al (2016) AQA A Level Sociology Book 2, Napier Press. ISBN-10: 0954007921
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Equatorial Guinea – High Income but Low Human Development (2017)

equatorial-guineaSince the 1990s, Equatorial Guinea has become one of the largest oil producing countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, and it is now the richest country per capita in Africa. It ranks 43rd in the world for gross domestic product per capita.

However,  the oil revenue is distributed very unequally and most people see no benefit from the high GDP. the country ranks 144th on the UN’s 2014 Human Development Index.

What this means is that Equatorial Guinea fails to convert a relatively high income into high life expectancy and formal education for its people.



Equatorial Guinea – High GNI per Capita, Low Human Development (1)


Equatorial Guinea – Why High Income but Low Human Development?

For starters – Equatorial Guinea has been ‘blessed’ with a natural supply of oil and gas.

Most of the country’s income comes from oil and gas exports, as the export tree-map below shows (2012 figures)


However, the income doesn’t trickle down because of an autocratic government which controls the oil industry and uses the revenue to enrich itself and keep itself in power. 

The current president of Equatorial Guinea is Teodoro Obiang, he has been quite literally running the country for three decades. He has extensive powers, including naming and dismissing members of the cabinet, making laws by decree,  negotiating and ratifying treaties and serving as commander in chief of the armed forces.The anti-corruption lobby Transparency International describes Obiang as one of the world’s “most kleptocratic” living autocrats and has put Equatorial Guinea in the top 12 of its list of most corrupt states.

The advocacy group Global Witness has been lobbying the United States to act against Obiang’s son, Teodorin, who is vice-president and a government minister. It says there is credible evidence that he spent millions buying a Malibu mansion and private jet using corruptly acquired funds.

During the three decades of his rule, Obiang has shown little tolerance for opposition. While the country is nominally a democracy, elections have generally been considered a sham. According to Human Rights Watch, the dictatorship of President Obiang has used an oil boom to entrench and enrich itself further at the expense of the country’s people. 

There’s also the fact that The U.S. Government and U.S. Corporations Support Obiang

Without the help of international oil corporations, it’s unlikely that Equatorial Guinea would have been able to drill for oil – think about it, drilling for oil requires heavy industry and lots of investment.

Exon Mobile, the USA’s biggest oil company, has been operating in Equatorial Guinea since the mid 1990s and controls a 75% stake in Equatorial Guinea’s most productive oil field, which produces 270 000 barrels of oil a day (the market value of oil is currently $50 a day, which means this one field returns a revenue of around $1.4 million a day, or around $400 million a year).

NB the government (which basically means Obiang’s family) only controls a 5% stake of this particular field, but this tiny stake from this one oil field returns them something in the region of $300 000 a day, and there are many more oil fields.

Despite his dismal human rights and corruption record, Obiang was recently invited (in 2014) to a U.S. African summit – along with a whole load of other human rights abusers on the continent. The general gist of the article is that the U.S. is tolerant of corrupt governments in Africa because if they don’t do business with them, then the Chinese will, there’s also the fact that they might be useful in combating Islamic extremism.

Related Posts (forthcoming)

This country case-study is also useful for illustrating how TNCs are not interested in promoting social development in other parts of the world.

(1) You’ll notice from the graph above that Cuba is a good example of a country which has a relatively high human development compared to its GNI per capita, more on that later. 



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The Human Development Index


The United Nations use The Human Development Index (HDI) as a summary measure for assessing long-term progress in three basic dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, access to knowledge and a decent standard of living. It provides a useful ‘snap-shot’ of a country’s economic and social development.

Human Development Index Map 2014.jpg

The Human Development Index

The Human Development Index measures Human Development using four indicators

  • To measure health – Life expectancy at birth
  • To measure education – the average (mean) number years of adult education adults over 25 have received and the number of expected years of education children attending school can expect
  • To measure standard of living – Gross National Income per capita (PPP)

Each country is then given a rank from between 0 and 1 based on how well it scores in relation to ‘constructed minimum’ and ‘observed maximum scores for each of these criteria. The minimum and maximum scores for each criteria are as below

Minimum scores* Perceived maximums
Life expectancy at birth 20 83.2
Mean years of adult education adults over 25 have received 0 13.2
number of years of education children attending school can expect 0 20.6
Gross National Income per capita (PPP) 163 108, 211

(*This is the level below which the UN believes there is no prospect for human development!)

