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Locating the State: Uneven and Combined Development, the States System and the Political

Theoretical Engagements in Geopolitical Economy

ISBN: 978-1-78560-295-5, eISBN: 978-1-78560-294-8

Publication date: 22 September 2015


This paper uses Leon Trotsky’s theory of Uneven and Combined Development (UCD) in order to transcend both globalising and methodologically nationalist theories of the global political economy. While uneven development theorists working in economic geography have demonstrated the logical corollary of capitalist development and the completion of the world market in the persistence of geographic unevenness, they fail to specify or problematise the role of states in this process. This leads to an ambiguity about why the states system has persisted under conditions of deep economic integration across states. State theorists, meanwhile, tend to exclude the world market and system of states as conditioning factors in state (trans)formation. For this reason, much state theory offers only a contingent account of the relationship between patterns of capital accumulation and states’ institutional forms. Geopolitical economy, with its focus on the competitive interrelations between states as constitutive of capitalist value relations, is well placed to transcend the pitfalls of these twin perspectives by closely engaging with the theory of UCD. UCD provides a nonreductionist means of integrating global processes of capital accumulation with their distinctive and peculiar national mediations. A research programme is developed to operationalise UCD for purposes of concrete research – something lacking from recent development in the field.




Many thanks to Radhika Desai, Alex Anievas, to the two anonymous reviewers, as well to participants at Historical Materialism journal’s conference in London, November 2013; all of whom provided valuable comments on earlier versions of this paper and helped me to refine my argument. The remaining errors are my own.


Rolf, S. (2015), "Locating the State: Uneven and Combined Development, the States System and the Political", Theoretical Engagements in Geopolitical Economy (Research in Political Economy, Vol. 30A), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 113-153.



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