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Democratizing the Developmental State

Lindsay Whitfield

Lindsay Whitfield is a Professor and Co-Director of the Centre for Business and Development Studies (CBDS) at the Copenhagen Business School. She is interested in understanding processes of economic development in the context of an ever changing global economy.

Her research focuses on the challenges and opportunities that Sub-Saharan African countries face in industrializing in the 21st century. It analyses the emergence and evolution of manufacturing and agribusiness industries, especially how local firms build capabilities to compete in global production networks and the roles of government industrial policy, foreign direct investment and migrant capitalists. She also examines industrial relations and working conditions in local and foreign owned supplier firms producing in global value chains, and how they are affected by global buyers’ purchasing practices, firms’ labor control regimes, and workers’ actions. Lastly, she is examining how countries can pursue green industrialization and circular economy principles.

Most recent relevant publications

As the co-convenor of your hub, how do you perceive the general topic in relation to your hub?

This project provides a unique opportunity for researchers to step out of their usual environment and engage deeply in meaningful research. While direct research outputs during the project period are valuable, the focus is also on stimulating longer-term research collaborations and partnerships. In my role, I am committed to supporting and fostering a dynamic research environment on development issues with a comparative and global perspective. I’m excited by the diversity of experience that the fellows from different regions will bring to the project. This comparative aspect is crucial, not only in the research itself, but also in the exchange and comparison of different experiences by the fellows.

My main aim is to foster this research environment. A key part of my role is to constructively challenge researchers to think creatively and across disciplines, and to engage with new and diverse literature. The aim is to broaden horizons, to encourage reading, research and debate beyond familiar territories, and to critically reassess and possibly deconstruct pre-existing assumptions and ideas. As a mentor, I see the importance of encouraging scholars to step back from overly specialised focuses within their disciplines. The emphasis should be on asking meaningful questions and engaging with broad materials, to avoid a purely functionalist approach to research.

As the co-convenor of your hub, how do you relate to other hubs?

The potential for synergy in our project is significant as it explores the complex interplay between democracy, authoritarianism and populism in the context of economic development. Populism, intriguingly, embodies elements of both democracy and authoritarianism, constituting a unique third category. The politics of economic development are crucial and need to be considered holistically, including aspects such as industrialisation, industrial policy, global market engagement and global value chains, along with their political and social drivers and consequences.

There are always winners and losers in these processes, and the inability to manage these political dynamics can lead to serious consequences, such as civil war, as seen in Ethiopia. This underlines the importance of understanding and managing the politics of development and ensuring that it is not an elite-dominated project. A successful development approach requires a social contract and broad societal buy-in.

Our project emphasises the importance of avoiding binary thinking in relation to concepts such as authoritarianism and democracy, both of which have ‘slippery edges’. A nuanced understanding of authoritarianism is essential, recognising that certain authoritarian elements can sometimes drive economic development, as seen in China. Conversely, democracy may not always be conducive to development. By exploring the interactions between these political forms, we can enhance the nuance in our work, moving beyond simple binaries to recognize the shades and variations within populism, authoritarianism, and democracy.