How does the HDI work out a country’s score? – it’s quite easy – if a country has a life expectancy of 83.2, and all the other maximums, it would score one, if it had a life expectancy of 20, and all the other minimums it would score zero. If it was half way between the minimum and maximum – it would score 0.5 – NB by the UK’s standards, this would be a pretty low level of human development!

The Human Development Index – Best and Worst Performers


Rank Country IHDI
1  Norway 0.893
2  Netherlands 0.861
3   Switzerland 0.861
4  Australia 0.858
5  Denmark 0.856
6  Germany 0.853
7  Iceland 0.846
8  Sweden 0.846

Towards the Bottom 

137  Haiti 0.296
139  Liberia 0.280
140  Democratic Republic of the Congo 0.276
142  Mali 0.270
145  Burkina Faso 0.261
146  Guinea 0.261
147  Guinea-Bissau 0.254
148  Niger 0.246
149  Sierra Leone 0.241

What do the scores above mean?

  • If a country scores 1-0.788 it is classified as a ‘developed country’ with ‘high human development’ – as are 42 countries – most European countries come into this category. These are typically the countries with GNIs of $40K per capita or more, 13 full years of education and 80+ life expectancies.
  • If a country scores 0.48 or lower it is classified as having Low human development – e.g. Sierra Leonne – here you will see a GNI per capita of below $1000, 10 years or less of school and life expectancies in the 60s.

Advantages of the Human Development Index

  • It provides us with a much fuller picture of how well developed a country is, allowing for fuller comparisons to be made.
  • It shows us that while there is a general correlation between economic and social development, two countries with the same level of economic development may have different levels of social development. See below for examples.
  • Some argue that this is a more human centred approach, concerned more with actual human welfare than just mere economics. It gets more to ‘the point’ of economic development.

Two Limitations of the Human Development Index

  • Relying on the HDI score alone may disguise a lack of social development in a country – for example a very high GNI can compensate for poor life-expectancy, as is the case in the United States.
  • It is still only provides a fairly limited indication of social development – only health and education are covered – there are many other ways of measuring health and education.


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Economic Indicators of Development

International organizations such as the World Bank prefer to measure development using economic indicators. There are three main economic indicators which are used to give an indication of the overall economic health of a country:

Three Economic Indicators of Development

  • Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the total economic value of goods and services (expressed in US dollars) produced within the borders of a country in the course of a year and available for consumption in the market place.
  • Gross National Product (GNP) is the same but includes the value of all services produced at home and abroad. A country such as Ghana will have a relatively similar GDP to GNP because it doesn’t have many companies which produce things abroad: most production takes place within Ghana. America, on the other hand, which is where many Transnational Corporations are based, has a much higher GNP than GDP – Think about MacDonald’s for example –all of those Big Macs sold outside of the USA won’t appear in the GDP of the USA but will appear in the GNP.
  • Gross National Income (GNI) a hideous oversimplification of this is that it’s ‘Gross Domestic Product + the additional income that self-employed people pay themselves +income received from abroad’. This matters to a lot of developing countries who don’t produce much but have large diasporas, or populations living permanently abroad. Take Gambia for example (the country Paul Mendy takes your old toys to at Christmas) – 1/6th of its GNI is from money sent by relatives who abroad, this would not be included in either GDP or GNP.

You get slightly different country rankings if you use GNP or GDP rather than GNI. Don’t worry too much about the differences between the above – with a few exceptions* most developing countries tend to have similar GDPs, GNPs and GNI*s.

GDP and GNI per capita in India
*If you look at India’s Gross Domestic Product, it is the 7th richest country in the world, but if you look at its Gross National Income per Capita, it falls to 151st, due to its enormous population, abut also due to the fact that it consumes a lot of the goods it produces itself, so it doesn’t export much, so there’s not a lot of income coming into the country.

