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Charter Cities Podcast Episode 54: Industrialization and Assimilation with Dr. Elliott Green

A fascinating conversation with Dr. Elliott Green who joins us on the podcast to discuss the impact of industrialization on ethnic identity and diversity.


Industrialization has a myriad of consequences that have been studied and speculated upon from the very start. In this episode, Dr. Elliott Green joins us to discuss the impact of industrialization on ethnic identity and diversity. Dr. Green is a political scientist, Africanist, and associate professor in the Department of International Development at The London School of Economics. He is also the author of the book Industrialization and Assimilation and today, we learn about his research and insights on the topic. We delve into the Marx-Geller take on industrialization and find out how Dr. Green conceptualizes it and why he promotes pro-industrialization. We discuss the implications of urbanization without industrialization in Africa and how people use their rural identities as insurance against de-urbanization before investigating the cause of “under-urbanization” in countries like Kenya and Uganda. From the measures of industrialization and its relationship to economic growth and identity formation to the effect of decentralization on assimilation, Dr. Green tackles it all! Tune in for this insightful conversation on all things industrialization and identity.

Key Points From This Episode:

  • Introducing political scientist and Africanist, Dr. Elliott Green
  • The topic investigated in his book Industrialization and Assimilation: the consequence of Industrialization in terms of ethnic diversity.
  • How Dr. Green’s take on industrialization differs from that of Marx and Geller.
  • Why we have differing levels of ethnic diversity across the world.
  • The implications of urbanization without industrialization in Africa.
  • Cases of de-urbanization in Africa and how people use their rural identities as insurance against it.
  • Which African regions have the highest and lowest levels of urbanization.
  • What can be attributed to the “under-urbanization” of countries like Kenya and Uganda.
  • Why Dr. Green promotes pro-industrialization and how he conceptualizes industrialization.
  • The relationship between economic growth and industrialization.
  • Other measures of industrialization.
  • How industrialization generates broader processes of identity formation, irrespective of politics and religion.
  • The overlap of religious and ethnic identities in 20th century Turkey.
  • Instances where industrialization and nation-building do and don’t go hand in hand.
  • Government attempts to create ethnically neutral cities.
  • Why trust is essential for development.
  • Dr. Green’s take on the “markets make us moral” hypothesis.
  • To what extent decentralization can affect assimilation or ethnic change.
  • How the “completion” of industrialization will (or won’t) impact identity.


Kurtis: Hello and welcome to the Charter Cities Podcast. I’m Kurtis Lockhart. On each episode, we invite a leading expert to discuss key trends and global development in the world of cities, including the role of Charter Cities an innovative governance will play in humanity’s new urban age. For more information, please follow us on social media or visit

 Kurtis: Hi, everyone. First, before starting the show, I just want to apologize for some audio issues. I did not have my mic for this episode, and there seems to be an aggressive group of birds lurking outside of my window, so, apologies for that; I assure you, the episode is worth bearing with the birds chirping. With that caveat, let’s get into it.

Today on the podcast, we have Elliott Green. Elliott is an associate professor in the Department of International Development at The London School of Economics. He is a political scientist whose research examines ethnic politics and the political economy of development, and he focuses on the area of sub-Saharan Africa. Elliott’s just written a great new book called, Industrialization and Assimilation about how industrialization affects identity and ethnic change across the world. I hope you enjoy the episode.

 Kurtis: Elliott Green, welcome to the podcast.

 Elliott: Thanks, Kurtis.

 Kurtis: Great, so just diving right in. This is an expansive book; it’s about a “big question” A big topic. How industrialization and urbanization changed the way human beings situate ourselves in the world, change the way we see who we are, who we identify with, who we value.

It spans across pretty much all regions of the world and across time, and just in a nutshell, I guess the main argument is that, and I’ll quote here, “Industrialization creates incentives for individuals to reidentify ethnically and assimilate from small, more narrowly defined rural tribal identities to larger, more urban-focused ethnic groups and that this process is a consequence of the declining economic importance and control over rural land.”

So starting there, as I said, it’s a big topic, it’s been written about a lot before by some big names like Gellner and Marx and you know, Fukuyama and Eugene Webber to name a few. Do you want to start by maybe laying out the Marx-Gellner take and then laying out your main argument in how you maybe differ from or add to these other guys?

 Elliott: Sure, thanks Kurtis, and thanks again for inviting me on, this is really a nice opportunity to chat about the book. As regards to the argument, the basic way to do this is take a step back and think about why do we have differing levels of ethnic diversity across the world, you know? And the basic idea is that historically, especially in the pre-modern period, we would think that ethnicity and ethnic identities are attached according to people’s livelihoods.

The idea that you know, as an Africanist, the idea that certain people are specialized in certain kinds of crop production or livestock production. Some people are farmers, some people are pastoralists and so that specialty that people have in sort of the rural economy, a pre-modern economy has generated ethnic identities.

So you know, especially in areas, especially tropical areas, areas closer to the equator, where there’s greater access to food, those are historically the areas that have the highest level of ethnic diversity because we have a large variety of crops and livelihoods that people have. So that’s the sort of setting the scene as it were, and then we get starting, especially in the 19th century and up to the present day, we start to see the beginnings of an industrial capitalist but especially industrial economy and what does that mean?

It basically means that these livelihoods that people had before that are, where they had gotten their ethnic identities attached to their livelihoods, right? Those livelihoods kind of seize to exist effectively. As people move to cities, they leave their agricultural specialties behind, and they eventually become, you mentioned Marx and Gellner, they both use very similar language, they talk about the effect to these like the floating army of workers, of industrial workers.

Marx would call that the proletarian, right? Everybody becomes effectively the same in terms of their skills, right? Previously, they had these ethnically special skills. Now, they basically are just part of this floating army of workers and so in that sense, they form new identities, right? In this industrial landscape and those identities are much broader than they used to be before. So in that sense, people are voluntarily deciding to identify with broader ethnic groups.

