This article has its origins in a generalized feeling of dissatisfaction with current theories about political development trends in Latin America. It is an early statement of a series of arguments which will subsequently be developed in a forthcoming book.
The veritable explosion of empirically grounded monographs in the last fifteen or twenty years has made the task of producing a synthetic account of Latin American development simultaneously more pressing and more difficult: more difficult because it has made simple explanatory models harder to sustain, and has opened up the accepted historiography to serious and widespread revisionist attack; more pressing because many, if not most, social scientists accept the need to develop a theory of social change which is historically grounded, capable of explaining large-scale social transformations. My concern in this article is with the methodological issues involved in the formulation of an adequate theory of Latin American development, rather than with establishing new facts. There is considerable historiographical controversy over many of the events discussed in this article, and in these cases I have made my own judgement about where, on balance, the evidence points.