En inscrivant « La protoindustrialisation, théorie et réalité » au programme du Congrès international d'Histoire économique de Budapest du mois d'août 1982, le comité d'organisation souhaitait mettre à l'épreuve d'une grande consultation internationale les propositions de Franklin Mendels présentées pour la première fois dans une thèse soutenue devant l'Université de Wisconsin en 1969 et dans un article du Journal of Economic History de mars 1972. Reprises ensuite et développées par P. Kriedte, H. Medick et J. Schlumbohm dans leur livre paru à Gôttingen, les idées de Mendels avaient suscité discussions et polémiques ; une mise au point paraissait nécessaire.
The International Congress of Economic History which took place in Budapest endeavored to present a survey of research inspired by the theory of proto-industrialization. A number of studies confirm F. Mendel's theories but propose a wider definition of the concept, pointing out that the agricultural regions affected by the diffusion of rural industry vary in their means of production, social structure and their laws of succession. Other studies emphasize the causes of industrialization and highlight the role of economic domination between countries. Still others attempt to apply the model to developing Asian Countries.
One of the most controversal issues concerns the social and demographic aspect of proto-industrialization. It undoubtedly played a part in the population growth of 18th century Europe, but its extent is difficult to measure as it depends on the age of the population, division of labour between sexes, migratory shifts and the conscious reaction of the working class to economic and structural fluctuations in industry.
Thus the very abundance of information calls for a clearer distinction between proto-industrialization and the Flemish model analyzed by Mendels which represents only one of its favoured aspects.
The initial model does, however, have three essential merits. It emphasizes the solidarity between agricultural and manufacturing sectors in the process of development. Secondly, it demonstrates that an economic analysis must always take into account demographic data relative to Man, the most important of all production factors. Thirdly, it is conducive to a comparative research, especially concerning the economy of development.