Now, Marx is really the first person to write about this in the 19th century. He talked about classes and then Gellner comes along, Ernest Gellner comes along in the late 20th century and he talked about nations but if you substitute the words for each other, they’re saying the same thing. It’s again, based on this idea that the specialized livelihoods of the pre-modern economy have been lost in the modern industrial world and people identify with these broader groups, and that process of identification is a consequence of industrialization.

 Kurtis: And I guess this is more for me but several people, David Laitin and others have labeled Gellner’s argument as functionalist, is what they say. Do you think that’s a fair label or not?

 Elliott: Oh, I do, I agree with David on that point. I think that part of the issue is the way that Gellner – Yeah, he basically, he ascribed agency to the broad process of industrialization. I mean, Marx has the similar sort of problem and I think what’s interesting about both Marx and Gellner in the sense is they have – they’re sometimes not very clear in the language they use. I find that’s probably more so for Marx than Gellner.

What I call in the book, I think they have a top-down and they also have a bottom-up model by which the processes work. I mean, the Marxist idea is very famous, the idea that’s sort of the bourgeoisie are creating different classes, right? So that they’re deliberately creating the proletarian, et cetera, and the bottom-up model is that the proletarians identify as a member of a certain class voluntarily.

They do that themselves without anybody telling them to do so. Gellner suffers from a similar sort of problem but it’s a bit clear in Gellner that again, people are given incentives to identify a certain way and they go ahead and do that and again, Gellner also does go ahead and talk about national elites that are sort of using schooling and national policies, government policies to sort of forced people to identify certain way.

But there’s definitely that bottom-up process, which is there too and that’s the focus in the book for me is really that identifying the fact that people are identifying according to certain ethnic identities but they’re not being forced to do so, and in fact, in many cases, they are doing so despite state efforts to have them identify otherwise.

 Kurtis: So you use urbanization in much of the book as a proxy for industrialization, which I think tracks for most places and most times in history but you know, you’re – I know an Africanist heart and so you’re well aware that in Africa today, there’s very rapid urbanization, right? Most rapid in the world and it’s happening without industrialization as Jed Web and others have written about, and I think Dani Rodrik even writes about premature deindustrialization.

This to me is one of the biggest conundrums about African urbanization today, right? It’s happening at – I guess, number one, much lower levels of income than has historically been the case and it’s happening without industrial job creation and I know, you know, Ken Opalo for example has written even about “ruralization of African cities” because something like 25% of Africa’s urban population is still engaged in agriculture, right?

They’re still farmers. So given your book’s thesis, what to you are the greatest implications if this urbanization without industrialization trend we’re seeing right now continues over the course of the century in Africa?

 Elliott: Yeah, that’s a good point. I mean, so yeah, historically, meaning and it’s sort of non-African context historically that we would say, you’re right, that industrialization and urbanization would go hand in hand. One of the historical examples I focus on the book is from mid-20th century Turkey, which I think is a clear example of that phenomenon but you’re right.

Late 20th century, the last 50 years or so that has increasingly been obvious to scholars that we can see in urbanization proceeding without industrialization, and so yeah, there are sections of the book where I really do use urbanization as a proxy for industrialization, but you’re right, in some cases, that’s not. They are not the same thing and we should be careful to distinguish them.

So the African example where I do show that I think industrialization has proceeded and this is a case where they do go hand in hand is in Botswana and I mentioned that in the book as a really interesting example and this is an example that a lot of Africanists know and some people have written about as a successful case of industrialization in Africa but it’s interesting when I was doing the – making a decision on what to put on the cover of my book.

I put a cover of people working in a diamond processing factory in Gaborone in Botswana and I did some research about at least, for academic books, and I could not find a single academic book that had a picture of the Botswanan diamond industry on it, which I find striking. I mean, I think it’s – again as I said, it’s well-known among Africanists, it’s for 30 to 40 years. It had the highest GDP per capita growth in the entire world.

Higher than China or Singapore or South Korea but it also had you know, the highest urbanization rate in the world. It started out, you know, the World Bank data on urbanization goes back to 1950s. I think in 1950 or so, Botswana had, I think literally, the fifth lowest urbanization level in the entire world. It was something like 4% urban, so 96% of people living in the countryside and nowadays, it’s above 60%.

So in an incredibly rapid level of urbanization. So on the one hand, yes, we have urbanization without industrialization in some parts of Africa. In other parts, it’s not true. I mean, I think we do see that yeah, Botswana, we can talk about that in South Africa as well by the way, right? But you’re right, there’s other parts of Africa where those have been disassociated and I think one of the things –

Can I talk about this, in the case of Uganda, which is again, not urbanizing as rapidly as Botswana or other parts of Africa but we do see – but certainly there’s a lot of urban growth and we do see urbanization in parts of Africa but again, I’m sure you’re aware of this as well that you go to these big cities in African countries, which have very rapidly growing populations and when you get to talking with people who live in those cities, it’s effectively this old story of having one foot in the city and one foot in the countryside, right?

So you have this idea that yes, they might be living in Kampala or Nairobi or Lagos but they still have those links back home, and back home may not be a place where they actually were born and raised. Back home, where their parents are from or even their grandparents but they still – they might live in the city, but they might not necessarily identify as urbanites, and this is by the way, this also still applies to Botswana.

I remember talking to the pastor of a church, I think a Protestant church in Gaborone, and he said the number of funerals he did was far, far lower than the number of weddings, right? So people would come, they live in Gaborone, they get married, they live there, but when they got sick and when they die, they went back home, their bodies went back home and again when I say “back home” is sometimes places that people not even have lived in.

It’s just where their ancestors were from, right? So there’s still this rural-urban connection, and that’s something that people have jotted about in Botswana. They feel like there is this new anthropologist and others said, we do have perhaps a new generation or two of people who really do feel like they’re urbanites, right? Who are living in the cities and identify as urbanites in a way that Western developed democracies in Europe, North America we’d say, you know people from London, New York, Toronto, they’re actually from that city, right?

But you know, these countries like Canada, the US, UK, have taken decades or a century to reach that level where people really do identify as living in that city. Whereas we have people in African cities who live there but they might not identify as living there and they still have that one foot back in the countryside, which In some cases, as you know, within some cases we have urbanization.

