This survey critically examines the development studies literature dealing with the connections between social structure, politics and the emergence or development of ‘indigenous’ capitalism in developing countries. This literature has focused mainly on the apparent absence or weakness of indigenous capitalism, and on a set of questions and problems assumed to some degree to be generic to the ‘Third World’. Most of it has been framed by three major paradigms: the concept of ‘social barriers ‘ to capitalism; Marxian concerns about connections between economic and political domination; and a (neo‐liberal) notion that ‘politics’ necessarily constitutes an obstacle to capitalist growth. The conclusion is that these paradigms, and the underlying assumption of a generic Third World problem of weak indigenous capitalism, have ceased to be very fruitful. In this area of enquiry, development studies has run out of intellectual steam. Researchers interested in developing countries can usefully connect with recent scholarship on capitalism in the ‘advanced’ nations, especially work (a) in the New Economic Sociology on the social basis of trust and market exchange and (b) in political science on the politico‐economic relationships between states and large‐scale capital.