dependency theory

A set of theories which maintained that the failure of Third World states to achieve adequate and sustainable levels of development resulted from their dependence on the advanced capitalist world.
Dependency theories developed in opposition to the optimistic claims of modernization theory which saw the less developed countries being able to catch up with the West. They stressed that Western societies had an interest in maintaining their advantaged position in relation to the LDCs and had the financial and technical wherewithal to do so. A variety of different accounts of the relationship between the advanced and less developed states evolved within the broad framework of dependency theory, ranging from the stagnationism and ‘surplus drain’ theory of Andre Gunder Frank (which predicted erroneously that the Third World would be unable to achieve significant levels of industrialization ), to the more cautious pessimism of those who envisaged a measure of growth based on ‘associated dependent’ relations with the West.
The major contribution to dependency theory was undoubtedly that of Frank, a German economist of development who devised and popularized the phrase ‘the development of underdevelopment’, describing what he saw as the deformed and dependent economies of the peripheral states-in his terminology the ‘satellites’ of the more advanced ‘metropolises’. InCapitalism and Underdevelopment in Latin America (1969), he argued that the Third World was doomed to stagnation because the surplus it produced was appropriated by the advanced capitalist countries, through agencies such as transnational corporations. Frank himself insisted that growth could only be achieved by severing ties with capitalism and pursuing autocentric socialist development strategies.
Dependency theory was flawed by an overemphasis on economic factors and in some versions a necessitarian logic based on the idea of a ‘surplus drain’ (extraction and appropriation of profits) from the LDCs to the rich and powerful nations. None the less, it had the merit of drawing attention to the international dimension of development, and brought the power relations between states under scrutiny. The emergence of the newly industrializing countries (NICs) as a group of successful late developers challenged the validity of the core assumptions of dependency theory, demonstrating that successful late industrialization was possible under certain circumstances, and suggesting the need for a more sophisticated and disaggregated approach to Third World development. See also development, sociology of.

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

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