We also have cases of de-urbanization in Africa or de-urbanization because the only reason people can live in cities is when there’s food, food supply that’s available to them. So the case that again, I know you know this, the case of Zambia in 1980s, 1990s is a clear case of de-urbanization. People moved back to the countryside, and we still see urban growth rates. It’s just that we saw rural growth rates that were higher than urban growth rates, right?

So that was the case where, yeah, people have that one foot in the countryside and they went back to the countryside when the food disappeared in the city and so I think that’s always that constant struggle, especially among the poor, African poor, the urban poor is you know, if we don’t get that job and I start running out of food, then I at least I can go back to the land of my ancestors.

So as I said, that’s where you can see urbanization without industrialization, you can see that lack of job security, the lack of industrial jobs can lead to that having one foot in both doors.

 Kurtis: I was going to bring this up because that was my reading when I read your South Africa case and I think you talked about the fixed contracts and other things that the white elites and the owners of the mines used to make sure that there wasn’t this broader identity of broader black South African identification and solidarity and one of the things I was going to bring up is this experience of de-urbanization and you know, you mentioned the case of Zambia.

So do you think this experience of rapid urbanization on the one hand and then sort of collapsing as it did with mining in the Zambian Copperbelt and having to deurbanize, as you said, do you think that in essence, makes rural identities in Africa like stickier today than in other places? Almost like a form of insurance, you could say, they keep their rural identities and connections intact in case of another de-urbanization crisis hits.

 Elliott: Yeah, I think that’s absolutely true. I think that’s the, you know, we’re seeing growth rates in Africa on and off for a few decades now. We see a rise in middle class but there’s still this sense of insecurity and vulnerability I think to economic decline, which was in many cases, not that far in the past of having severe economic decline and so I think that’s a very normal process and I think that’s something that you may have observed.

Had there been good quality social science and surveys being done in 19th century Europe, I think we could have observed the same thing, and I think it’s – you know, once you reach a certain level of income and a certain level of security, where people realize that actually, this is stable, we are going to continue to get access to food, we don’t need to worry about maintaining links to the countryside.

But that is again, I think that’s a slow process and I think that’s something that is happening in places like Botswana and South Africa but again, even in those societies, we still have those linkages back to the countryside, and that will take some time to erode completely.

 Kurtis: So I mentioned in most of Africa urbanization is occurring at way lower levels of income per capita compared to historical urbanization in other regions. So one of the places in Africa, at least among the bigger countries, one of the places where this trend is not happening is Kenya. Kenya relative to incomes, the World Bank says is actually under-urbanized.

I think it’s just under 30% urbanized and this is pretty unique for the region. So what’s your mental model for what’s going on in Kenya?

 Elliott: I mean, the two areas in Africa which have the highest level of urbanization are Coastal West Africa and Southern Africa, right? And the opposite I think, is true for the areas that have the lowest levels are Central and Eastern Africa in particular, right? I think the lowest level of urbanization in the world the last time I checked was Burundi. Uganda is one of the lowest as well.

In general, the whole Central Africa, East African area has low levels of urbanization. I mean, I’ll answer your question as best as I can, but I also refer back to, I mean, the country that I know the best in that region is Uganda, and Uganda has this history of – it does not have a history of famines because they have very high-quality land. So people can grow food except, there has been some food insecurities in Northeast Uganda, which is the area that has the worst land.

So people you know, will retreat to the countryside and/or rather, they want to move to the cities in part because they can make a living. They can feed themselves but also make a living as farmers, and I think that you could say, as regards to the case of Kenya in particular, right? That again, you have relatively higher quality land. People are still are able to work on this land and the debates in Kenya again, going back to the examples I’ve seen in Uganda, there is this ongoing need for economic security but also this traditional idea of how you accumulate assets is through owning rural land, right?

And I mentioned this is actually the first page of the book, I talked about the inspiration for this book in many ways, came from a discussion with Andrew Mwenda, who is a very famous Ugandan journalist, and talking about a particular, I think, army general or minister of the government who had acquired lots of power and money and ended up plowing that money back into buying land in rural western Uganda and I asked them, “Why do you think he did that?”

“Why didn’t he go off and buy a villa in the French Riviera or something like that?” and he said, “Because this is an agrarian society. We not only live in the countryside but rural land is valuable,” and that’s how you know, traditional assets, asset accumulation is buy rural land, and you have – and have a long history, especially in Kenya, you have this long history of conflict over land ownership.

So in other words, becoming rich, becoming powerful in many ways is still tied up with owning rural land. Of course, it’s very valuable to own real estate in Nairobi as well, but the point is that part of this is a cultural phenomenon whereby, people still value rural land perhaps more than they do value it economically, but there’s a sticky, as you said, you used the word sticky a minute ago, these are sticky sort of phenomena. They’re sticky ideas that people have about security.

The fact that you can still – you know, in countries, which are, you know, historically very poor that you want to control rural and in part because if everything else falls apart, you can still go back and farm that land and have food for your family. So again, Kenya, high levels of income but still stuck and not stuck but they still have relatively low levels of urbanization, I think that’s definitely part of the story.

 Kurtis: So zooming out, is it more, I guess, subtle implicit reading of your argument in the book that you know, if a goal of humanity is to foster cooperation on ever greater scales, we should all be pro-industrialists?

 Elliott: Well, I talk about that at the end of the book that we have this idea. I mean, part of this is related to discussions around climate change, right? So when people think industrialization equals pollution, which you know historically is true, but we do have a lot of discussion nowadays about the green sustainable development and working on levels of industrialization that promote green energy.

But I also say in the book that you know, there are people like the South Korean economist, Ha-Joon Chang, who has written about this, the idea that we have this trend. I think in development studies going back maybe 30, 40, even 50 years, whereby we sort of move – it used to be that development equals industrialization.

It used to be meaning like post-World War II modernization theory, 1940s, 50s, 60s, that was the idea and then that sort of we moved on from that, just sort of thinking about individual welfare and providing human development which includes education and health of course and it is not to say that that’s wrong, it’s just about how we prioritize, one, how do we achieve those goals as best as we can.

