Call for Papers

Uneven and Combined Development Conference: Glasgow, 5-7 September 2019

28th Mar 2019




Hosted by the University of Glasgow’s Socialist Theory and Movements Research Network in association with Historical Materialism

As recently as the early 1990s, anyone predicting that Trotsky’s ‘law’ of uneven and combined development (UCD) would soon become a key theoretical reference point across several academic disciplines would have been treated with a great deal of scepticism. Yet, less than three decades later, UCD is regularly deployed in the fields of international relations, historical sociology, political economy, social geography and–perhaps most surprisingly–world literature. Not since the vogue for Gramsci’s notion of hegemony in the 1970s and 1980s has a concept from the classical Marxist tradition enjoyed such widespread academic diffusion. Controversies have of course abounded: adherents have disagreed over whether UCD is a trans-historic or trans-modal process, or whether it is one which can only be found in the era of industrial capitalism; critics have alleged that UCD is simply a more sophisticated form ofEurocentrism; Trotskyist activists have complained–with some justification–that UCD has been detached from the political context in which it was first deployed. There have been some events focusing on specific aspects of UCD, notably one on culture at the University of Warwick in 2014; yet, in spite of the rapidly multiplying literature there has not been an international event bringing together representatives from all the relevant areas of scholarship to engage in inter-disciplinary discussion.

This conference will finally provide such an opportunity. Although its main focus will be on UCD, it will also be open to discussion of two important related topics, the earlier theory of uneven development and the strategy of permanent revolution, the conditions for which UCD was of course originally intended to explain. The organisers are pleased to announce that keynote addresses will be given by Robert Brenner (on uneven development in the history of capitalism) and Justin Rosenberg (on the relevance of UCD to understanding contemporary issues like Brexit and the rise of Trump): other keynote speakers will be announced over the coming months.

The event is being organised by members of the University of Glasgow’s Socialist Theory and Movements Research Network–Neil Davidson (School of Social and Political Sciences), David Featherstone (School of Geographical and Earth Sciences) and Vassiliki Kolocotroni (School of Critical Studies)–in association with Historical Materialism (HM). We are delighted at the involvement of HM, as the journal has been involved the debates over UCD–most recently in the symposium on Alexander Anievas and Kerem Nişancıoğlu’s, How the West Came to Rule in issue 26, 3 (2018), and in the HM book series which includes such pertinent works as Day and Gaido’s collection of primary texts, Witnesses to Permanent Revolution (2009) and Christie and Degirmencioglu’s forthcoming Cultures of Uneven and Combined Development (2019).

We are inviting academics, public intellectuals and political activists interested in the debates over UCD and related areas–including those who are critical of the concept, or at least sceptical of its explanatory power–to participate in the conference. If you simply want to attend and take part in the discussion, you can complete the on-line registration form which will be issued in June. But if you are planning to submit a paper, please send it to me at Glasgow ( by the deadline for proposals of 10 May. You should aim for a maximum of 250 words for individual papers and of 500 words for panels: panels should not involve more than three speakers. These proposals don’t have to be formal ‘abstracts’–we just want to know what you would like to talk about for scheduling purposes. We’re not going to insist that proposals fit into pre-decided ‘streams’: we’ll instead see what subject areas participants want to discuss and work from there. The subjects of papers/panels could be anything from case-studies of UCD in particular nation-states or regions, to the contemporary relevance of permanent revolution, to the impact of UCD on the emergence of Modernism–the only criteria for the acceptance of proposals is that they engage with the themes of the conference and have something interesting to say about them. We’re as open to the extension of existing arguments as we are in the unveiling of new positions. In particular, if you are PhD student working on UCD-related themes but have not yet published, this would provide you with an opportunity to present in an interested and supportive environment. Unfortunately, we can only pay for keynote speakers to attend, but the cost of registration will be relatively low: £20 (employed f/t)/£10 (student, employed p/t, unemployed or retired).

Finally, there are good reasons, one related to its subject, for holding this conference in Glasgow. We are on the eve of the bicentenary of the Scottish general strike of 1820–the first such event in history and one generated in part by Scotland’s own experience of UCD from the late 18th century onwards. Moreover, and bringing things right up to date, it’s not clear what impact Brexit will have on the Scottish independence movement, but it is conceivable that a new campaign might have begun by then. Non-Scottish participants will at any rate be visiting Scotland in ‘interesting times’!

We’ll provide information on the venues, accommodation, restaurants, travel, etc. when formal registration begins.