Cornel Ban

Assistant Professor, Department of International Relations, Boston University

Special issue on the BRICs and the Washington Consensus (co-edited with Mark Blyth)


This special issue attempts to fill in this gap through six contributions that bring together scholars interested in the political economy of development and the sociology of ideational and institutional change. Their main finding is that the BRICs attempted to balance their adoption of select parts of the WC template while defending and often reinventing the relevance of state-led development policies under the guise of being compliant with the WC itself. In so doing, they have neither pioneered a post-neoliberal transformation, nor have they proved to be simply forces for the continuation of WC ideas and policies in the global economy.

Two questions therefore animate this special issue: What did the Washington Consensus look like in practice? And how have the BRICs appropriated, adopted, adapted, or abandoned specific aspects of this transnational policy paradigm? These are important questions for scholars of international political economy because they cut to the heart of ongoing debates taking place in several social science disciplines concerning the diffusion of liberal economic ideas and the remaking of global economy.

The BRICs have a special role in this drama. As a group of emerging economies, they started out as a mere Goldman Sachs investment meme a decade ago and yet went on to become one of the few beacons of the global economy during the Great Recession. They even formed an inter-governmental alliance of South-South cooperation with an ambitious agenda in international economic institutions. What makes them particularly interesting to us however is that although these countries went through their impressive growth spurts in an international context dominated by neoliberal economic ideas and narratives about the dos and don’ts of development, they nevertheless reclaimed the role of the state in development far beyond the limits of the WC framework. The BRICs have a greater degree of policy autonomy from WC core institutions -the World Bank and the IMF – then other states in the so-called ‘Global South’ (Woods 2006; Pop-Eleches 2008). Given this and their systemic importance in the global economy the BRICs stand as critical cases where we can examine the domestic dynamics of WC support and contestation.

The added value of this special issue is threefold. First, we examine the relationship between the BRICs and the Washington Consensus over time and attempt to extract the dynamics of this interaction for the BRICs as a group. As such, the contributors examine the ideas and institutions of this transnational policy paradigm while explaining why and how they were reproduced, modified, or contested in the domestic politics of each state. Second, while calls for interdisciplinarity are many, their realization in focused empirical work is harder to come by (e.g. Simmons et al 2008). This special issue contributes to this emerging literature by hosting contributions from political science and sociology. The efforts of four political scientists to illuminate the workings of the individual cases (Cornel Ban, Peter Rutland, Rahul Mukherji and Matthew Ferchen) are framed by the insights of sociologists working on the transnational institutional devices of the WC (Sarah Babb) and its economic ideas respectively (Marion Fourcade). Finally, the case studies approach the topic from varying theoretical perspectives that seek to specify the political conditions under which economic ideas play a critical role in institutional transformations.

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