I think Chang’s point is that you know, talking about human development without industrialization I think he said was – like, development without development or a Hamlet without the Prince. The idea is that how you achieve those goals is you achieve them historically through industrialization.

So you know, I think that’s a good point, and I think that, you know, something that economists continue to bang on about is that we see countries generating high levels of prolonged high levels of growth are the ones that have an industrial economy, unless you are lucky enough to sit on huge amounts of oil reserves like they do in various parts of the Middle East but other than that if you’re unlucky, then you need to generate industrialization.

I mean, to take another African example, which is still in the early stages of this process is Ethiopia, right? Which has been generating. Nigeria, to some degree as well, right? We have a lot of small-scale manufacturing and industrialization taking place and arguably the two most important countries in Africa, certainly the two most populated countries in Africa and I think that those countries are showing how it is possible to generate poverty reduction through industrialization on as large scale.

Botswana, a country which is a fraction of the population of either Nigeria or Ethiopia, but it’s still the same – effectively the same story, whether it’s Botswana on one hand and Ethiopia and Nigeria on the other.

 Kurtis: And I guess, because you mentioned growth. I guess just a more fundamental question. Could it really be economic growth writ large rather than industrialization per se? Because this, maybe to some, seems like it reveals distinction, but I wonder if in a place, for example, like India that has seen pretty rapid economic growth over the last few decades but it’s mainly been growth based in the service sector, not on huge amounts of industrialization.

I wonder if India serves as a case that goes against your thesis or I guess, you could argue that India may actually go in favor of your thesis. They’ve experienced all this service-oriented growth and yet still have elected a hugely popular but very divisive Hindu nationalist or something. I might be answering the question for you but what would you say to that?

 Elliott: Yeah, the one thing to say as well, when I write about industrialization in the book. Of course, I am talking about manufacturing as absolutely part of that story but in many ways, what I’m really referring to in terms of the theory going back to this discussion around Marx and Gellner but also talking but also talking about the examples I look at, in many ways, how I conceptualize industrialization and how it makes a difference in terms of people’s identification is really not so much what it is but what it isn’t.

In other words, what it isn’t is living in the countryside and working in agriculture, right? That’s in some ways, what industrialization isn’t. It’s pulling people out of these traditional livelihoods, which I talked about, pulling people out of agriculture, pulling people out of living in these small hamlets or villages, and moving them into cities. In some ways, it doesn’t matter whether it stirred the service economy or it’s the manufacturing or construction which is generating this change.

It’s more about the fact that they’re being pulled out of the rural economy. So I mean, I go back to Botswana, a large chunk of people works in the service sector. A lot of people work in, you know, so many malls around Gaborone and other parts of Botswana. There’s a very large service economy. It’s very unequal society, and so a lot of people are working the service economy servicing the rich, right?

But they’re still not working in agriculture, and that’s that point that that shift out of agriculture, which is so important. So I think that you know, we have this, whether it’s manufacturing or service economy is generating the same effects. I mean, in terms of growth, I think low-income countries’ industrialization and growth go very much hand in hand. In high-income countries, those just starting to break apart.

I think I showed so one of the major measures I use in terms of cross-national data on industrialization is carbon emissions per capita. Carbon emissions is I think a very good measure of industrialization. There’s other measures too, like electricity consumption or cement production, which is a great measure as well because everybody in the world produces cement.

But the growth that I show, I think I have a scatter plot in the book, where I show growth against carbon emissions, and yes, for the low-income and middle-income countries, it’s a very tight relationship and it starts to fall apart. For rich countries, and that’s because we have increasing amounts of green energy and rich countries, which means the emissions are going down, the growth is continuing so those tend to split apart. So it depends on what part of the world you’re talking about.

 Kurtis: So just summing up, for you, there’s nothing fundamentally different about an Indian individual working in a call center or business outsourcing processing center or IT in a city and then on the other side, an Indian individual working in a factory in a city. They’re kind of fundamentally inducing the same type of identity shift.

 Elliott: That’s correct. Yeah, again, as long as they feel like they’re able to leave the countryside and then in part, the kind of people you’re talking about are the kind of people who will be not interchangeable, but they’ll have similar educational backgrounds, I think.

That’s the interesting thing is that you’re seeing people looking on the job market, whether it’s construction or especially, higher-end formal job creation, whether that’s in a sort of blue-collar or white-collar, but the point is that, in many developing countries, those are the same sort of people.

 Kurtis: So just moving to one of your case studies, Turkey. In this case study, you trace both the Comalist assimilation policies under added Turk that seemingly spurred identification with the Turkish nation, as well as the non-assimilation that occurred in Turkey, and you know, Turkey has been in the news recently with Erdoğan being reelected to the presidency last month.

You don’t really discuss the recent Erdoğan years much in your case study, but Turkey, under Erdoğan, it seems to have become sort of retribalized in a way or, at least, re-lignified, if I can use the term, and we can say similar things perhaps about the US under Trump and you know, we talked about India, under Modi just a while ago. How do these more recent trends of increased polarization and retribalization, which you do discuss in your book, how do they fit into your overall argument?

 Elliott: Yeah, I mean, I think that you’re right to point out the fact that I think what’s happening in Turkey right now is, to some degree, a religious phenomenon. I mean, we also – I mean, we can separate different phenomena. There’s democratic backsliding that’s taking place, whether it’s under Trump or Modi or Erdoğan or various other contexts. We also see the increased – in some cases, the increased use of religion in politics, and that’s certainly true in India, and I think to some degree in Turkey and the US as well.

But then we have this separate phenomenon whereby, you know, we have the story that I’m trying to tell in the book, which is about how industrialization will generate these broader processes of identity formation and I think it’s important to keep these things different because I think we have this process, it is one of the things I talk about in the book is the way in which we have assimilation, there’s interesting variation in Turkey, 20th-century Turkey.