Two further important terms – ‘Per Capita’ and ‘Purchasing Power Parity’

  • Gross National Product Per Capita – GDP/ GNP are often divided by the total population of a country in order to provide a figure per head of population, known as GDP/ GNP per capita.
  • The cost of living varies in different countries – so one dollar will buy you a lot more rice in India than it would in America. Purchasing Power Parity figures for GNI per capita factor in the cost of living which is useful as it gives you more of an idea of the actual standard of living in that country for the average person.


Gross National Income Per Capita

This section provides a closer look different levels of ‘development’ according to this particular economic indicator. Remember, global rankings will vary depending on whether you use GNI, GNP, or GDP. 

One measurement of development The World Bank uses is Gross National Income (GNI), which can be crudely defined as the total value of goods and services produced in a country in a year plus any income from abroad. If you divide GNI by the number of people in the country, you get the average amount of income per person, or GNI per capita.

GNI per capita is widely regarded as a good indicator of the general standard of living in a country, and it is a good starting point for giving us an idea of the extent of global inequalities between countries. For example, the United Kingdom has a GNI per capita of about $43 000, while India has a GNI per capita of about $1600, which is more than 20 times greater.

The World Bank’s map of countries by Gross National Income per capita map is a useful, interactive resources to easily find out how most countries fair by this indicator of development. 

The World Bank’s Four Income Categories

The World Bank categorises countries into one of four categories based Gross National Income per capita (per head): high, upper middle, lower middle and low income countries.

GNI per capita world bank 2014.png

  • High income = $12,736 or more – about 60 countries, including most of Europe
  • Upper middle income = $4,126 – $12,735 – about 60 countries, includes South Africa and China
  • Lower middle income = $1,046 – $4,125 – about 50 countries, mostly in Africa, includes India
  • Low income = $1,045 or less – about 30 countries, mostly in Sub-Saharan


Comparing countries by GNI per Capita and total GDP

Top ten countries – GNI per capita


Monaco – ranked number 1 in the world for GNI per capita

1  Monaco 186,950
2  Liechtenstein 115,530
 Bermuda (UK) 106,140
3  Norway 93,820
 Channel Islands (UK) 65,440
4  Qatar 85,430
5   Switzerland 84,180
 Isle of Man (UK) 83,930
6  Luxembourg 77,000
7  Australia 60,070
8  Denmark 58,590
9  Sweden 57,810
10  United States 54,960

Top ten countries Total by Gross Domestic Product

United States.jpg

The United States – ranked number 1 in the world for total GDP

1  United States 18,561,930
 European Union[n 1][19] 17,110,523
2  China[n 2] 11,391,619
3  Japan 4,730,300
4  Germany 3,494,900
5  United Kingdom 2,649,890
6  France 2,488,280
7  India 2,250,990
8  Italy 1,852,500
9  Brazil 1,769,600
10  San Marino 64,443

Question to consider: Why do you think the top ten countries are so different when judged by total GDP compared to GNI per capita?

Evaluating the Usefulness of Economic Indicators of Development

Three Advantages of using GDP/ GNP/ GNI as an indicator of development

  1. GNI figures provide a snap-shot indication of the huge difference between the more developed and less developed countries. In 2016, the GNP per capita in the UK was $43000 while in India it was only $1600. This means that there is 20 times as much money per person in the UK compared to in India
  2. Gross National Income figures are also closely correlated with social development – generally speaking the higher the GNI per capita, the better the education and health indicators are in a country.
  3. Total GDP figures give us an indication of who the most powerful nations are on earth in terms of military power. It’s not a perfect correlation, but the USA, China, Russia and the UK are all in the top ten for GDP and they are the biggest arms producers and consumers in the world too.

Four limitations of using GDP/ GNP/ GNI as an indicators of development

  1. Quality of life (Social Development) may be higher or lower than suggested by GNP per capita.
  2. They don’t tell us about inequalities within countries. The USA has one of the highest GNPs in the world but some extreme poverty.
  3. A lot of production in developing countries may not be included. For example, subsistence based production is consumed locally in the community, and not sold in the market place. Similarly goods obtained illegally on the black market are not included in GNP measurement
  4. They are very western concepts, equating production and economic growth with development. Some countries may not want economic growth and have different goals (Bhutan)

The United States – economically developed but socially retarded? 

