Still one size fits all? Uneven and combined development and African gatekeeper states

Brown, William (2018). Still one size fits all? Uneven and combined development and African gatekeeper states. Third World Thematics: A TWQ Journal, 3 pp. 325–346.



This paper critically evaluates ‘one size fits all’ characterisations of African states in the context of diverse change in Africa. It provides an original critique of Frederick Cooper’s gatekeeper states concept based on a novel application of the theory of uneven and combined development. The theory draws attention to the unevenness of development across the international system, the production of multiple, combined forms of state, and points to an expectation of heterogeneity among ‘later developing’ countries, questioning generalised characterisations of ‘African’ states as a sui generis category of state. The paper argues that Frederick Cooper’s concept of the ‘gatekeeper state’ sits close to, though not entirely within, this pattern. This careful application of theory shows that while there are strong synergies between Cooper’s empirical account of state formation and developmental processes highlighted by the theory, there is greater divergence over the question of heterogeneity. The paper argues that uneven and combined development helps to reveal the limits of ‘one-size fits all’ approaches and the potential for a broader theoretical grounding to Cooper’s gatekeeper concept. In doing so it provides an important corrective to donor assumptions of general failings of African states and uniform policy prescriptions with which to address them.

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