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Sociologist in Profile: Walter Rodney 1942-1980

Craig Gelling

2nd November 2022

In Autumn 2022, AQA released an updated teachers guide which references works that students may wish to become familiar with. One of the new additions to the Global Development part of the specification is Walter Rodney, a political activist and historian, whose ideas on the role of colonialism in development were highly influential.

Seen as one of the first authors to approach development from a decolonisation perspective, he was assassinated by the Guyanese Government in 1980.

Areas of Interest: Global Development – particularly underdevelopment of the Caribbean and Africa

Notable works: How Europe Undeveloped Africa (1973), The Groundings with my Brothers (1969), Marx in the Liberation of Africa (1981)

Born in 1942 in Guyana, Rodney graduated with a first-class honours degree in History from University College of the West Indies in 1963. A critical scholar, Rodney’s contemporaries included Paolo Freire, whom he shared pedagogical approaches with in one of his early publications, Groundings (1969). He taught at the University of Dar-Es-Salaam in Tanzania and University College of the West Indies, where he drew the attention of Jamaican Prime Minister, Hugo Shearer for his critical views of the role of the middle-classes in post-colonial Caribbean nations and was banned from returning to Jamaica.

His most notable work was How Europe Undeveloped Africa (1972) which broke with traditional views of developement as a process of civilisation and criticised the role of imperialism in the creation of the poverty and deprivation found in Africa. His views on the role of colonialism were aligned with those of neo-Marxists such as Andre Gunder Frank, and Walter was highly critical of the role of capitalism in creating the global inequality that existed in both the Caribbean and Africa.

Rodney was assassinated in 1980, when his car exploded in Georgetown, Guyana. His brother, Donald Walter, was convicted of possessing explosives, but this conviction was overturned almost 40 years later in 2021. A commission into the death of Walter Rodney found in 2016 that his death was likely to have been a state-sanctioned killing and that the prime minister of Guyana at the time, Forbes Burnham, must have been aware of the plot to kill Walter Rodney. In 2021, the Guyanese government admitted that Rodney was assassinated.

You can learn more about the life and works of Walter Rodney from the Walter Rodney Foundation.

Craig Gelling

Craig is an experienced Sociology teacher and examiner and is known as The Sociology Guy on social media. Craig helps design and deliver tutor2u Sociology CPD courses and student exam workshops.

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