Dependency Theory

Dependency theory is the body of social science theories by various intellectuals, both from the Third World and the First World, that create a worldview which suggests that the wealthy nations of the world need a peripheral group of poorer states in order to remain wealthy.

Dependency theory states that the poverty of the countries in the periphery is not because they are not integrated into the world system, or not ‘fully’ integrated as is often argued by free market economists, but because of how they are integrated into the system.

The premises of dependency theory are:

  • Poor nations provide natural resources, cheap labor, a destination for obsolete technology, and markets to the wealthy nations, without which they could not have the standard of living they enjoy.
  • First World nations actively, but not necessarily consciously, perpetuate a state of dependency through various policies and initiatives. This state of dependency is multifaceted, involving economics, media control, politics, banking and finance, education, sport and all aspects of human resource development.
  • Any attempt by the dependent nations to resist the influences of dependency will result in economic sanctions and/or military invasion and control.

Dependency theory first emerged in the 1950s, advocated by Raul Prebisch whose research found that the wealth of poor nations tended to decrease when the wealth of rich nations increased. The theory quickly divided into diverse schools. Some, most notably Andre Gunder Frank, adapted it to Marxism. “Standard” dependency theory differs sharply from Marxism, however, arguing against internationalism and any hope of progress in less developed nations towards industrialization and a liberating revolution. Former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso wrote extensively on dependency theory while in political exile. The American sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein refined the Marxist aspect of the theory, and called it the “world system.”