Dependency Paradox: The Development of Underdevelopment
English Türkçe Kurdî
كوردی عربي فارسى


Dependency Paradox: The Development of Underdevelopment

Andre Gunder Frank, the radical dependentist and historical materialism theorist, is the leading figure of dependency theory. The theory circulates around and conceptualizes the unequal exchange and systematically reinforced dependency of the peripheral regions on the core states that leads to exploitation of labor and resources in such dependent regions by the cores. Moreover, the development of world capitalism and its diffusion into these regions bring more dependency, exploitation, and consequently underdevelopment. The dependentistas are divided into three main schools of thoughts; United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America, the Moderates, and the Radicals (Namkoong 1999: 127). Apparently Frank is amongst the radicals whose explanatory theory, in particularly, critical dependency theory suggests radical changes and social revolutions are the optimal ways for the dependent and underdeveloped regions to escape from the vicious circle of the metropolis-satellites structure that is established and promoted by the metropoles in the Global North through the mercantilist and capitalist processes (Namkoong 1999: 138-39). 

In his logical skepticism about the commonly perceived misconception on the development theory, he defies the narrative that underdeveloped countries are in the historical development stages of the currently developed states, and in fact the current developed regions had never been underdeveloped, but one can say that they were undeveloped. In actuality, the underdeveloped countries are the historical products of the capitalist development and the power relations between the present developed metropolitan countries and underdeveloped countries (Frank 1966: 4&5). He also stands against the perception of ‘dual societies’ where in underdeveloped countries there are relatively developed domestic regions due to their closeness to the outside capitalist world, while the other underdeveloped domestic regions are still feudalist and agrarian for their loose ties with the metropoles. For Frank, the inaccuracy and falsehood of such claim is evident for the fact that the expansion of capitalism has indeed reached the most isolated spheres of underdeveloped world as well (Frank 1966: 5&6). 

Away from the simplistic world system analysis tradition of the core-periphery power relations, in his empirical observation, historical and comparative analyses of different regions worldwide, and emphasizing on Latin America as the case study, his conceptualization of the dependency theory even departs from the historical materialist tradition which primarily focuses on the class/state dialectic and the role of capital, institutions, and values as the main pillars to establish hegemonic bloc incorporating subordinated classes/states. He confidently claims that hegemony ‘assuming there is such a thing’ is very rare, temporary, and in constant transition from one region to another globally (Frank 1994: 371&72). Here onwards, Frank’s skepticism and radical redefinition of the world system including the capitalist extension process and development as well as dependency theory, will shed light upon a new explanatory theory with its critical and radical urge for a new recognition of reality and fundamental restructuring of socioeconomic and cultural-political sectors in the underdeveloped countries. 

In his redefinition of the world system, he came up with the metropolis-satellites structure, not in its simpler definition of core-periphery structure, but as a multi-nodal, sequential, highly interdependent and wired structure of foreign core-metropolis, foreign core-satellites, domestic-underdeveloped metropolis, domestic underdeveloped satellites, and the surrounding ultra-underdeveloped regions. This highly complicated and sophisticated system does not allow the underdeveloped countries to brake the chains to develop independently, and any development occurs in such regions, is to serve a particular goal of the main metropolis, and the current underdevelopment; in Latin America for instance, is due to its long term involvement in the world capitalist process (Frank 1966: 7&8). The rationale behind his following three main hypotheses to theorize the concept of dependency is empirical observation and theoretical assumption, which he believes that needs further studies and distinctive analyses. First, Frank states that meanwhile the development in metropolis which is on top of the food chain, thus not restraint, the development in the underdeveloped countries is restricted for the fact they are satellites to the top metropolis. Therefore, their development is dependent on the metropolis (Frank 1966: 9). 

Second hypothesis is that, in contrast to the commonly understood idea about development, the satellites’ profound economic development especially industrial growth happens when they are least effected by and connected with the metropolis. He gives historical examples of five phases when the metropoles were in crises and wars, allowed satellites in Latin America, for instance, to start independence movements, develop for a certain of time, and even could export manufactured goods before the equation was reversed again when the metropoles recovered. These phases are: the European depression of the seventeenth century, Napoleonic Wars, WW I, the Great Depression, and WW II (Frank 1966: 10). Frank claims that there is another type of weak connection with the metropolis which is geographic and economic isolation from the mercantile and capitalist system. Moreover, the industrialization of Japan as a non-participatory satellite of the capitalist world order, is a brilliant example, which demonstrates or even justifies his claim that unlike Russia or Latin America, Japan could succeed to emerge as an independent, industrialized, and developed country due to the fact that geographically and resources wise, japan was an isolated-poor country in the world capitalist development (Frank 1966: 11). 

The Last hypothesis is that according to Frank, the most underdeveloped regions today, were actually regions with the strongest connection to the metropolis in the past, which analytically and critically contradicts the common sense that these ‘uncivilized’ regions are feudalist and agrarian due to their isolation and pre-capitalist institutions. Such regions were the metropolis’ motors that pumped agricultural goods, raw materials, gold and silver (means of payment) to the metropolis, but once the metropolis lost its interest in their goods, or their lands were exhausted, they were left to decay and degrade without any sufficient means to grow on. Ultra-underdeveloped regions in Latin America, Africa, and India, are examples of former rich and well tied regions to the metropolis 

While profound empirical studies are harder to criticize than normative or abstractive ones, one can find few limitations in his work. Regarding to the publication date of this chapter in 1966, his empirical observation and theoretical assumption were not very accurate by claiming the main metropoles are ‘set’ in the Global North. Later on in 1994, he admits that the hegemonic power and super accumulation tends to move eastwards (China and Japan) again (Frank 1994: 371&72). This leads to the exposure of another weakness in his claim that, the underdeveloped countries are in a vicious circle made by the western metropoles, and ‘the only’ way out is through sociopolitical revolution and departure from metropolis-satellites structure. It is obvious that the miracle growth of the Four Asian Tigers as well as China did not happen because of the revolutions and economic isolation, but rather the economic growth of China, for instance, has been accelerated after its opening up to international economic integration (Globalization) by accommodating international standards with domestic needs, values, and developmental pace.

In conclusion, the radical dependency theorists, in particularly Frank, proclaim that throughout the historical development of colonialism and imperialism accelerated by mercantilism and later on industrial capitalism originated the economic and political dilemmas for underdeveloped regions in the world. The essence of the three main hypotheses is that the metropolis-satellites structure that only allowed the emergence of commercial capitalism rather than industrial capitalism in the domestic metropolis and satellites, are the foundational and fundamental reasons for the development of underdevelopment in the Global South (Frank 1966: 15). It is empirically contested that policy quality and the perseverance of the underdeveloped and dependent countries for progression can promise their emergence as industrially export-led developed countries, and China’s success story is the outstanding example.

Arez Barzinjy
Bachelor of Arts in International Studies and Law at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani
Studies Master’s Degree in Global Political Economy and Development at University of Kassel, Germany 


Frank, Andre Gunder 1970 (1966): The Development of Underdevelopment, in: Rhodes, Robert (ed.): Imperialism and Underdevelopment. New York: Monthly Review Press, 4-17.

Frank, Andre. "Hegemony and Social Change." Mershon International Studies Review 38, no. 2 (1994): 361-76. Accessed June 7, 2020. doi:10.2307/222747.

Namkoong, Young. “Dependency Theory: Concepts, Classifications, and Criticisms.” International Area Studies Review, (1999): 121-50.