Local advantage in a global context. Competition, adaptation and resilience in textile manufacturing in the ‘periphery’, 1860–1960

For decades, the link between manufacturing, economic development, and colonialism during the globalizing nineteenth and twentieth centuries has been subject to considerable debate. Dependency-school theorists have long argued that imperial ‘core’ countries stifled domestic handicraft industries in the ‘periphery’ by flooding colonial markets with manufactures from the metropole and coercing colonized people to produce raw materials.1 Meanwhile, many neoclassical economists have contended that industrial development was inherently handicapped in much of the ‘Global South’ by endogenous factors, including purported ‘backwardness’ in non-Western societies, a lack of dynamism of indigenous elites, and/or geographic conditions that predisposed the south to focus on primary production, in lieu of manufacturing, to meet rising demand for raw materials in the ‘Global North’.2 Although belonging to different ideological camps, both schools share certain key perspectives: first, that the ‘Western’ model of modernization was the road to development; second, that handicraft industries in the Global South were unable to withstand competition from machine-made imports; and third, that the ability of colonized regions to achieve economic growth was determined by demand and/or policies from the Global North, thus discounting indigenous economic agency. Crucially, however, the responses of local actors to both colonial policies and broader global economic forces could produce more complex outcomes than these outlooks allow.

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