Revolution in Development

About the book

Revolution in Development Book 2021 UC PressRevolution in Development: Mexico and the Governance of the Global Economy uncovers the surprising influence of postrevolutionary Mexico on the twentieth century’s most important international economic institutions. Drawing on extensive archival research in Mexico, the United States, and Great Britain, Christy Thornton meticulously traces how Mexican officials repeatedly rallied Third World leaders to campaign for representation in global organizations and redistribution through multilateral institutions. By decentering the United States and Europe in the history of global economic governance, Revolution in Development shows how Mexican economists, diplomats, and politicians fought for more than five decades to reform the rules and institutions of the global capitalist economy. In so doing, the book demonstrates, Mexican officials shaped not only their own domestic economic prospects but also the contours of the project of international development itself.

Revolution in Development was selected a Best Scholarly Book of 2021 by the Chronicle of Higher Education, and is the winner of the 2022 Luciano Tomassini Latin American International Relations Book Award from the Latin American Studies Association (LASA). It also received an honorable mention for the 2022 Immanuel Wallerstein Memorial Book Award from the American Sociological Association’s Political Economy of the World System (PEWS) section, as well as an honorable mention for the 2022 Barrington Moore Book Award from the Comparative and Historical Sociology section. It was also selected by Foreign Policy for their 2023 Summer Reading Recommendations.

The cover image is by Santos Balmorí, and appeared on the cover of the March 1945 issue of Futuro magazine. It appears courtesy of the Centro Lombardo Toledano.

Purchase here: University of California Press | |


Published reviews:

Revolution in Development makes an important contribution by explaining, rather than assuming, the emergence of inequalities between national economies. …the book informs world-systems theory by providing a grounded account of how power is achieved in the world system, as a product of continued struggles between multiple states, which are in turn shaped by internal struggles within those states. Taken together, Revolution in Development offers a nuanced and multilayered view of hegemony and state agency in the world system.”
– Angela Serrano, American Journal of Sociology 128 no. 4 (January 2023): 1281–83.

“One major contribution of the new transnational histories reviewed here is their attempt to go beyond merely recovering Latin American agency vis-à-vis the Global North to show how Latin American states and movements have influenced global ideas, practices, and institutions. Christy Thornton’s excellent book Revolution in Development: Mexico and the Governance of the Global Economy is exemplary in this regard. Her sweeping sixty-year study of Mexico’s interventions in the formation of multilateral institutions offers a brilliant rethinking of how global economic governance developed.”
– Michelle Chase, Latin American Research Review, March 2024.

“Thornton’s brilliantly conceived and meticulously researched study has much to offer historians of international organizations and the twentieth-century world well beyond Mexico.”
– Elizabeth Chatterjee, Toynbee Prize Foundation Roundtable, March 17, 2023

“In Revolution and Development, Thornton narrates the story of the post-war political and economic hegemony of the United States enacted through institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank from the “outside in” by privileging the standpoint of Mexican agents and interests. She calls for more studies of the global financial system that depart from the efforts of nations in the Third World to integrate, reform, or even remake these institutions. In this way, she not only makes an important contribution to the historiography on postrevolutionary Mexico but also pens a powerful critique of global capitalism and historical arguments that often presume that US hegemony sprang fully formed from the ashes of World War II.”
– Mary K. Coffey, Mexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos, 39 no. 1 (Winter 2023): 180–83.

Revolution in Development demonstrates that foreign credit and investment were key to the supposedly closed, nationalist political economy of the so-called Mexican miracle, and to Latin America’s import-substituting industrialisation more generally. More broadly, it decolonises and extends the history of international development, both in terms of narrative and practice.”
– Ingrid Bleynat, Journal of Latin American Studies 54 no. 3 (August 2022): 541–544

“Thornton convincingly shows how the experience of the 1910 revolution gave Mexican officers and diplomats an extremely original perspective on economic development that largely anticipated the Economic Commission for Latin America’s developmentalism and Third World countries’ proposals for economic reform during and after decolonization.”
– Vanni Pettinà, Hispanic American Historical Review 102 no. 2 (May 2022): 380–382.

Revolution in Development is a precious contribution to the scholarship of development. It explores how development ideas have deep roots in the periphery, and it tells a history that stretches well beyond the ‘classic’ period of the 1950s and 1960s. It is a must-read for scholars and students of Latin America, and an excellent read for students and scholars in international and diplomatic history, especially for those interested in international organizations.”
– Sara Lorenzini, Diplomatic History 46, no 3 (June 2022): 627–630.

“The book represents a major, trend-setting breakthrough in how we understand the origins and growth of international economic organizations and in how historians can decenter a northern framework and more effectively approach south-north interactions across a wide range of topics.”
– Edward Beatty, H-LatAm, H-Net Reviews, March 4, 2022.