I should mention to the listeners why I’m mentioning Turkey in the first place is not only as a qualitative case study but also a quantitative case study. Turkey used to have censuses every five years, which ask people about their mother tongue or ethnic identification, and that continued from 1935 to 1965 and after 1965, Turkey has continued to have censuses, but they haven’t asked people, or rather, they haven’t recorded data on ethnic identification in the way that they used to before.

So that’s why I focused on that period in particular, and during that period, you definitely saw a lot of variation in the degree to which people started to identify more as Turkish in some areas than others, and that was correlated with levels of urbanizations, such that increasing the urban areas of western Turkey, especially started to see more assimilation into identifying as Turkish from these areas that used to have more ethnic minorities.

The parts of Eastern Turkey, especially with the Kurdish areas, are the areas that didn’t really assimilate that much and I think that’s because they didn’t really see a lot of industrialization and urbanization in those areas. Again, Turkey, like other countries, has that overlapping degree of linguistic on the one hand and religious identities on the other. So that’s where it becomes complex.

There was, I mentioned, I think it’s called the Dersim rebellion, and it happened in the late 1930s. The Turkish state crushed, I think, just after Ottoman Turk died, they crushed a rebellion in Eastern Turkey very violently, too violent to the point where that part of Turkey is still the least populated and has a lot of population density in any part of Turkey today but that was partially because it was Kurdish but also because it was from this Alevi sect of Islam.

So that’s where things become a bit complex in terms of identifying which types of identity where do see assimilation and where do we see increased salience and I think Turkey, like India and like the US, but especially like India, we have these overlapping religious and ethnic identities, which complicate the story of it.

 Kurtis: So there is another – I mean, this is somewhat unrelated, I guess, but one of your conclusions is that government policies of nation-building like mass education or imposed languages, they mostly fail to assimilate, but if we look at industrialization and see industrialization in a particular country and it’s especially government-driven, this sort of by your book is basically a form of government led nation building in essence, right?

The reason I ask this is because just before your book, I was reading another book called Magnetic Mountain, it’s by Stephen Kotkin. It’s on Stalin’s rapid industrialization drive in the 1930s, especially in the Soviet Union, and he did this largely by building new industrial cities and, you know, unlike the story of Eugen Weber, tales in turning peasants into Frenchmen in France via mass schooling and military recruitment, Stalin transformed Russian Serfs into Soviets and much more rapidly than in France through the building of new industrial cities and resettling a bunch of Serfs from the countryside into these urban factories.

So I guess my question is to the extent government policy focuses nation-building efforts on industrialization as in the Soviet Union, it could actually be effective. Is that right in your estimation, or not so much?

 Elliott: It’s a good question. I mean, I think something I really didn’t talk about in the book, but there certainly, I think there’s a strong correlation between the kind of governments who will promote industrial policies and the kind of governments who also promote nation-building policies, right? They’re not the same, and I think it is interesting to think about those differences, but you’re right.

Stalin is an example of somebody who was very strong in promoting industrialization and he also in a very top-down manner and he also promoted assimilation or at least deep, you know, a very strong nation-building policies also in a top-down manner. Whether it was forcibly removing large populations or just massacring them, so those two will often, yes, go hand in hand, but they don’t always go hand in hand.

It’s interesting, so Russian example; I mentioned this in passing in the book, and I’d love to do some more research on this is we have some evidence that towards the end of the Russian empire, before the Russian revolution, there was small to some degree of industrialization that was taking place in various parts of Russia, imperial Russia and one of the places that was taking place was in what is now Ukraine.

It is one of the stories that people have told about Ukraine, and up until the revolution was that there was, of course, there was population rudiment into Ukraine from Russians who moved in because they have this industrial basis and in doing but there is also people I think in Ukraine, the evidence of that but what I’ve seen is that there were people in Ukraine who were indigenous to that area and moved into the industrial sector and actually started to identify more as Russian and perhaps may have had ancestors, which identify as Ukrainian.

But that industrial process generated that broader Russian identity and again, there is mixed evidence for that, but the point is that that was a process that was perhaps starting to unfold slowly and very late compared to other parts of Europe, but that was interrupted by the revolution, right? So that stopped that process from taking place, and then you have, as I said, you have a much more of that.

So that’s in some ways, you do have attempts that nation-building under the Tsars in Russia but I think it was not as top-down and violent in some ways as Stalin, who is like the extreme example and then you have, again, go back to the Turkey example, you have this violent reaction as I said to Kurds and the Alevi minority in the 1930s and then there is industrialization taking place.

But that is a very top-down nation-building policy, and then you have a change of government, especially after World War II. You have actually a period of high levels of industrialization.

 Kurtis: Okay, so one of your conclusions is that government policies of nation-building, like mass education and imposed languages, mostly fail to assimilate, but if industrialization in a country is especially government-driven, this sort of by your book is basically a form of government led nation building in essence, right?

The reason I ask this is because just before your book, I was reading another book called Magnetic Mountain, it’s by Stephen Kotkin and it’s on Stalin’s rapid industrialization drive in 1930 in the Soviet Union and he did this largely by building new industrial cities, and I guess unlike the story that Eugen Weber tells of turning peasants into Frenchmen in France via mass schooling and military recruitment, Stalin transformed Russian Serfs into Soviets and I think much more rapidly than in France too, to the building of new industrial cities and resettling a bunch of Serfs from the countryside into these urban factories.

So my question is to the extent government policy focuses nation-building efforts on industrialization as in the Soviet Union, it could actually be effective. Is that right or not in your estimation?

 Elliott: Yeah, that is an interesting question. So there is definitely a strong correlation I think, between countries or governments who industrialize or promote industrialization and also who are promoting strong nation-building policies, right? And so very proactive governments in that sense, and certainly I think Stalin fits into that category, absolutely.

The idea that he was promoting this heavy-scale industrialization in the USSR and also promoting nation-building in a very strong violent way, either forcing people, and large populations and displacing them to other parts of the country or just massacring them outright. That’s often the case historically. It is interesting to think about the differences, though. I think there is one case that we can think about.

