SOAS University of London

Department of Development Studies

Issues in global commodity chains, production networks and informal work

Course Code:
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 3
Taught in:
Term 1

This module examines the impact of neoliberal globalisation on the industrial trajectories and production paradigms of developing regions, and maps the consequent implications of these processes in the realms of work, gender and poverty. First, it provides an outline of the earlier consensus on industrial development and analyses how the birth of the ‘globalisation project’ led to a new international division of labour and to new production paradigms. Second, the module describes and analyses these new paradigms. Particular emphasis is given to the ‘clustering’ of industrial production in local production networks in developing regions, and to the formation of globalised production circuits - today known as ‘global commodity chains’ (GCCs), ‘global value chains’ (GVCs) and/or ‘global production networks’ (GPNs). Global chains and networks are explored both with reference to manufacturing and agro-food production. Third, the module discusses the implications of the restructuring of production for labour, gender and poverty. It explains in detail contemporary processes of informalisation and feminisation of labour; it illustrates how these processes relate to poverty; and analyses the rise of global ‘social responsibility’ concerns, labour standards and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) practices, debating their implications for employment conditions in developing regions. Finally, the module highlights how all these trends and dynamics shape specific challenges for development within neoliberal ‘global’ production scenarios, and illustrates some of the main methodological challenges in the study of global production and of the informal labour circuits they incorporate.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

At the end of the module, students will be able to demonstrate:

  • a knowledge of the evolution of the industrial trajectories of developing countries
  • an awareness of the impact of different industrial strategies and practices
  • a knowledge of the consequences of different industrial strategies for development
  • an ability to evaluate the empirical basis of different approaches to industrial development
  • analytical and critical skills in relation to ideas discussed in lectures and tutorials, and through individual research
  • communication skills through seminar presentations and discussions in class 

The aims of the module are:

  • Familiarise students with the impact of neoliberal globalisation on the industrial trajectories of developing countries.
  • Review and examine the features of the main post-1970s industrial development models.
  • Compare and contrast some of the current industrial development experiences of different developing countries/ regions.  
  • Introduce students to the links between industrial change and changes in patterns of labour and poverty.
  • Introduce students to the links between industrial change and given development policies and practices.
  • Present a number of current methodological challenges for the study of industrial activities in developing countries.


Teaching will take the form of a two-hour lecture and a one-hour tutorial each week.


Student presentations will be assessed on the following criteria: content; timing; effectiveness in delivery (the use of IT/audiovisual aids is welcome but not necessary); and ability to lead the debate over the issues presented'.

Method of assessment

One two hour written examination which will constitute 50% of the final mark, with 40% consisting of marks from an assessed essay and the remaining 10% from student presentations. Each student will be expected to submit one essay of no more than 4000 words. Resubmission of coursework regulations apply to this module.

Suggested reading

  • A. Amin,  1994, in Post-Fordism- A Reader.
  • A. Amsden,  2001, The Rise of the Rest: Challenges to the West from Late-Industrializing Countries.
  • J. Breman, 1996, Footloose Labour: Working in India's Informal Economy.
  • M. Burawoy,  1985 The Politics of Production: factory regimes under capitalism and socialism.
  • P. Dicken,  1986, Global shift: industrial change in a turbulent world.
  • P. Dicken,  2007, Global shift: mapping the changing contours of the world economy.
  • G. Gereffi  and M. Korzeniewicz, 1994, Commodity Chains and Global Capitalism.
  • A. Gerschenkron,  1962, Economic Backwardness in Historical Perspective.
  • B. Harriss-White, 2003, India Working-Essays on Society and Economics.
  • D. Harvey,  1990, The Conditions of Post-Modernity, chs. 17 and 22.
  • D. Harvey,  1982, The Limits to Capital.
  • T. Hewitt,  H. Johnson, and D. Wield,  1992, Industrialization and development.
  • Diane Hunt, 1989, Economic theories of development: an analysis of competing paradigms.
  • R. Kiely, 1998, Industrialisation and development: a comparative analysis.
  • M. J. Piore & C. F. Sabel, 1984, The second industrial divide: possibilities for prosperity.
  • A. Saad Filho,  and D.  Johnston,  2005,  Neoliberalism: a critical reader.
  • A. T. Scott and M. Storper (eds), 1986,  Production, Work, Territory: the Geographical Anatomy of Industrial Capitalism.
  • E. Swyngedouw,  1996, ‘Neither Global nor Local-Globalisation and the Politics of Scale’, in K. R. Cox (ed.) Spaces of Globalisation: Reasserting the Power of the Local.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules