Volume 43, Number 170,
July-September 2012
Emerging Countries:
The Marxism-Institutionalism Controversy
Sergio Ordóñez *
Date submitted: 25, 2011. Date accepted: February 13, 2012

The basic premise of this paper is that the problem in the agency-social structure or subject-social structure relationship is crucial for understanding the present stage of take-off in the new phase of development or capitalism of knowledge following the recent global crisis of 2007-2009. This expresses the contradiction between neoliberalism, as a political-ideological projection, and a new technological-productive base, as well as the question of differentiation between developed “successful” countries and those that are “backward”. Institutionalism and Gramsci’s Marxism have offered solutions to the agency-structure dichotomy through very different theoretical approaches, the first seeking to explain the issue of differentiation between countries. Aspects of an alternative explanation are provided here through the Gramscian solution.

Keywords: Latin America, Asia, capitalism of knowledge, differentiation between developing countries, institutionalism, the Gramscian Marxism.

The issue of the social agency-structure or subject-structure relationship has been a part of social science development since the field’s origins and dates back to the conception of society and its historical development. In this area, two main points of view have emerged: the perspective that considers that social structures are the social-objective and, as such, a part of the existing social reality independent of the will of the social subject and determines its practice (both theoretical and practical). The other stance considers that social structures are the result of the sum of the will of diverse individuals, and that these individuals, by contrast, determine the social structures.

Additionally, the problem of the agency structure is crucial to understand the current new phase of development or knowledge capitalism, following the recent global financial-production crisis of 2007-2009. The crisis inaugurated a period of contradiction against neoliberalism, one the one hand, understood as a political-ideological global projection of a set of agents or dominant social subjects, and on the other hand, the foundation of a new technological-production base for the new development phase. Likewise, the agent structure relationship is key to understanding, in this new framework, differences between “successful” and “lagging” developing countries, and the perspective behind their subsequent development.

Institutionalism and Gramsci’s Marxism have proposed very different theoretical solutions to the agency structure dichotomy, in a framework of the current process of the new phase of development and its relationship with neoliberalism. This report has been divided into three sections: the first establishes the current importance of the agency-structure problem in the terms previously outlined; the second develops the Marxism-Institutionalism controversy revolving around the agency-structure problem and the solution that both sides have for this dichotomy; the third, based on the second section, explains an alternative for developing countries in terms of Gramscian Marxism.


The problem of the agent-structure relationship is extremely urgent and decisive for the subsequent process of a new phase of development. The latest cause of the recent global financial-production crisis arises from the surge and development of a new technological-productive base, part of knowledge capitalism, which has taken place in the framework of a predominant development method1 on a global level, defined by the ideological-political tenets of neoliberalism.2

Neoliberalism created social-economic conditions favorable to the maximum expansion of new international financial capital, which — independent of destabilizing consequences for many developing countries — initially served as a driving force behind the rise of a new technological-productive base, even though this initial impulse started to run out, especially due to the formation and burst of the financial bubble related to the nasdaq index at the start of the century. This became more and more a destabilizing and parasitic factor increasingly dissociated from the requirements of material reproduction as a whole and began to negatively affect the development of all parts of this new technological-productive base. As a consequence, this contradiction combined a growing process of incorporating knowledge into social production, inherent to knowledge capitalism, with the enormous diffusion of financial risk and lack of knowledge and information on the part of investors, particularly the large set of small private investors (Ordóñez, 2009; Dabat, 2009).

* Research Professor at the Institute of Economic Research — unam. Email address: serorgu@gmail.com

1 A development path is the result of the linkage between a technological-productive base with a specific social scheme (political, ideological, cultural and institutional), formed based on a determined hegemonic function of dominant classes and groups. That is, their capacity to convince and mobilize, which revolves around historical goals concerning society as a whole, and takes place on the basis of a determined relationship of forces among classes and social groups (Gramsci, Notebook no. 19, paragraph 24; Notebook no. 10, paragraph 12; Notebook no. 8, paragraph 185; Notebook no. 13, paragraph 23; Notebook no. 11, paragraph 53).

2 For further development of this argument, see Ordóñez (2009).

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PROBLEMAS DEL DESARROLLO. REVISTA LATINOAMERICANA DE ECONOMÍA, Volume 49, Number 195 October-December 2018 is a quarterly publication by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán, CP 04510, México, D.F. by Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas, Circuito Mario de la Cueva, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán,
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