The USA is a good example of a country that demonstrates why we can’t rely on economic indicators alone to give us a valid indication of how developed a country is. Despite ranking number 1 for total GDP, the USA does a lot worse on many social indicators of development – See this post – ‘The USA – an undeveloped country?’ for more details.

Review Questions 

  • Define Gross National Income Per Capita and be able to identify some high income and lower income countries.
  • Explain the difference between GNI, GDP, GNP, and understand the significance of Purchasing Power Parity.
  • Outline three strengths of using economic indicators of development
  • Outline at least three reasons why GNP may not be valid measurements of ‘development’
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Defining ‘Development’

International development professionals categorize countries into ‘more’ or ‘less’ developed. This post explores the meanings and origins of these terms, looking at the concepts of first, second and third world, before looking at the criticism that such systems of classification are ethnocentric, western constructions. 

Introduction – what is meant by development?

least developed countries.gif

The term development is used in several ways, but most sociologists agree that development should mean, at the very least, improvement or progress for people who desperately need positive change in their lives.

The main debates about development are underpinned by modernity, meaning that development agencies such as the World Bank and the United Nations aim to replicate within developing societies the material and cultural experience of modern Western societies such as the United Kingdom and the United States.

Consequently, most sociologists believe that development is about achieving economic growth, and the positive consequences which have generally stemmed from that, such as improvements in life expectancy, mass education and social welfare.

This generally means that most countries in Europe are defined as being ‘more developed’ while countries in Sub-Saharan Africa tend to be defined as the ‘least developed’.

Ghana, in West Africa is a good example of a ‘less developed country’

ghana-human-developmentKey Statistics 

  • Population: 29 million
  • GDP (nominal) per capita – $1480 (153rd/ 197)
  • Life Expectancy at Birth – 66.6 years (172nd)
  •  Infant Mortality Rate – 32/ 1000 live births (52nd)
  • Literacy Rates – Male 82%, Female – 71%
  • Child Labour Rate – 36%
  • Urban Population – 56% (3% per year growth)
  • Main export – Cocoa Beans (50% of exports)
  • Best World Cup performance – quarter finals 2010

A Global Hierarchy of Development

Many sociologists and geographers today use the following four categories to distinguish between different ‘levels’ of economic and social development.

Category Key features of countries Examples
More economically developed countries


These are the wealthy industrial-capitalist countries which generally experience economic growth year on year. Their populations enjoy a good standard of living, which means high life expectancy of 80+ years, free primary and secondary education and access to good quality housing and consumer goods are the norm. Western European countries



Newly industrialized countries


These are the so-called ‘Asian-Tiger’ economies of which have rapidly industrialised in the past 40 years and which today have a large share of the global market in computers, electronics, plastics and textiles. China


South Korea

Less economically developed countries


Societies which have experienced extensive urbanization and therefor positive economic growth. However, the economies of these societies are also heavily dependent on agriculture, and extraction of raw materials. Poverty is still a big problem in many of these countries. Brazil,





economically developed countries


The poorest countries in the world, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa where absolute poverty is the daily norm. These societies experience low life expectancy of around 60 years, and high child mortality rates, linked to preventable diseases such as malaria. They also lack basic infrastructure such as roads, electricity and clean water. Many of these countries also experience high levels of conflict, which is both a cause and consequences of their underdevelopment. Sierra-Leone






Some development thinkers from the ‘post-development perspective’ have criticised the above system of categorisation for being an ethnocentric, Western perspective on development, because it implies that industrialised, wealthy nations are superior, and less economically developed countries in other parts of the world as inferior. The implication of this hierarchy is that all countries should aim to become more like those Western countries at the top.

Questions to consider:

  • In general, do you think that it’s fair to make the generalisation that European countries are more developed than Sub-Saharan African countries?
  • Should less developed countries strive to become more like Western, Industrialised countries?

The Origins of Western Ideas of ‘International Development’

The concept of rich countries helping poor countries to develop emerged after World War II in the context of the Cold War.

By the end of the Second World War many of the countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America had failed to develop and remained poor, and there was concern amongst the leaders of the western developed countries, especially the United States, that communism might spread into many of these countries, potentially harming American business interests abroad and diminishing U.S. Power.