Just in Russia, there was that period before the revolution under the Imperial Regime, under the Tsars, and there was some degree of industrialization, not as much as in other parts of Europe, but there was industrialization taking place, and the one place that was really taking place was in Ukraine and what is now Ukraine and interesting, the evidence, I do talk about this a little bit in the book.

And there’s evidence that these areas that were industrializing in Ukraine, the Donbas area, there was some evidence that people from obviously other parts of Russia are moving there for work but also there is people within Ukraine who are moving there, who might have identified historically as Ukrainians but once they moved into those industrial areas and started working in manufacturing and industry, increasingly identified as Russian actually at that point.

There of course, there were some attempts at top-down nation-building under the Tsars, but nothing like was under Stalin, in terms of the violence and sort of the very strong heavy hand that the government had. So the interesting variation there within the Russian context is also, I mentioned Turkey before, the evidence from Turkey is that there was a heavy hand of nation-building, I think in the 1930s.

I mentioned their same rebellion and the response to that, and we have this very strong militaristic response to Kurdish resistance in various parts of Turkey and not so much in the 1930s, 1940s after World War II, the martial plan comes in, and that’s when really Turkish industrialization really kind of takes off after 1945, especially late 40s into the 50s, a huge increase in the number of tractors.

The Americans are donating a lot of tractors to Turkey, and it increases exponentially. We see a mass-scale organization industrialization and that’s actually a point when the government starts to become a little bit less top-down, a little bit less heavy-handed, where there’s – Turkey has, I think, its first ever change of regime in a multiparty election, the new party comes to power, and there’s a case where actually industrialization and nation-building don’t go hand in hand.

I think there is a case where the attempts that top-down nation-building seemed to have failed and caught the backlash before and now, instead, the government is becoming much more hands off but there’s actually evidence from at least the census data that I saw that there is more assimilation taking place. So yes, a lot of times Stalin sort of heavy nation-building, heavy industrialization, very autocratic, those things kind of go hand in hand in many cases but not always, and it is interesting to see the variation.

 Kurtis: And obviously, the reason I was reading that book is to do with the building of new cities, right? Industrial or otherwise and this relates to my work at CCI with Charter Cities and new cities. I’ve often found that 99% of the conversation around Charter Cities, and new cities focuses on formal institutions and the rule of law and formal policies on the books and there’s almost nowhere or very little of the conversation is around more informal institutions and norms and how these cities can shape identity and expand sort of this moral circle of new urbanized such that they’re more likely to cooperate with strangers and not just with kin.

I guess while there aren’t enough charter cities to do a sort of rigorous social science study on this question as you did in your book, there are these special jurisdictions around the globe like these thousands of special economic zones, right? These specific geographic areas were given powers over commercial law in order to spur industrialization largely. Have you thought about this for future research?

You know, there are some interesting border discontinuities there with these SCZs here that I guess, lend themselves to quasi-natural experiments and few people have done them. So I’m just wondering if this popped into your head at all as you were writing the book.

 Elliott: That’s a good idea for future research. I mean, one thing that is interesting to think about, and again, I didn’t really write about this in the book, is we have attempts by various governments to create kind of ethnically neutral cities, right? So the example I mentioned in Botswana, Gaborone, was created effectively because it was not – it was kind of associated with one of the Marafie or clans of the Botswana people.

But it was kind of situated in a relatively neutral area and so that means that it wasn’t as if one particular clan could claim that land as their own and says, “Oh, that’s our land.” Again, that is not entirely true, there are elements of that there. So I think one of the lessons from talking about Charter Cities or SCZs is when you talk about to what degree they’re created on land that is considered neutral or kind of empty in some sense or not.

I mean, the example, we know there’s a long history of the capital cities being created in countries that try to balance out interest. You are talking right now from Washington, DC, which is a classic example of that. I mean, we have other cases like Abuja in Nigeria or Dodoma in Tanzania, which are kind of created to sort of be ethnically neutral or regionally neutral in some sense, and I think so with the case that I didn’t talk about in the book, which I just didn’t have time or space to do so is I do mention Uganda.

Uganda’s capital is not neutral, Uganda’s capital is effectively also the precolonial capital of the area of Buganda, the country from which the country gets its name, and there are ongoing ethnic clashes around the part, especially if the area which the Kabaka, the King of Buganda, has its capital in a part of, it’s a part of Kampala and to a degree, Kampala is, you know it certainly not ethnically neutral.

So there are claims that the Buganda leadership or other people in Buganda will make on the city of Kampala saying, “You know actually, this is actually our ethnic territory, not neutral. You are building this on our land” et cetera, et cetera. I think that’s one of the lessons you can take away, you know, to what degree you can create a special economic zone or a charter city on a relatively neutral.

Let’s not call it entirely neutral, but to what degree it can be relatively neutral? Again, Gaberone is not entirely neutral, but it’s a relatively neutral site that everybody can kind of come to by land and or at least occupy land and claim it as part of sort of national territory, right? Where that doesn’t work, that can be highly problematic, and I think that’s a lesson perhaps going forward.

 Kurtis: Yeah, and I guess before the next question, self-plug but CCI just came out with a new cities map last week that I think it’s 350 cities in the dataset around the world. So if you do happen to pursue this research in the future, we’re happy to help out. So there are a couple of debates or literature I think that you could have gotten into that you didn’t get into as much, or you avoided altogether.

So I wanted to ask about some of them, and one is the literature on trust and I guess in my reading of your book, you could have quite easily called urbanization and trust as opposed to industrialization and assimilation, but you know, I always have an urban bias here, right? You even begin the last chapter quoting Putnam on ethnic diversity and trust, but you don’t really spell out the implications of your argument for inter-group trust.

Was this a conscious choice, or do you have plans for future research or is there some third reason?

 Elliott: Yeah, I know. It’s again an absolutely fascinating topic, and I know one of your previous guests, Leonard Wantchekon, has done a lot of interesting work on trust I think speaking from the perspective of development studies, I think that the more I think about it, I think trust is such an incredibly important part of what it means to be developed. Again, there is a lot of trust, you know on this and how trust is developed over time.

