Urbanization has been a leading characteristic of the development of the Third World in the Twentieth Century. As developing countries entered the international economic stage, and as they industrialized, urban populations and areas began to increase and develop. Bryan Roberts’ article, “Urbanization, Migration and Development” examines Third World urbanization, and explains how it relates to the new international economic order. Roberts discusses the Third World’s experience with import substitution industrialization, and the new international division of labor, concluding that the newly interconnected world economy directly contributes to urbanization.
It is important to have an understanding for the contemporary world economy before discussing the ways in which it has contributed to Third World urbanization. Integral to the new economic order is the idea of an international division of labor. The new economy is dominated and mediated by multinational corporations and supranational agencies, creating a highly integrated and transnational economic system (Roberts, pg. 666).
The role of the Third World in this system lies mainly in export, as it provides a cheap labor source for manufacturing. The development and exploitation of this labor force has led to both state directed and export oriented industrialization, resulting in high levels of urbanization. Because of such a high level of integration in the world economy, the Third World has become extremely dependent on the First World, limiting the means by which the Third World can address the problem of urbanization (Roberts, pg. 666).
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Roberts first attempts to explain the link between international economic integration and Third World urbanization by comparing different regions and their experiences with such integration. He argues that non-core country’s differing levels of urbanization can be directly explained by when and how they have been incorporated into the economic order (Roberts, pg. 667).
The first type of incorporation that he discusses is that which entered the system the earliest. These regions thus have the highest levels of urbanization and have experienced a radical shift in social relationships in the rural sector. This type of incorporation is characteristic of Latin America.
The second type is characterized by early incorporation by states with previously developed internal markets. Because regions such as China and India had already established internal markets and chose not to integrate highly, they did not have such a radical shift in social dynamics, and subsequently witnessed low levels of urbanization (Roberts, pg. 669).
The third type of incorporation describes the Northern African experience, which is similar to that of China and India, but with a lack of strong internal markets. Thus because of this, North Africa became heavily reliant on trade and thus developed higher levels of urbanization (Roberts, pg. 669).
These two regions, contrasted with one another, illustrate the fact that a greater reliance on the international economy results in greater urbanization.
The fourth type of incorporation characterizes what Roberts refers to as “islands” of export agriculture, Tropical Africa and South East Asia (Roberts, pg. 669).
Such regions had uneven internal social restructuring, and their incorporation into the world economy resulted in low levels of urbanization but high rates of urbanization (Roberts, pg. 669).
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Finally, the last type of corporation explains the experience of newly incorporated Asian economies, which attracted large amounts of foreign investment, and resulted in high rates of urbanization.
Roberts’ discussion of the different types of incorporation explains how different ways of integration and timing of such effect urbanization. It is also important to examine the role of the state in such incorporation, and this has changed and evolved over the Twentieth Century. “It is the nature of the state and the balance of social forces within it, that mediate the impact of the world system on urban development” (Roberts, pg. 669).
Two distinctive periods or methods of incorporation have brought about the New World order. The first is import substitution industrialization. ISI is a state-led initiative that relies on heavy trade protection to develop domestic industries that were previously imported in Third World countries. ISI’s concentration on high levels of industrialization contributed directly to urban development (Roberts, pg. 672).
The shift away from agriculture and towards manufacturing resulted in what economists refer to as an ‘urban bias’.
The New World economy differs from the ISI stages of the Third World, but it clearly still contributes to urbanization in such regions. Reducing barriers to trade, the role of the non-core states in the new economy is primarily for export-oriented production. Instead of the state playing the main role in developing industries in the Third World, multinational corporations now serve as the centers of production. The ‘urban bias’ thus persists, and as multinationals pursue their global strategies, the Third World becomes increasingly more urbanized (Roberts, pg. 671).
However, this urbanization must be looked at in careful detail, as there have been many significant consequences of this new integration.
Roberts examines urban diversification as one of the major impacts of economic integration on Third World urbanization. Such diversification has been characterized by the increase in more intermediate-sized cities (Roberts, pg. 673).
Cities have also begun to develop in areas that aid the export process, such as ports and borders (Roberts, pg. 674).
There has also been a necessary increase in cities that offer small-scale income opportunities, due to such a dramatic disruption of the rural economy. All of these variations have created greater divergence in the patterns of urbanization in the Third World (Roberts, pg. 675).
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In other words, because of the increased diversity of urbanization, some Third World countries may have more to offer to the global economy than others, based on how suitable they are to foreign investment.
Another way in which the global economic system has impacted Third World urbanization is that it has caused changes in patterns of migration. Because of the vast integration of the new economy, there are higher rates of population mobility, due to greater communications and decreased transportation costs (Roberts, pg. 676).
There is increased urban to urban migration, a change from the ISI period, which was characterized by rural to urban movement. This urban to urban migration may have negative implications according to Roberts. He predicts that such migration will create greater class conflicts, and increase competition, weakening community solidarity within Third World regions (Roberts, pg. 677).
The New World economy has greatly impacted social organization within urban areas in the Third World. The global economy has created more wage-earning opportunities in the Third World, particularly through urbanization (Roberts, pg. 682).
Consumerism has increased drastically, forcing people to seek employment in any way that they can. This has brought an increase in the informal economy, particularly in urban areas (Roberts, pg. 683).
Through this current tradition, it appears that one of the most prominent problems is a lack of social or work identity. Most of the urban population does not have a stable means of employment, and thus there has been a weak level of class association, organization and identification (Roberts, pg. 684).
This partially explains why labor-related interest groups and professional associations have not been very robust. However, Roberts predicts that this organization will increase as urbanization continues to increase. Class conflict will escalate, and it will thus be more difficult for elites to maintain control over a growing population of urban workers (Roberts, pg. 685).
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In conclusion, Roberts’ article, “Urbanization, Migration and Development” successfully demonstrates the ways in which the global economic system has impacted Third World urbanization. Beginning with ISI, the world economy has created growing urban populations in the Third World, subsequently making non-core states directly dependent on the First World. The new economic order has also contributed to urban diversification, variations in migration, and social organization within the Third World. Unfortunately however, there are negative social and political implications of this urbanization, and it appears that they will continue to escalate as long as the world economy persists in its integration.
Bryan R. Roberts, “Urbanization, Migration and Development”, Sociological Forum, Vol. 4, No. 4, Dec. 1989, pp. 665-691.