5 minute read


Critiques Of Dependency

Both radical and reformist dependency thinking soon encountered strong opposition. While openly hostile to the radical dependentistas, mainstream development policy-makers and practitioners increasingly recognized the validity of some of their arguments about the failures of modernization "solutions" to Third World underdevelopment. Organizations such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and some large government aid agencies responded to this challenge by emphasizing the need to pay more attention to basic human needs and poverty. Reassured by the reformist arguments, some mainstream agencies sought to collaborate with more "reasonable" scholars, such as Cardoso and others who were opposed to delinking and believed in the possibility of working for change within the status quo.

Interestingly, the reformists' focus on the national bourgeoisie and class relations resonated with some of the Marxist critics of the radical dependentistas. For example, Ernesto Laclau condemned Frank for focusing on the market rather than class relations, despite his call for a class-based socialist revolution. Bill Warren, in a trenchant, well-researched challenge, questioned the assumption that Third World nations are inevitably caught in a cycle of underdevelopment. Citing various Third World success stories, he argued for a more specific, historical, and class-based analysis of global capitalist relations. Moreover, rather than automatically condemn the national bourgeoisie, he suggested that they could, under the right circumstances, play a crucial role in Third World development. In Africa, some dependentistas, such as Colin Leys, retracted their earlier positions and resurrected the national bourgeoisie as a potential instrument for escape from underdevelopment (see also Kitching).

Some feminists concerned with development issues have applauded dependency theorists for criticizing modernization theory and for grounding their analysis in Southern experiences and problems. However, dependency thinking has paid little attention to gender in general, preferring the broad sweep of global forces. Gender and development analysts have been particularly disturbed by dependency theorists' failure to pay attention to cultural dimensions of domination. This is particularly problematic for those concerned with gender equality issues because cultural attitudes and practices clearly play a crucial role both in reinforcing and strengthening patriarchal power structures. The focus on structures rather than agency and culture are, thus, serious problems for feminists interested in utilizing the insights of dependency theory, whether radical or reformist.

Scholars and practitioners concerned with gender, alternative approaches to development, and postcolonial writings argue that in crucial ways dependency thinking has not freed itself from many of the categories of modernization theory. Development is still conceived largely in terms of economic growth, industrialization, and liberal democracy, as an evolutionary process to be led by the correct elites, whether socialist leaders or committed national bourgeoisies. The ecological implications of this growth-oriented model have been ignored, along with the voices and concerns of marginalized peoples. Agency and difference disappear in a world dominated by powerful global forces. The possibility that hegemony is never complete, that the marginal may influence development practice and thinking, is never considered. Moreover, both the discourse and assumptions of dependency theorists focus on national economic plans, with well-developed national targets. Thus, at the level of discourse and practice, dependency perspectives are based on top-down models of development familiar to the most ardent advocates of modernization.

While there are lessons to be discovered in the writings of dependency theorists, most notably those that pay attention to specific historical forces and their relation to global structures and patterns, the shortcomings of dependency theorists, particularly their inability to move beyond the confines of modernization theory, remain serious impediments for many who are concerned with development questions in an increasingly global/local world. At the same time, the early twenty-first-century conjuncture inevitably raises questions about global forces and the potential of dependency theory's global perspective for understanding the present. Creative, but critical, analysis, drawing on dependency thinking as well as other strands of development thought, may well be possible. Certainly the global focus of the dependentistas has much to say to us as we grapple with financial flows and communication systems of an intensity and speed never envisioned in the past. Perhaps useful syntheses will emerge, and, with them, the possibility of reevaluating and using much of the rich scholarship of the dependency perspective.


Amin, Samir. Accumulation on a World Scale: A Critique of the Theory of Underdevelopment. 2 vols. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1974.

——. Delinking: Towards a Polycentric World. London: Zed, 1980.

——. Unequal Development: An Essay on the Social Formation of Peripheral Capitalism. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1977.

Baran, Paul A. The Political Economy of Growth. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1957.

Bergeron, Suzanne. Fragments of Development: Nation, Gender, and the Space of Modernity. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004.

Cardoso, Fernando H. "Dependency and Development in Latin America." New Left Review 74 (1972): 83–95.

Cardoso, Fernando H., and Enzo Faletto. Dependency and Development in Latin America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979.

Chilcote, Ronald H. Theories of Development and Underdevelopment. Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1984.

Evans, Peter. Dependent Development: The Alliance of Multinationals, the State, and Local Capital in Brazil. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1979.

Frank, Andre G. Capitalism and Underdevelopment in Latin America: Historical Studies of Chile and Brazil. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1967.

——. "The Development of Underdevelopment." Monthly Review 18 (1966): 17–31.

——. Latin America: Underdevelopment or Revolution. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1969.

——. Lumpen-Bourgeoisie: Lumpen-Development, Dependency, Class, and Politics in Latin America. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1970.

Kitching, G. N. Development and Underdevelopment in Historical Perspective: Populism, Nationalism, and Industrialization. London: Methuen, 1982.

Laclau, E. "Feudalism and Capitalism in Latin America." New Left Re v iew (May–June 1971): 19–38.

Leys, Colin. "Kenya: What Does 'Dependency' Explain?" Review of African Political Economy 17 (1980): 108–113.

Marchand, Marianne, and Jane Parpart, eds. Feminism/Postmodernism/Development. London: Routledge, 1995.

Pieterse, Jan N. Development Theory: Deconstructions/Reconstructions. London: Sage, 2001.

Rodney, Walter. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. London: Bogle-L'Ouverture, 1972.

Rostow, W. W. The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1960.

Tucker, Vincent. "The Myth of Development: A Critique of a Eurocentric Discourse." In Critical Development Theory, edited by R. Munck and D. O'Hearn, 1–26. London: Zed, 1999.

Wallerstein, Immanuel M. The Capitalist World Economy: Essays. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979.

——. The Modern World System. Vol. 1: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century. New York: Academic, 1974.

——. The Modern World System. Vol. 2: Mercantilism and Consolidation of the European World-Economy, 1600–1750. New York: Academic, 1980.

Warren, Bill. Imperialism, Pioneer of Capitalism. London: New Left Books, 1980.

Williams, Eric E. Capitalism and Slavery. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1944.

Jane L. Parpart

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Dependency - The Intellectual Roots Of Dependency Thinking to Dirac equationDependency - The Intellectual Roots Of Dependency Thinking, Radical Dependency Theorists, Reformist Dependency Theory, Critiques Of Dependency