Saturday, November 29, 2014

Flavours of Emmanuel Todd : Progress and Modernity

Recently I read three books by Emmanuel Todd: A) The Explanation of Ideology: Family Structures and Social Systems, Translated by David Garrioch, 1985 B) The Causes of Progress: Culture, Authority and Change, Translated by Richard Boulind, 1987 and C) The Convergence of Civilizations: The Transformation of Muslim Socities Around the World, with Youssef Courbage,Translated by George Holoch Jr, 2011. I will focus on [B].
It seems to me that Todd is an important thinker who grappled with intangible ideas like progress, came up with some verifiable methodology to study it where data is available with  policy options where broad patterns are discernible. The discussion can get muddy when there is diffusion, migration, shocks or when the data is unreliable but the methodology seems interesting and important and can be reined and developed by others. However there seems to be little follow up in the English speaking world except in a few blogs. Anyway, this is my take on what I read so far.
First the concept of progress/modernity is nebulous and Todd never explicitly says what it is. However Todd identifies several components, some which are related, of it towards which most of the world has been lurching. I will quote from different parts of his first two books [A], [B].

First hint from [A], page 33, "...urbanization, industrialization and the spread of literacy, in short by modernization..."

Second hint from [B], pages 2-3, "This is a cultural development, beyond the realm of the material. Cultural development first shows up as a rise in the rate of literacy....In the second stage, a fall in the rates of mortality and fertility follows the rise of literacy. Man thus takes control of his immediate biological environment. Only in the third stage does development appear as an increase in the production of industrial goods or, more generally, material wealth"

I think that Todd is trying to formulate measurable components of progress/development; for him literacy seems primary. Then he goes on to study the take-off stage, roughly 50 percent for some processes, male literacy, female literacy, percentages in different age groups. Female literacy or more accurately the learning period for females he puts at the marriage age (roughly the child bearing age before the current freedoms). There are striking maps on pages 32-33 of [B]; the areas where the per capita income in 1979 was more than 10,000 dollars in 1979 and the areas where the age of marriage of females in 1850 was more than 27. The two are the same. Another striking fact about literacy. From page 153 of [B]: "But the coefficient of correlation that associates literacy rates with life expectancy is one of the strongest that one can calculate, across the countries of the Third World. Such a correlation in no way indicates that the exogenous effect of the Western medicine is non-important, but it does show up the very important endogenous component of the progress that has been realized in medicine and health." He later discusses a similar correlation between literacy and birth rates.
It seemed to me from reading [B] that two important factors for 'progress' are literacy and status of women. In Chapter 6 of [B], he discusses the implications of male literacy reaching 50 per cent and more specifically, literacy of me between the ages of 20-25 reaching 70 percent. On page 139 "A world map of these qualifying dates- at which 70 per cent of young reached literacy- can be drawn. Coincidence with modern revolutionary phenomena is striking, if not always verified."

For empirical verification as well as to see the potential of different areas which have not progressed, Todd partly uses family systems discussed in [A]. In Europe there are mainly four classified by the two dimensions of liberty and equality: German (authoritative family), Russian (exogamous community family), English (absolute nuclear family) and Paris basin (egalitarian nuclear family) being the practitioners of different systems. If you add endogamy, exogamy in marriage there are seven (instead of 8) outside Africa (due to widespread polygyny). Two of these are 'endogamous community family' of the Arab World and ' assymetrical community family' of South India. This has been a popular topic in blogs recently and there are links in earlier posts of this blog and here. These have been discussed in the recent years in many blogs and I will just leave it referring to two articles
America, England and Europe-Why Do We Differ by James C. Bennett and Michael J. Lotus and

Emmanuel Todd’s L’invention de l’Europe: A critical summary by Craig Willy.

Coming back to Todd, in his own words,
"The anthropological model allows development to be accounted for without any need to suggest the existence or the will of historical agents that are at once so de-personalized and so anthropomorphic.The concept of State-so generally considered to be an essential actor in the development process, in both cultural and economic fields-is shown up as being particularly useless.
But the individual about whom we are talking about here is not economic man or rational man. He is only a dependent unit within a system of inter-personal relationships, of local or regional scope, whose central core is family structure.
Each family system sets up a cultural potential that is a function of two variables: the strength of parental authority and the status of women. Examination of available data shows that authoritarian and relatively feminist systems do appear on literacy maps as poles of self-generated take-off. This is true whether we are looking at Scandinavian, German, Japanese, or Korean systems-which are bilateral vertical ones- or the Keralese, Sinhalese or Menangkabau systems, which are matrilineal vertical. On the other hand, strong anti-feminism leads to a considerable slow-down in the development process, such as is demonstrated by the Arab countries and by North India. "

That is from pages 176-177 of [B] written in 1987. His views might have been refined/changed since then. It seems to be that his theories can be verified ( I remember reading somewhere a list of those but cannot find them now), refined and may be useful for policy initiatives in some contexts.

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