“Thornton demuestra que, lejos de ser una imposición imperialista, la creación de organismos y programas de desarrollo fue, en buena medida, el resultado de las presiones de los gobiernos de América Latina, ávidos de conseguir las condiciones institucionales y el acceso a capital y tecnología necesarios para industrializar sus economías, ampliar sus mercados internos y competir en los mercados internacionales con productos diferentes a materias primas.”
– Gonzalo Vargas, Desigualdad & Desarrollo, February 24, 2022

“Thornton offers a master class in how to write intellectual history. Her rigorous research undermines stereotypes and misconceptions about Latin American countries’ role in global economic governance.”
– Ignacio Sánchez Prado, Chronicle of Higher Education “Best Scholarly Books of 2021,” January 5, 2022.

“A novel, convincing, and politically sobering story about the international consequences of the Mexican Revolution, the contradictions of 20th-century developmentalism, and the historical construction of imperial power in the North Atlantic. It is also an outstanding example of a new wave of research on the entangled history of American societies in the 20th century—work by an interdisciplinary community of scholars that Thornton herself has helped to knit together and bring to public attention.”
– Amy Offner, NACLA Report on the Americas, Vol 53, No. 4 (Winter 2021): 441-445. Full PDF available here.

“Thornton’s study of Mexico’s sustained effort to advance these principles exhumes the stunning compendium of radical ideas and progressive convictions that informed Mexico’s pursuit of development in the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution.”
– Pavel Andrade, Chasqui: Revista de Literatura Latinoamericana, Vol. 50, No. 2 (November 2021): R15-18.

“Required reading for understanding Mexico’s current foreign policy and its potential implications for international governance.”
– David Escamilla-Guerrero, Economic History Review, Vol. 74, No. 3 (August 2021): 864-865.

H-Diplo Roundtable XXII-49, with an introduction by Eric Helleiner and reviews by Johanna Bockman, Susan Gauss, Jamie Martin, and Eric Zolov, July 12, 2021. Full PDF available here.


“Christy Thornton has made a landmark contribution. Focusing on the pivotal case of Mexico and penetrating the condescending discourse of Northern policymakers and diplomats, she compellingly reads the construction of the twentieth century’s great international governing institutions—the League of Nations, the IMF and the World Bank, the United Nations—from the outside in, through the optic of the Global South. Her clear-eyed, painstakingly researched analysis of Mexico’s ‘revolution in development’ establishes the nation’s critical constitutive role in the making of US global hegemony, while reconfiguring our understanding of Mexican foreign policy and the ideology and practice of the postrevolutionary state.”
––Gil Joseph, Farnam Professor of History and International Studies, Yale University

“In this book, Christy Thornton guides us through the era when Mexico was assuming an active role in struggles to change the institutional and economic world order per se as a way to advance its nationalist development agenda. She masterfully brings alive the actors and pains and gains of Mexico’s quest to transform key multilateral institutions for a more just system and to remove constraints on its own development process. Academics, students, and policy makers, especially in Mexico, will benefit enormously from this splendidly written, extremely well-documented contribution to the knowledge of Mexican economic history, with an international political economy and institutional building perspective.”
––Juan Carlos Moreno-Brid, coauthor of Development and Growth in the Mexican Economy: A Historical Perspective 

“Many scholars have asked what difference the Mexican Revolution made, but those who have addressed this question typically have framed it in strictly domestic terms. Yet, as Christy Thornton brilliantly demonstrates in this pathbreaking study, Mexican revolutionary nationalism manifested itself at the international level, from World War I on, in startling and significant ways. Revolution in Development promises to radically revise our understanding of the formation of the international economic order and to enable us to appreciate the role that Mexico and its Latin American allies played in the global debates about economic development.”
––Barbara Weinstein, author of The Color of Modernity: São Paulo and the Making of Race and Nation in Brazil

“This brilliant study posits Mexico as a subject rather than an object of global economic policy. Most history of capitalism is written through the lens of the Global North, and this book offers a crucial corrective, showing the Mexican postrevolutionary government as a critical advocate for the Global South.”
––Jürgen Buchenau, Professor of History and Latin American Studies, UNC Charlotte

Table of Contents

Introduction: How Could Mexico Matter?
1. Recognition and Representation: The Mexican Revolution and Multilateral Governance
2. A New Legal and Philosophic Conception of Credit: Redefining Debt in the 1930s
3. A Solidarity of Interests: Mexico and the Inter-American Bank
4. Voice and Vote: Mexico’s Postwar Vision at Bretton Woods
5. Within Limits of Justice: The Economic Charter for the Americas and Its Critics
6. Organizing the Terms of Trade: Mexico and the International Trade Organization
7. The Price of Success: Navigating the New Development Order during the Mexican Miracle
8. A Mexican International Economic Order? The Echeverría Synthesis
Conclusion: Hegemony and Reaction: The United States in Opposition


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