Trust across communities, and trust across strangers is an essential part of what it means to function in a capitalist society, it is so incredibly important. I didn’t set out not to write about trust, I think the reason perhaps why I didn’t pick it up though is simply the way it can be operationalized and measured. It’s really tricky, right? We can talk about I absolutely think that that’s yes, you might have ethnically diverse societies, which have high levels of trust and some which have lower levels of trust.

I would imagine that the ones who have high levels of trust are also the ones where we would see more inter-ethnic marriages and also see perhaps broader identity formation. It just a lot of that comes down to sort of how we measure trust and how you’re able to capture that in social science terms. I think that’s my simple answer, but I think that is absolutely – I have done a little bit of work on inter-ethnic marriage.

I think that’s something that I don’t discuss that much in the book, but I think that is part of the, again, a chicken and egg question. What do we develop first? Do we develop certain processes that generate inter-ethnic marriage, and then that generates new identity formation, or is it the identity formation that’s taking place already and that allows for inter-ethnic marriages to happen? That’s something, again, I’d like to look at a bit more in the future.

 Kurtis: This is I guess, then, kind of similar to the last question on trust, but there is also a pretty big literature on this “markets make us moral” hypothesis, right? You know, Montesquieu writes about doux commerce and commerce going hand in hand. I think Albert Hirschman wrote about this topic a lot of passion and interest. Fukuyama wrote a book called Trust that’s largely on this topic.

So is it fair to conclude from your work that you’re sort of in agreement with or sympathetic to this “markets make us moral” hypothesis?

 Elliott: Yeah, this is where I definitely agree that as I mentioned before, about people like Chang saying that industrialization is kind of become a bit of a dirty word, again, almost literally because of the issues around pollution. I think that yes, the idea that we can have functioning markets and that that can actually take place in a non-laissez faire fashion, I think that’s extremely important.

I think that’s part of the story that I don’t want to generalize too much, but the idea that we have this shift that Chang talks about, the way that industrialization become perhaps less important over time or at least since the shift took place, perhaps in the 70s and 80s and it’s become slightly downgraded in terms of priorities, at least among donors, I think that yes, that that’s part of that story that promoting markets and industrialization in a positive way is definitely important within development studies and it’s a large literature.

You mentioned some important authors there, there’s also worked in Tanzania from the 1970s to 1980s, and have written a lot about the problems of establishing markets and cross-cultural context and I think that’s yeah, especially one within Africa, that’s an incredibly important topic.

 Kurtis: Then another topic I was surprised didn’t come up more often is decentralization, mainly because a lot of your academic work is around decentralization. There’s been this big wave, as you know, of decentralization reform since the 1990s, some places obviously implemented much more effectively than others, and you know, this is especially relevant, I think, in your region of expertise in Africa, right?

Where there’s this history of artificially drawn borders that have lumped together previously antagonistic ethnic groups into one state, or have divided previously related ethnic groups into multiple states. So to what extent can redraw internal subnational borders through decentralization such that those borders are then more congruent with prevailing patterns of group settlement, to what extent can affect assimilation or ethnic change?

 Elliott: Yes, again, that’s a good question. I think one of the works that I try to engage with in the book is, David Laitin wrote a book, Nations, States, and Violence, I think about 10, 15 years ago and one of the things he talks about in the conclusion is, how do we – so we have this evidence that ethnic diversity can be bad for a variety of outcomes, growth, conflict, democracy, et cetera.

So he says, “How do we deal with that in a peaceful way?” I mean, one way is to just go out and kill people and make everybody homogenous or force them to adopt identity. We don’t want to do that, right? That is not the right way to do that. We also don’t want to have low growth; we don’t want to have conflict, right? What he says in that book is that we can try to promote decentralization, we can try federalism, some sort of promotion of local government, and draw borders internally within countries to make countries more, at least make local jurisdictions and local governments more homogenous.

So ethnically diverse countries but local jurisdictions more homogenous, right? So with that, we can eliminate some of the problems of ethnic diversity in a peaceful manner. So that’s his idea, and that my response to that is, to some degree, that we could also just promote more industrialization and generating more assimilation, volunteeristic assimilation. In that sense, it would actually also help to generate broader processes of assimilation that would lead to lower levels of diversity without forcing people to change their identities and without redrawing government jurisdictions.

My response to that is I already mentioned the Gellner and Marx comparison and how Gellner I think, is more explicitly bottom-up than Marx. The other thing I like about Gellner is the degree to which we talked about processes by which industrialization is very uneven. I think Marx talks about this too, but one of the things that makes Gellner really fascinating is that he recognizes that it’s rare to have industrialization that’s evenly spread across the country.

There’s rare examples, I think, where it does happen. I think I mentioned this in passing is France. France is an interesting example where the country is not entirely evenly distributed, industrialization is not entirely evenly distributed, but relative to other parts of the world that it actually is, and I think that’s one of the points you get when you read, you mentioned Weber before, but for the most part, it’s uneven.

So you know, we generate growth in some areas and not in others, and so people move from one area to the other, and we could try to draw government boundaries, according — local government boundaries according to that uneven nature, but of course, that is always sort of a moving target. I think that is one of the things to keep in mind is that when generating growth or industrialization in one country, then we will have to adjust to the fact that there will be a lot of internal migration.

I think that’s one of the things you observe all around the world is that people will move to where there are jobs and when the industrialization takes place for often very geographic reasons in terms of access to ports or access to natural resources, then there will be migration and you have to count for the fact that ethnic diversity will change across time and even if you try to draw local government boundaries the way that Laitin talks about, it will change because the demographics will change. It’s a moving target and it is often a very difficult thing to get right.

 Kurtis: I guess maybe to defend Laitin for a bit, maybe his pushback on what you just said would be that sure, industrialization would be a great and neutral way to bring about growth without sacrificing other things but in order to start industrializing, there needs to be some threshold level of cooperation and kind of trust and all the things that we’re talking about, right? So in order to get that threshold level, some kind of redrawing or something of what along the lines of what Laitin suggested might be necessary.