The conventional way of seeing the world was to split it into first, second and third worlds


First World Described the industrialized capitalist world – the USA, Western Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
Second world Described the industrialized communist world – The Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
Third world Described the rest of the world and covered a vast range of countries in different circumstances and at different stages of development, but what most of them shared in common was the fact that they lacked an industrial base, they had not gone through industrialization.

From the perspective of the developed first world, it was essential to encourage the poorer countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America to adopt a capitalist-industrialist model of development in order to prevent them from forming alliances with the communist second world. In short, development was seen as essential to halt the spread of communism.

The term ‘third world’ also made sense from the perspective of many of those in poorer countries: many countries wanted to pursue their own paths to development, without the ‘assistance’ of either the United States or Communist Russia.

It was immediately after World War Two that the main international institutions of development were established – such as The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations, and for decades, aid money was deliberately channeled to those countries most likely to ‘fall into the hands of the communists’.

Dependency Theorists and Post-Development Theorists (covered in a future lesson) have been critical of Western attempts to help third world countries develop. They argue that aid money and aid programmes have really been about maintaining western political and economic superiority, and less about helping poor countries actually develop,

However, since the collapse of communism in the 1990s, and thanks to significant reforms in the way aid money is distributed through international institutions, ‘development’ today seems to be more about actually helping poor countries develop and less about the west maintaining its political and economic superiority.

But there are those who argue that even today the international development agenda really has a deeper, political purpose, and ‘development’ is not necessarily about helping poor countries. For example a quarter of the UK aid budget goes to the military, and much of this is spent fighting.  Islamic extremists in Iraq and Afghanistan, which clearly has a political purpose, although you could just as easily argue that eradicating extremism is a necessary perquisite for any positive change to take place.

Questions to consider

Q1: Why where the countries of the first world concerned to help the countries of the first world develop after World War Two?

Q2: What is the ‘main purpose’ of the three development institutions mentioned above?

Q3: Why were some theorists critical of western attempts to help poor countries develop?

Criticisms of Western Constructs of Development

Writer Eduardo Galeano offers a (self-identified) third world perspective on ‘development’, which serves as a useful criticism of Western concepts of development. You should be able to find three criticisms of western ‘notions’ of development below. 


Eduardo Galeano

It was the promise of the politicians, the justification of the technocrats, and the illusion of the outcast. The Third World will become like the First World – rich, cultivated and happy if it behaves and does what it is told, without saying anything or complaining. WE CAN BE LIKE THEM, proclaimed a gigantic illuminated board along the highway to development.

However, if the poor countries reached the levels of production and waste of the rich countries, our planet would die. Already it is in a coma, seriously contaminated by the industrial civilization and emptied of its last drop of substance by the consumer society.

A further disadvantage with the Western notion of development is that it assumes that those countries that are more economically developed are better… i.e. more developed. In contrast, the developing world contains many worlds, the different melodies of life, their pains and strains: the thousand and one ways of living and speaking, thinking and creating, eating, working, dancing, playing, loving, suffering, and celebrating that we have discovered over so many thousands of years.

A further notion is that using terms such as ‘undeveloped’ implies that these countries are inferior and need help, it justifies intervention when this may not be wanted/ be perceived as interference.

Another, but substantially different, Third World approach to development was offered by the theory of self-reliance, put forward by Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere in 1967. The basic idea was self-reliance, or autonomy. It drew on the ideas of Mahatma Gandhi, who proposed a non-exploitative moral economics in which each level of society, from individual through village to state took only what was necessary and accumulation was perceived to be negative.

Case Study: The Island of Anuta

The island of Anuta, part of the Solomon Islands (population 300) seems pretty idyllic, but would these people be better off if they followed an industrial-capitalist model of development?

I first ‘discovered’ the island of Anuta thanks to the excellent BBC series Tribe, broadcast over a decade ago now. If you can track it down, the DVD is well worth a watch to see how things have changed for the islanders over the last decade.

Review Questions 

  • Outline some of the differences between the least and most developed countries on earth.
  • Explain where the terms ‘first world’, ‘second world’ and ‘third world’ came from, and some of the limitations of these concepts.
  • Outline three criticisms of ‘Western’ ideas of development


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