“From the universal law of unevenness thus derives another law which… we may call the law of combined development – by which we mean a drawing together of the different stages of the journey, a combining of separate steps, an amalgam of archaic with more contemporary forms”
(Leon Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution)
In recent decades the concept of ‘uneven and combined development’ (U&CD) has come to occupy an increasingly significant position in academic assessments of society and culture. The rise of globalized capitalism, the aggressive expansion of economic neoliberalism, and the associated emergence of global modernity as key concerns of cultural theory have all contributed to a resurgence in the deployment of this term. Together these developments therefore constitute a crucial evolution of the concept from its original inception in the early twentieth century writing of Leon Trotsky. This resurgence is witnessed, for instance, by works such as Michael Löwy’s The Politics of Combined and Uneven Development (1982), Franco Moretti’s Modern Epic: The World-System from Goethe to García Márquez (1996), Fredric Jameson’s A Singular Modernity (2002) and a recent series of articles by political scientist Justin Rosenberg. These interventions embody key moments within the ongoing project of expanding the Trotskyian terminology of a capitalist system that is definitionally uneven yet combined in character into a contemporary form of cultural and historical analysis.
The aim of this conference is to bring together scholars from across a variety of disciplines in order to examine ‘uneven and combined development’ and the issues arising from it: its genesis and history, its theoretical structure, its material manifestations and the renewed importance that it holds today. This is with the wider intention of cultivating a formally interdisciplinary approach to the topic, aiming to expand its boundaries as a methodology and field of study. Building upon the concept’s political and economic foundations, we wish to focus in particular on cultural expressions of and reactions to the reality of a combined and uneven world-system – exploring the ways in which the existence of that system has been manifested in terms of cultural and social experience. Conceptualizing ‘culture’ in Raymond Williams’ ‘ordinary’ sense, which encompasses the broad experience of everyday life (see Williams, ‘Culture is Ordinary’ in Resources of Hope, 1989), we welcome papers from a wide range of disciplines, including history, sociology, politics, literature, film and philosophy. Questions participants might wish to consider as starting points include, but are not limited to:
• What are the new material forms that U&CD takes under neoliberalism, and how do they initiate changes in the forms of their representation?
• The concept of uneven and combined development was initially developed in reference to the coexistence of modern (capitalist) and premodern modes of production. What are the theoretical possibilities and problems occasioned by extending U&CD to the fully capitalist world-system?
• How might the tendential logic of U&CD be characterized during the era of globalised capital? Where are we heading? How does U&CD qualify or intervene within contemporary debates about the future of capitalism?
• How does the uneven and combined character of development result in the coexistence of different temporalities (on a global and urban scale), and to what extent does this ‘non-simultaneity’ affect the forms of their cultural registration?
• What is the ‘world-ecological’ implication of present-day U&CD?
• How do logics of contemporary cultural production such as ‘world literature’ reflect and respond to the U&CD of capitalist modernity or postmodernity?