 Elliott: Yeah. No, I don’t doubt that. I’m simplifying David’s argument to some degree and I also think that you mentioned before in our conversation people like Dani Rodrik and the idea that industrialization has changed over time. That is one thing that I don’t want to be nostalgic for, the idea that we can replicate the experiences of 19th-century England today in the 21st century.

No, that’s not possible. I mean, there’s a lot of first-mover advantages that Europe had that other countries don’t have, especially as we know in terms of competing for low-wage manufacturing growth. It’s really difficult especially when now, it’s been taken up by extremely high populated countries like Bangladesh, India, China. You know, African countries in particular are really struggling to compete with those countries simply because of scale issues.

That wasn’t the case in the 19th century, so I don’t have any rose-tinted glasses as far as that goes and I think that is an important thing to keep in mind. The title of the book is Industrialization Assimilation and I do talk about the process of industrialization but one thing that I will admit to saying is I don’t focus a lot because I think there is a lot of literature already out there about how industrialization has changed.

I mentioned Rodrik and a bunch of other people who are talking about increasing on the value chain and how we deal with small-scale versus large-scale manufacturing. There is a lot of literature out there, which I recommend listeners to look at about the history of industrialization and how it’s again, you know I mentioned cases like Ethiopia, a lot of literature just on industrialization in Ethiopia.

I think that’s really important to keep track of it, how the nature of industrialization has changed over time, and how countries are adapting to that in a successful way, sometimes successful ways.

 Kurtis: Last question here, you just kind of looked back at the history of industrialization. I want to look ahead a bit in time. So humanity is in its sort of last wave of urbanization, right? We’ll add an estimated five billion people or so to the world cities this century and then the urban population and really the overall world population is said to be stabilizing.

So in a world like that, what does your model imply, right? Does this world in which urbanization is complete, does it take away one of the key, or perhaps in your view, the main mechanism that human beings have used to transition from more limited narrow traditional identities to more broad universal identities?

 Elliott: Yeah, that’s a good question. I think I would say two things, first of all, yes we’re still getting there but you’re right. My story is basically industrialization is a process, it has a beginning and an end in a very broad sense of the word. The idea that countries go from being unindustrialized or not industrialized to being industrialized, once they’re industrialized they basically reach some level of stasis in terms of their level of industrialization, right?

The same thing for urbanization, as you know they go from being, I mentioned Botswana being 4% urban or whatever, it will reach a level at some point where basically will stop increasing a bit. The level of increase, the rate of increase will slow down significantly. It already has started to slow down, right? So countries like Britain, Canada, the US, they still continue to urbanize but as you know, at a very, very small rate.

But basically remain stable and that will effectively mean that in the broad sense of what I’m talking about in the book, that process will start to come to an end, right? That’s a process by which countries industrialize, that’s changing identities, and once that has played then that process will kind of stop. However, and this is again something I don’t really go into the book but since you’re asking about it, it’s interesting to speculate.

We know that what kind of people live in cities and what kind of people live in the countryside in developed countries and a lot of that has an age difference, right? So that people, I mentioned already about in Botswana, people you know might get their funerals are in the countryside and they live, they get married in the cities. I mean, that’s true in developed countries too, right? People grow up wherever they grow up.

The ambitious ones, they want to go out and have a great career, they don’t tend to stay in the countryside. They go off to big cities, they go off to cities and earn, they get educated and they earn their incomes, and that’s where the economic dynamism is. I remember you have studied here at LSC, one of our now-retired professors in the department, Tim Dyson, is a demographer. He used to say any interest in global history has only taken place in cities.

You know, he’d say things like that, the idea that all these great ideas that we have in terms of all the technological or other kinds of ideas that have transformed the world in which we live come from cities. Those are young people especially, who are generating those ideas and the idea that if you still have rural-urban, even if the level of urbanization remains the same, part of that is that turning whereby people are born in the countryside and then they come to cities and then the old people who live in cities retire and go back to the countryside, right?

So as I said, in that kind of hypothetical example, which is not hypothetical, it actually is happening in developed countries today, I think that we still, might still see that process of assimilation on a smaller scale but in terms of generational differences. So that these people who come from different backgrounds from the countryside go to the city and they perhaps mix a bit more and you form a broader identity formation but then as they get old and retired and they might move back to the countryside.

So that is again, not that’s something outside of the bounds of the book but I think that is something that you may observe to some degree already happening in developed countries. It might continue to happen more on a global scale into the future.

 Kurtis: Okay. Well, that’s all the questions I had for today. Elliottt Green, thanks a lot for the great discussion. I appreciate it.

 Elliott: Thank you, Kurtis, this was a great chat.

 Kurtis: Thanks so much for listening. We love engaging with our listeners, so please always feel free to reach out. The contact information is listed in the show notes. To find out more about the work of the Charter Cities Institute, please follow us on social media or visit


“The focus in the book for me is the fact that people are identifying according to certain ethnic identities, but they’re not being forced to do so, and in fact, in many cases, they are doing so despite state efforts to have them identify otherwise.” — Dr. Elliott Green [0:06:45]

“You go to these big cities in African countries, which have very rapidly growing populations, and when you get to talking with people who live in those cities, it’s effectively this old story of having one foot in the city and one foot in the countryside.” — Dr. Elliott Green [0:10:37]

“The two areas in Africa which have the highest level of urbanization are Coastal West Africa and Southern Africa — [and] the areas that have the lowest levels are Central and Eastern Africa.” — Dr. Elliott Green [0:15:37]

“Trust across communities, trust across strangers is an essential part of what it means to function in a capitalist society. It is so incredibly important.” — Dr. Elliott Green [0:42:03]

“Promoting markets and industrialization in a positive way is definitely important within development studies.” — Dr. Elliott Green [0:44:26]

“When generating growth or industrialization in one country, we will have to adjust to the fact that there will be a lot of internal migration.” — Dr. Elliott Green [0:48:14]

Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:

Dr. Elliott Green

Industrialization and Assimilation

Ha-Joon Chang

Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilization

Nations, States, and Violence

Charter Cities Institute

Charter Cities Institute on Facebook

Charter Cities Institute on Twitter

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